Trouble in Eden


Only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud
So good I can’t believe it, screamin’ with the crowd

– I. Kilmister, E. Clarke, P. Taylor


It feels incredibly peaceful sat on top of Hounds Tor in the beautiful Dartmoor national park. The sky is blue, wispy white clouds float by and the hot sun beats down on us. We can see Haytor Rocks far off in the distance and the van is parked somewhere on the other side of them.

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The granite tors at Haytor are ruggedly spectacular and had been busy and noisy with school groups and tour buses, but like many places it only takes a few minutes walk away from the car park for a bustling metropolis to become an oasis of calm.

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We’d wandered here via some old quarry workings and gotten lost in midge infested woodland before finding a bridge across the river. We stopped for lunch among the ruins of ancient buildings, relics of a simpler time. Cows and ponies roamed the landscape. It was incredibly peaceful.

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Our walk back was simpler, or at least the bridge across the river we were looking for was easier to find. We stopped to admire the dry stone walling, a completely different style to what we are used to seeing in areas like the Lake District or Snowdonia, much more haphazard, seemingly defying gravity in places.

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While wildcamping in a tent is fine on much of Dartmoor, wildcamping in a van is banned according to the signs in all the car parks and so we headed out of the park to find somewhere to park up for the night and shops to buy some food for dinner. We settled by an arboretum which seemed peaceful enough until the local running club arrived for a race, soon followed by a wilderness survival experience group. Peace returned a couple of hours later.

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We woke to heavy rain falling from the sky. Some days are sun days, some days are roof days. Today was a roof day and we headed for Buckland Abbey, once home to Sir Francis Drake and now home to a Rembrandt self portrait. Knowing nothing about art we’ll just have to take their word for it that it’s worth a cool thirty million. The process of identification was interesting though, as was the house itself.

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As the day drew on the rain subsided and the sky cleared. We drove around for a bit before looking for a spot for the night.

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We settled in an old quarry with a view over the rolling countryside. The quarry itself was a SSSI, apparently showing granite and slate coming together and probably quite interesting to a geologist, but we just liked the view. Sadly, many day trippers and party goers had treated the place like a tip. We did a big litter pick, filling our old rucksack bin with cans and assorted rubbish. As darkness fell, bats emerged, swooping this way and that, squeeking and chasing insects.

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Lydford Gorge is advertised as the south west’s deepest gorge. It’s an easy but spectacular walk which takes us through vibrant green woodland that feels almost jurassic and down to the White Lady waterfall. Further along the route is the Devils Cauldron, a swirling frenzy of water crashing through the rocks.

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After three nights in the wild it was time to find a campsite. We crossed the border into Cornwall and checked into the Innis Inn campsite, the only one in the area we’d been able to find a space in. Around the site BBQs were burning and music was playing. It was odd to be back in civilisation again, but was nice to have hot running water. The reason that campsite spaces in the area had been sparse was the very reason why we were here.

Before a moonbase like backdrop, the crowd goes wild as Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey take to the stage. This whole trip has been about this, to experience the patriarchs of rock play a gig in the unlikeliest of locations, the beautiful Eden Project.

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We’re Motörhead and we play rock and roll“, growls Lemmy into the microphone, head thrown back in that distinctive pose of his.  And play rock and roll they did.  It took a while for the atmosphere to build, it was too light and too early really, but by they time they hit perennial favourites Ace of Spades and Overkill the crowd were buzzing. Back at the campsite the music continued, probably to the annoyance of the few campers not there for the concert.

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A ticket to the Eden Sessions also includes a days entry to the project itself, so we spent Sunday winding down among the flowers and trees. It’s not our first visit, but they’ve introduced the high level walkway through the rain forest dome since we were last here which gives a lovely birds eye view of the trees and plants.

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We don’t often revisit campsites, but the National Trust’s site at Highertown is an exception. It’s the very definition of peaceful. In reality it’s little more than a sloping field and some very basic facilities. It’s located down miles of country lane and from the top of the site you can see the sea. Swallows dart around the field catching insects and sheep bleat to each other in the next field. Checking in is easy. Put your money in an envelope and put it in the postbox by the gate. Trust, what a wonderful thing.

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From the campsite the quiet stoney beach is just a short walk away, along a dirt track that also leads onto the south west coastal path. Although it’s late June there’s still some Ransomes around, so we pick some of the healthier looking leaves. Elderflower trees can also be found along the way, so we pick some flowers from each tree to make a a drink from.

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With the fridge filled with nature’s offerings it was time to return home, after a trip that had been peaceful, but not too peaceful…


But that’s the way I like it baby
I don’t wanna live for ever

– I. Kilmister, E. Clarke, P. Taylor


This Desert Life

We arrived at the spot we’d planned to spend the night and were immediately concerned.  Columns of black smoke appeared to be rising from the ground all around the nature reserve we had chosen to stop in.  On closer inspection it turned out not to be smoke but insects. Thousands, millions probably, of insects rising in great plumes. A few landed on the windows, attracted by the light. They were big and scary looking.

“Erm, not sure stopping for the night in the middle of an alien insect invasion is a good idea?”

The question hung in the air as we sat looking at other options for somewhere to park. But suddenly and to our surprise the insects disappeared. Just like that, as if the “No Insects” switch had been flicked, the end of the insect working day.

“Well, that was weird.”

Weird. It was a word that would sum up the whole weekend, but weird isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Parked up just outside of Dungeness, we were in the UK’s only desert. Some of its highlights include two lighthouses, a nature reserve, an RSPB centre, a narrow gauge railway, a small town of mostly wooden buildings and a pub that closes at half past eight of a Saturday.

It was near the RSPB centre that we were camped. Around ten in the evening the police turned up. “Here we go” we thought, but no, they circled the gravel car park, gave us a cheery wave and left. We heard them again later, it’s quite nice to have your own security patrol.  Even the group of lads who turned up later in the evening parked a respectable distance away.  Things were looking up.

The shingle flatlands of Dungeness provide a unique habitat for large numbers of plants, birds and animals.  A day spent at the RSPB reserve rewarded us with several magical moments.  Birds of prey got so close to the hides that you could almost feel the wind from their beating wings. We ooh’d and ahh’d and the coot chicks and ducklings. We listened to the cuckoos, though they remained hidden from sight.

Birds

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We got our first view of the train that runs along the narrow gauge railway as we stopped in nearby Lydd-on-Sea to pick up some food to cook for dinner.  The engineer, tightly ensconced in his locomotive, tooted his steam whistle as his train emerged from between the suburban gardens and rattled across one of the many level crossings.  Over the weekend we noticed three different trains running, two steam locomotives and a diesel, all miniature versions but capable of pulling large numbers of tourist filled carriages.

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Being a headland, and a constantly changing one at that, Dungeness has long been the site of a lighthouse. The first lighthouses were built here with a plan to charge passing ships for safe passage but collecting the toll proved problematic and the scheme soon failed.  Currently there are two lighthouses, the old and the new. The old lighthouse, built in 1904, is no longer in use and is purely a tourist attraction. It was replaced in 1961 by the new lighthouse, required because the nearby power station obstructed the beacon of the older lighthouse.

New lighthouse

It was next to the old lighthouse that we camped for our second night in the area.

Old Lighthouse

We had planned to go for a quick pint in Dungeness’s only pub and braved the light rain to find it closes quite early, relying on daytime trade only. It’s not surprising really, the area is sparsely populated and there is not much in the way of passing trade in the evening. We weren’t alone though, a few other vans were parked up for night and there were many people fishing from the steep shingle beach, their lines disappearing into the murky sea.

Climbing the 169 steps to the top of the old lighthouse brings a view over the vast flat landscape.  It’s got an almost eerie feel and from this height it even feels slightly abandoned and it’s clear that not all the houses are occupied full time.  

But there is life here and it’s quite vibrant.  Someone is working on an old Airstream caravan.  People are living in the old Coastguard lookout tower.  Artists sell their work from shed like houses, with bright and kooky installations to tempt you in.  Trawlers are dragged up the beach by tractors and fishermen land their catches and smoke them there and then, the smoked fish sold from little huts by the road.  It’s an incredibly photogenic landscape.

There’s rememberance here too, hidden in the scrubland we find a makeshift monument to two Polish spitfire pilots killed nearby during WWII.

Boat and Tractor

Boat

Paintbrushes

House

gloves

Boat

Lighthouse keepers cottages

Coastguard station

And behind it all, the power station sits, gently humming to itself twenty four hours a day.

power!