Memories of the river where Tarka swam with White Tip in a classic tale
Writer Tony Evans is an expert on author Henry Williamson. He was been inspired by our own Trevor Beer to take a stroll down memory lane.
In a recent Nature Watch column, Trevor Beer referred to Roth's Mill, the river Yeo and the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. Like Trevor I was born and raised in Barnstaple and his article brought back memories of childhood when one of our regular family Sunday afternoon walks during summertime took us to the mill with its wide leat fed by the river Yeo. In my young impressionable days of seventy years ago it was a fascinating, exciting place to be.
Back then remnants of the narrow-gauge Lynton and Barnstaple Railway line, which closed in 1935, were still in existence. The bridge that once carried the train over the river Yeo was still intact, its pillars built in white locally made Marland brick supporting a simple bridge structure, the track-bed consisting of large baulks of timber laid crosswise, a small gap between them. I recall on one occasion walking across the bridge and we children were fearful, for looking down between the gaps we could see the swirling, turbulent waters beneath us having tumbled over the mill-weir just a few yards away.
It was while on these walks into the countryside that my parents taught me to appreciate and respect the diversity and beauty of our natural world, names of some wild flowers with peculiar names, Jack side the hedge, Jack goes to bed at noon, 'egg and bacon' and dog-rose, to name but a few.
Job Vacancy: Plumbing & Heating Engineer RequiredView details
Trident Plumbing and Heating Services Ltd have a vacancy for a full time Plumbing and Heating Engineer.
Terms: Ring 01326 218934, email CV to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post CV to Unit 1, Ponsharden Ind Est, Falmouth, Cornwall, TR11 2SG
Contact: 01326 330626
Valid until: Friday, December 20 2013
It is ten years since I last reacquainted myself with this section of the river Yeo. I was not disappointed. The remains of the mill-wheel were still there, the mill building unchanged externally, the water cascading over the stone-built weir as in my childhood, but the bridge had been removed, perhaps for safety reasons, all that remained were the brick pillars to indicate where it had spanned the river.
The leat no longer runs clear for its exit into the Yeo has been walled up and it now assumes a canal-like appearance.
Trevor referred to Tarka the Otter (published 1927) in which Henry Williamson's authentic description of this area is so vividly portrayed:
"…Swimming along the wall he turned up the pill and let the tide take him…he swam under a bridge of the small gauge railway whose shadow darkened the water. As he thrust up his head to vent, Tarka saw the white blur of water sliding over the sill of a weir. Under water again, he looked from side to side more quickly, for in this dark place the fish might easily slip by him, although the water was not two feet deep. The leat, with its swift clear water ran parallel to the brook, a few yards away, and past a lime-washed mill with a ruined waterwheel. Tarka and White-tip [his mate] in the weir-pool lay on their backs… Suddenly the otter heads lifted and sank together – they had heard the otter-hounds baying in the kennels on Pilton Hill. In daylight they drifted down the mill-leat that drew out of the pool…"