Sunday, 5 September 2010

In Delderfield country

On Friday, Clare and I had a very pleasant afternoon under accidental circumstances. We planned to go to do some walking on the South West Coastal Path around Beer, but the X53 Jurassic Coast bus was taken out of service, so we opted for the Sidmouth-Budleigh section instead. We highly recommend the walk, which is a bit over seven miles. It starts with a stiff climb from Jacob's Ladder, at the western end of Sidmouth, up Peak Hill.

One literary point of interest on the way was the commemorative plaque to RF Delderfield on the Sidmouth side of Peak Hill ("On this hill lived Ronald F Delderfield, whose inspired writings gained him international fame. 1912-1972").  As I've mentioned before - see To Exmouth again and Delderfield papers - the Delderfields lived locally; William Delderfield was publisher of the Exmouth Chronicle from 1923, and his sons Ronald and Eric both became writers. However, from my experience, if customers at The Topsham Bookshop buy anything by a Delderfield, it's almost certain to be one of Eric Delderfield's travel books: Ronald has all but disappeared into obscurity.  As Sam Jordison wrote in the Guardian Books Blog - Who's Paul Auster, Dad? (11th April 2007) - it's not clear why.  He wrote highly readably, with a strong sense of social justice - but something about his works no longer hits the spot. Perhaps it's that they're a trifle emotionally distant; Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers (1990) said of them: "RF Delderfield's novels are not so much classic love stories as family sagas punctuated by strong romantic impulses".

Returning to the walk: from the forested summit of Peak Hill, which has occasional views back toward Sidmouth ...

... there's a slight dip across open heath/farmland before the path rises to a largely level walk through more forest at High Peak (you can take an optional detour to the summit).

Crossed-eye stereogram, High Peak: click to enlarge

Then there's a steep descent to Ladram Bay, which has a caravan site and impressive coastal rock stacks.

On the other side, the path continues with an undulating section along somewhat lower clifftops before it drops to near sea-level at Otter Head (a headland by the outlet of the River Otter) and takes a short detour north to the lowest crossing point before returning downstream to Budleigh alongside the Otter Estuary Nature Reserve.  See Geology of Sidmouth and Ladram Bay, Devon, for an interesting analysis of the terrain.

I find the East Devon and West Dorset coast immensely evocative, almost certainly because it so strongly resembles the southern coastline of the Isle of Wight, where I spent a lot of time in childhood and which I've recently had the opportunity to re-explore. The light is the same - all-day sun from the south-facing aspect - and the terrain, controlled by rather similar (and in some locations identical) geology, is also much the same: a coast of cliffs and chines and landslips, the clifftop hedgerows sculpted by the same prevailing wind direction, that gives me an intense feeling of familiarity.  With one or two places I genuinely couldn't tell the difference: for instance, parts of the Lyme-Axmouth Undercliff in Dorset/Devon look identical to parts of the Niton Undercliff, Isle of Wight.  It produces a strange double-exposure sensation: as if they were a 'shared space' where I could walk between the two locations.

Felix Grant and I have discussed a couple of times this sensation as it occurs in unreliable childhood memories: a memory splice that fits two locations together. I have, for instance, a distinct memory of visiting a cliff tunnel in childhood. I recall it as one visit, yet the memory is of the top of the tunnel being reached on a visit to Freshwater, Isle of Wight (there are such tunnels, but I can't place where or how I might have visited, since it was all MOD) but the bottom of it - a balcony emerging in the cliff face, to be at the Clifton Observatory, Avon Gorge, Bristol.  Perhaps I'm confusing it with Freshwater Redoubt?  Memory is odd.

Anyhow - returning to topic - so far we've walked all of the Coastal Path between Exmouth and Lyme Regis, in sections, except the part between Branscombe Mouth and Beer (where we were going to go prior to the bus mishap); that'll be the priority next time, as the Hooken Undercliff looks seriously interesting.

You might be interested in a companion piece I wrote for the Devon History Society weblog: Ladram Bay: time and tide, which focuses on the history of a lost geographical feature, Ladram Arch.

- Ray

No comments:

Post a Comment