OL9: Exmoor

OS Explorer map OL9, Exmoor: Barnstaple, Lynton, Minehead & Dulverton – I own this map, but hadn’t visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 26th December 2018.

My last post told you, dear reader, about the stop in Malmesbury that the Dearest Progenitors and I made on our way to the West Country for a holiday shortly after Christmas. A couple of hours after leaving Malmesbury, we we reached our destination as planned, the village of Lynton in Devon, in the Exmoor area.

The view we awoke to on our first morning!

We arrived in the dark, and after some fumbling around managed to retrieve the key for our holiday apartment from a key box and let ourselves in. Dinner that evening was some leftover sprouts and potatoes from Christmas dinner that Mother Dearest fashioned into some fritters, which we ate with some salad.

The next morning, we awoke to a most lovely view out to cliffs and the sea, with the southern coast of Wales just about visible in the distance. Now, the office at my work was closed between Christmas and New Year, so I was free to travel, but I didn’t have these days off as holiday – the agreement at work was that, if people wanted to not work at all, they should take the days as annual leave, [1] or otherwise should remain online remotely for any work that might come their way, though you wouldn’t be expected to do full days of work.

I therefore stayed in for most of the day, doing a little work and a little not-work. My parents went out to explore the village of Lynton, and I went and joined them for a pleasant lunch in a café, and explored the church a little before going back in for the afternoon. My parents travelled out to Barnstaple that afternoon, where, among other things, they bought me some underwear in M&S, since I’d forgotten to bring any…

Unfortunately I was ill the next day (a cold had been developing for a while), and stayed in again, this time not doing work, so it wasn’t until Saturday that I had a few adventures!

We decided that day to go for a couple of walks. The first of these was to the interestingly-named Valley of the Rocks, just a 40-minute walk from where we were staying. The place-name sounds like somewhere out of an Enid Blyton book to me [2], or maybe the title of some dodgy 70s adventure film, but even more exciting than that, and than the dramatic craggy scenery we found when we got there, was that the valley is home to a population of wild goats (those who know me in real life may know that I have a bit of a thing for goats!).

Father Dearest having a rest as we walked through the woods towards the Valley of the Rocks

The walk to the valley was pleasant, through some woodland on a hill where we got only slightly lost, and we soon arrived in the valley itself, which was very dramatic despite the thoroughly grey day.

There we met a rather resigned father, whose children had run up the two-hundred-metre-high valley side and were visible playing around at the top of the hill; after a lot of shouting it seemed he decided his less athletic self could do nothing else other than wait for them to come down…

No goats were visible at first, but we rounded the pointy “Castle Rock” and soon found my horned friends happily grazing away!

From there, we walked back into Lynton on a dramatic coastal path, part of the South West Coast Path [3] in fact, and on the way back to our accommodation passed the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway.

Now, I’d been quite excited about the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway when I found out we were coming here. As the name suggests, it’s a railway that connects Lynton and Lynmouth, which are villages that sit at the top and bottom of the cliffs.

It’s a funicular railway, opened in around 1890 and still operating more or less in the same way that it ever did, which is exciting enough, but best of all, it’s a water-powered funicular railway, which is just really ingenious – water enters the system at the top of the cliffs from a nearby river, where it fills the upper car’s tanks, making it heavy, and so it descends as the lower car releases its water, getting lighter. The lower car then reaches the top, fills up its tank, and the process starts again! I just find that really cool – it’s such a simple idea, entirely mechanical, powered only by gravity, and it just works. (A similar cool thing are reaction ferries.)

From there, we got into the car and went down to Lynmouth, where we had lunch in the café above the Exmoor national park visitor centre. Now, we couldn’t very well visit Exmoor without going up onto the moor itself, and so that’s what we did next!

I’d looked on this OS Explorer map to find a good place to go for a short walking, picking somewhere were there was parking near a possible short circular walk (the Dearest Progenitors wouldn’t be all that able to do a longer walk), and so go there we did, and set out onto the moors – it was getting rather foggy, as it happened, and so we saw sheep and some of Exmoor’s population of wild ponies suddenly loom up out of the mist every now and again, which was very dramatic!

Now, in the fog, we ended up missing one path we should have taken, resulting in a somewhat longer walk than intended and my parents getting a little uneasy. It got quite hard to see the paths in the end and I was navigating just by the paper map, so I ended up having to count my steps to know when I should be finding paths. All was well in the end, though – my dear physics teacher Mr Dean, who lead the school’s Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and taught me map-reading, would be proud of me!

Our walk on Exmoor that day – the red arrows are what I intended, and the green ones the diversion we ended up taking when I missed the turning in the blue circle

And that’s that! We returned to the car and drove back to our accommodation (stopping off at a rather fun model railway in Lynmouth on the way), before dinner, bed, and returning to my parents’ house in Northamptonshire the next morning! Our stop-off in Stroud on the way home was told of in my last post, and my next post will be about New Year’s Eve, two days later, which I spent in the company of my friend Vesper at her parents’ house in Leicestershire.

The Lynmouth model railway!

[1] So I get 25 days of annual leave per year, or more formally, 33 days per year, including the 8 fixed bank holidays. I started my current job on the 8th October 2018, and the company’s leave year is the calendar year – for 2018 I therefore got 8 days of leave, of which two were the bank holidays of the 25th and 26th December, leaving 6 days to use freely.

However, after I’d been working a month, I reduced my hours to only work 4.5 days per week. This would reduce my leave entitlement proportionally, down to 30 days per year. However, by a quirk of fate, I ended up, when this change happened, having a day more leave available for the rest of 2018!

The reason for this is that the reduction of 10% for the remaining month and a half’s leave entitlement was small enough that it didn’t affect the rounded number. However, my new work schedule was that I don’t work Wednesday afternoons. Now, the Boxing day bank holiday was a Wednesday this year, and I’d booked off Wednesday 28th November (to go to see this year’s Yule Play – the annual silly medieval-themed sketch show by my old university department) – since according to my new work schedule, I’d normally only work half of these days, having them off now only used up 0.5 days of leave each rather than 1 day!

(Among my many tasks in the little company I work at is running HR and the leave-booking system. You can probably tell that I find that quite fun…)

[2] I was a huge Enid Blyton fan as a child – according to my books spreadsheet (which records, more or less, every book I’ve ever read) I’ve read 56 of her books, which makes up a very appreciable 7% of my all-time total of 814…

Now, I track a lot of things in my books spreadsheet, and somewhat embarassingly, only 33% of those 814 books are by women – and without Enid Blyton, that goes down to a paltry 27%. I noticed this trend in late 2014 when I first systematically started tracking my reading and made my spreadsheet – in that year, only 16% (12 out of 75) of the books I read that year were by women. At the time, I was pretty heavily into classic science fiction, mostly from the 70s and 80s, mostly American (this actually started when I did my “Extended Project” in the last year of school on evaluating the likelihood of various science-fiction technologies…), generally picked for, well, being famous, which did rather lead to a lack of diversity in my reading.

A graph tracking a few details of the books I read in the years 2014-18

Now, as the red line in the graph above will tell you, that has drastically changed since. Around 2014 was probably a time when I was becoming familiar with and accepting feminism and identity politics, which I suppose fairly naturally led me to appreciate a different kind of novel, plus I did most of my discussing books (and getting recommendations) in the Oxford Tolkien Society, which was a very lefty and diversity-focussed space. So in the end that happened without me making much effort to change what I read. However I do fear I might have gone a little too far, in that I will admit that I do now usually notice the author’s gender (where it’s obvious, and probably based on dodgily assuming from their printed name…) pretty immediately when I pick up a book I’m considering reading/buying etc., and do look more positively on it if it’s by a woman, which isn’t the fairest thing to be doing.

A couple more graphs of my reading, because why not, I like graphs…

[3] The South West Coast Path is a long-distance footpath going around the coast of Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. It’s already the longest footpath in Britain, but excitingly, work is afoot to incorporate it into the 2,800-mile-long England Coast Path, which should hopefully be complete by 2020! (Details on progress can be found on this corner of the government website. I do love how much weirdly specific information can be found on the UK government’s website – it really makes one appreciate the civil service!)

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