At the weekend, I accompanied my friend Paul and a handful of other male buddies on a stag weekend. Now, we’re all middle-aged blokes. This wasn’t your young man’s stag involving too much beer in a European capital city. This was the middle-aged bloke’s dream stag weekend: walking, dramatic landscapes, real ale, conversation, and a relatively early night.
We drove out of Bradford early on Saturday morning, intent on making the most of the time we had away from our collective kids. The sun shone for most of the two-and-a-half-hour drive to north Devon – through Wiltshire then right across Somerset, chugging along A-roads and cheerfully waving at the traffic jams on the M5.
Our destination was Lynton, perched on the hillside above Lynmouth, unfortunately famous for being flooded in the most devastating way you can imagine.
The Lynmouth flooding left the village with a yawning wound which you can still see today. Where once there were streets and houses in the central part of the flat valley floor, there’s now an enormous flood plain. Ready for next time.
Above Lynmouth, Lynton is slightly larger, and nestles in another river valley. But this one’s dry; the river that used to flow through these parts re-routed itself thousands of years ago when it discovered the easier route through Lynmouth. It left behind an empty valley, made all the more dramatic because it runs parallel to the coast through what’s known now as the Valley of Rocks.
The landscape here is dramatic. High, steep sided gorges plunge downwards to rocky, lively rivers. The water here drains down – in vast quantities – from Exmoor. Heavy rain turns the pretty plunge pools into frantic torrents with horrific power to cut through solid rock, and to move the spoil miles downstream. The drama is a direct result of hydrology. It’s fantastic. I could wander around it for weeks.
We could feel the hydrology as we walked, first along the Valley of Rocks, later to Watersmeet and back, and then the next morning to Selworthy Beacon.
We felt it seep through the waterproofs we wore that had lost their waterproof-fu. We felt it drip down the backs of our necks. We felt it squelch between our toes. We felt it on our backsides when we arrived at the tea rooms at Watersmeet and enjoyed a gallon of builder’s tea and the best scones, jam and cream that we’d tasted for years. It rained, and it rained, and it rained, and we simply enjoyed it.
We only had the one weekend. There was no time for moping and hoping the rain would stop. It was either walk and enjoy the rain, or just don’t walk. So we enjoyed the landscape as it was: wet. And along the river valleys, the river swelled and roared over the boulders it had left there during previous floods. Hydrology still at work, pondering its next move in the game of coastal redesign.