Tales from the trees: Crownley Wood, Devon - Trees move with the tide in this creekside woodland
Saturday 02 November 2013
Through a curtain of sycamore and holly, the water of Bow Creek dazzles with sunlight. The tide is coming in quickly. Soon the sea-river will lift the boats marooned in the estuary mud back into life and it'll be too late to get back to the pub via the stepping stones. Reluctantly, I concede it's time to move.
Everything moves here, actually. From the dappled late-afternoon sunlight in tree canopies, to the rooks crowding and croaking in the beeches, this corner of Devon almost demands recalibration to more elastic rhythms. Descending the hill to reach the waterside hamlet of Tuckenhay, it feels as if you're entering a different realm. This tributary of the Dart hangs with age. There is the sense of escape. Small wonder that the late Keith Floyd bought the pub here in the 1980s, naming it "Floyd's Inn (Sometimes)", as part-retreat, part-OTT madhouse.
Floyd also had a hand in the survival of Crownley Woods, just across Bow Creek. When developers had their eye on it for housing, he stepped in, bought the little wood and donated it to the National Trust. And thank goodness he did. I walk, tracing a contour, through a gloriously quiet and unmanaged woodland. Sessile oak, ash, beech, sycamore and horse chestnut explode from the banks.
The screech of gulls echoes from the creek below and there is a large splash from something in the water. There is some talk of seals coming up this far to chase fish, but by the time I reach the muddy edge, only a yacht drifts lazily in its mooring. Along a path strewn with lemon-yellow sycamore leaves and sweet-chestnut husks, I reach a grassy glade and what looks like a vast, new-beamed roof on wooden struts, a ready-made wildlife watching and packed lunch point.
My return to the pub is not driven by watch, but water. The goosanders are rising with the tide and I hurry over the stepping stones back to a lit fire and riotous sunset over wood and river.
w Crownley Wood is in the hamlet of Tuckenhay, five miles from Totnes in Devon. By road, follow the A381, signposted to Kingsbridge (and Dartmouth). Turn left at the signpost for Ashprington, Tuckenhay and Bow Bridge. Trains run hourly from London Paddington to Totnes via First Great Western (08457 000 125; firstgreatwestern.co.uk). Stay at Keith Floyd's old riverside pub, now newly renovated and back to its old name, The Maltsters Arms (01803 732 350; tuckenhay.com). As well as its cosy en-suite bedrooms, this brilliant, buzzing venue does a fantastic line in fireside snugs, local beers and great food.
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