So if you have time, join me for a gentle, virtual stroll along the coast path. From ‘the White Bridge’ along the Otter Estuary, around the coast heading eastwards to Brandy Head.
A little sketch map
Once out of the car we can smell the scent of the sea, being brought to us by a playful breeze blowing up the Otter Estuary. The estuary just at the moment is obscured from us by the tall reeds, gently moving in the wind. If we are lucky we might catch a glimpse of a Reed Warbler or Bunting going about its business.
Onto the Coast Path
We are following the meandering footpath as it runs along the field margin. With views of the Estuary only glimpsed at the moment, through the trees on our right.
In the field, silhouetted against the sky, ploughing has already started. Gulls are spiralling around the newly turned soil, swooping and following in the tractors wake.
Now, at last, we can look at the Estuary properly.
From this wide-sweeping viewpoint, the main river channel is below us. It’s running through the tidal marshland, which is breaking up into small, bright green islands. On the far side of the river Otter, there is a small group of Canada Geese, dozing in the sun. A Curlew walks slowly along. Further downstream a Cormorant ‘drys’ its wings, standing on a log, protruding from the water. And a Heron is quietly fishing. Let’s stop here for a minute, take out our flask. Pour a cup of tea and unobtrusively watch the comings and goings of the birds below us.
The Winding Path
Walking on, the pines fail and we see the roof of a submerged pillbox in the grasses, nettles and ferns. This is now, a little bat sanctuary and access is denied to us. However, just by it, a steep little path leads down to a small pebbly beach which is opposite the end of Budleigh Salterton’s spit. Here the River Otter rushes past us with people gathering on the end of the spit to watch it, swim and throw in pebbles. Isn’t this what life is all about? I’m sure Tom Sawyer would agree.
Back on the Coast Path
The coast path here is scattered with wildflowers. Ox-eye Daisy, Knapweed and carpets of delightful Thrift.
The going is easy now and although the sun is warming us, there is still the pleasant sea breeze to stop us from overheating. For much of the walk along the cliffs, we are accompanied by Skylarks singing overhead – beautiful!
We are closing now on Brandy Head, so-called because of the smuggling that used to be carried out here. Though today it is dominated by the derelict building of the WW2 Observation Hut. The Gunnery research range started here in July 1940. The observation hut has a viewing balcony looking seawards and thick blast walls at the rear. The Exeter based Gunnery Research Unit, attached to Number 10 Group RAF, used the hut to observe different aircraft. These included Typhoons, Hurricanes and Spitfires. These would fly seawards from Exeter to test their weapons, aiming at flag targets and steel structures placed out in the bay. Later an armour-plated target was placed in the fields behind the hut. It is said that local Otterton boys would sneak across the fields at night to hide under the hedges and watch the aircraft firing their weapons. Probably not an entirely safe practice!
From this headland, you can see further on, eastwards along the southern coast to Ladram Bay, Sidmouth and the Dorset coast beyond.
At this point, you could do a longer ’round trip’ by walking further on following the footpath inland to Otterton and from there back to the car. However, today we are here to see the sea and are happy to retrace our steps.
‘Stile to the coast path’, sketching pen ~ A5,
‘Speed the Plough’, sketching pen & brush pen ~ A5,
‘Snoozing Canada Geese’, watercolour ~ A5,
‘The winding path’, watercolour, Indian ink with brush ~ A4,
‘Through the trees to the Otter’, watercolour ~ A5,
‘Budleigh Spit’, watercolour & pen ~ A4,
‘Budleigh Salterton’s Spit’, sketching pen ~ A5,
‘Statuesque rock shapes at the mouth of the Otter’, watercolour ~ A5,
‘Oxeye Daisy’s’, charcoal ~ A3,
‘Brandy Head Observation Hut’, acrylic + Gesso on watercolour paper & 6B pencil ~ A4,
‘Looking back at Black Head’, watercolour ~ A5.
My usual sketching pad is a Daler Rowney, Red & Yellow Cartridge Paper. For walking, I find an A5 size sketchbook fits easily into my rucksack. I also take with me a Winsor & Newton, watercolour field paint box, a Waterproof Fineliner Pen, Black Brush Pen and a 6B Pencil.
For more thoughts on sketching check out my sketching tips post.
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