Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Blackchurch Rock

Having had the amazing news about the Cottage on that sunny day in Bude last week, I was in a 'can do' mood, and after a meal I decided to tackle the descent to little-visited Mouth Mill and see for myself the rock formation known as Blackchurch Rock. This involved a drive along lonely roads to the hamlet of Brownsham (west of Clovelly), parking Fiona there, putting on my boots, and then walking to the cliff edge through fields and woods.

The only other car in the car park was an abandoned Ford with flat tyres. Not good. I hoped Fiona would be all right. I hoped that nobody would try to break into her, or let the air out of her tyres.

I'd brought along my stick, but five minutes from the car I did wonder whether this evening jaunt was a wise undertaking for a solitary female. The sunset was well advanced, and it would be dusk or darker when I got back to Fiona. I began to wonder about lurking men with carnal matters or murder on their minds. My legs weren't up to running like hell if a mad axeman or somesuch pounced. And as a weapon the stick was a joke. But this was all silliness. It was very lonely coastal countryside, and I had only cows and seabirds to contend with.

Having negotiated the kine, who were as usual curious, crowding forward before scattering in sudden panic, I got near the cliff edge. You could really appreciate how high and steep the cliffs were. Lundy was on the horizon, floating in the gathering haze.

The path zig-zagged down to the cove. Here I first came to a collection of derelict stone buildings, rather gaunt, certainly less inviting to explore than they would be in broad daylight. Then, as I advanced towards the beach, the Rock came into view. The tide was half out - no sand visible, but the Rock was approachable, and it was bathed in a golden light. Here I am, savouring my triumphant arrival:

Yes, definitely worth the effort! As you can see, the upper part of the beach was strewn with large pebbles. I had to take great care - it would be all too easy to twist an ankle hopping from one huge pebble to another. And I was utterly alone on that beach, with no mobile phone signal. So I took no chances. The stick helped me keep my balance, but things got no easier when I reached the bare rock further down the beach, because everything was tilted at a wild angle. These shots show what I mean:

Does it look like a black church? I don't think so. A pyramid maybe. You can see how tilted the strata were. Closer to the cliffs the strata were almost vertical.

After half an hour or so, the sun was sinking and it felt rather chilly and forlorn. I still had to walk back along a track through the Brownsham Woods, and I wasn't exactly looking forward to it. A comment on a recent post of mine mentioned the death of some children who got lost in these woods. Fortunately I hadn't yet heard about this, but it was getting dark and creepy and I longed for the safety of Fiona. The moon was rising. I now saw that near the beach was a single inhabited cottage - what an utterly secluded hideaway! Who (or what) dwelt within?  I did not wish to find out.

I set off along the track, which led into a dark world of whispering trees that might have seemed friendly enough by day but was clearly the abode of nameless fears by night. It led gradually uphill. I kept on looking back, and was reminded of the words from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

Like one that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

And also of the fate of poor Mr Harrington in M R James's tale Casting the Runes, who was chased to his death by a horrible creature of the night.

I pressed on. I was very, very relieved when suddenly, around a bend in the track, a bit of Brownsham came into view.  Four minutes later I had hurriedly shed the boots and was safely locked inside Fiona with the engine running. But I'd made the effort, and I had my pictures to prove it!

As I drove back to the main road, a barn owl ghosted by with outspread wings; and a deer ran before the car for a hundred yards, right in my headlights, until it jumped into a gap at the side of the road. Morrisons in Bideford was open for fuel. It was brightly lit up. I had a few cheery words with the girl on the till. It was an antidote to primeval terror.

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