We perched on a stone wall overlooking the pebble beach and sea at Blackpool Sands to eat our sandwiches. Across the water, the Start Point peninsula was a moody, dark bluish grey outline while mobile pools of bright light wandered about Start Bay as gashes in the cloud cover opened and closed.
We had walked down the Blackpool Valley starting in bright autumn sunshine on the western edge of Dartmouth where a huge housebuilding project is now underway. Narrow country lanes took us away from the commotion into quieter places. Hedges were punctuated periodically with flushes of flowering ivy and the sun, following heavy rain, seemed to have brought the insects out. An elegant ichneumon wasp, largely black but with a few white markings and with reddish legs was cleaning its antennae, and nearby we spotted a mating pair of hoverflies. Their striped thorax reminded me of mid-20th century school blazers. A beautiful male wall butterfly basked briefly in the sunshine, its wings, the colour of paprika and cinnamon held the essence of the season changing around us. A few pollen-loaded female ivy bees joined the show while, on the road, two all black devil’s coach horse beetles wandered past giving us their scorpion-like, tale up, warning greeting.
At Venn Cross, we turned right along Blackpool Valley Road descending between dramatic hills and following the course of a stream in the valley bottom. Lane side hedges had avoided a vicious flailing this season; hazel and sycamore had grown prolifically together with a few sprigs of rowan and dog rose, giving the lane an enclosed feeling. Veteran beeches and oaks grew from the hedges and when the sun played across the beech leaves it accentuated their kaleidoscopic colour range of greens, yellows and browns. The lower trunk of one of the old beeches had become an impromptu local notice board including a carved declaration of love.
The water gathered force as we headed southwards with small streams joining the main flow from surrounding hills and, eventually we came to Riversbridge Farm, one of several old water mills situated along the valley. Altogether we counted five former mills before we reached the sea, each set in this landscape of trees, pastures and steep hillsides. Today it was a peaceful scene but I wondered how much it had changed over the years. The artist Lucien Pissarro worked and lived here a century ago producing a charming set of images of the valley, a record of country life in the first part of the 20th century and apart from the arrival of the motor car the landscape and buildings look very similar (see picture below). The mills, of course, are no longer used, they are mostly private dwellings but the buildings show signs of their former activity alongside 21st century incursions such as a small water driven hydro and a hot tub.
We left Blackpool Sands to complete the circuit back to our car. As we stopped to look back at the beach, as many as 30 house martins circled over the cove feeding, perhaps before leaving for warmer places.
We walked down the Blackpool Valley near Dartmouth in south Devon on October 8th 2020