If you have read previous blogs, you will see that I walk a neighbour’s dog Henry twice a week. Our favourite place for walking is up on Henlake Down which is just behind our house in Ivybridge, Devon. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, abundant with birds, small wildlife and even deer, which I have had the pleasure and excitement of seeing on a couple of occasions. I access it by a steep farm track but once up on the open moor it is a lovely place to be and the panoramic views are spectacular, and on a clear day you can even see the sea. We have been walking up there for years, but in the last couple of weeks the landscape has changed beyond all recognition. There are various paths that you walk on over the Down, but over the last few years it has become very overgrown. In previous years a local farmer grazes his cattle up there, but they have not been seen for a couple of years, however a few weeks ago we were greeted by a herd of about 15 ponies. All the years we have been walking up there, I have never seen any ponies, so it was quite a surprise.
A couple of weeks ago part of the gorse and overgrown bracken was cut down and a few piles were left presumably to rot down. It certainly opened up this particular area of the Down and this appeared to be where the ponies spent most of their time, so no doubt it was done to encourage the grass for them to feed. I walked Henry up on the Down on Tuesday 17th March 2015 and noticed that the ponies were nowhere to be seen, and found it rather strange that they had now gone after such a short period of time but thought no more of it (but thank goodness they had). On the 18th March 2015, we were out in the garden and there was a strong smell of smoke and saw ash flying around.
When I came indoors I found ash had actually come in to the house through the open windows. It wasn’t until I saw our local news and was horrified to find that there had been a huge fire on Henlake and fire fighters were on the scene tackling the blaze. A photograph of the fire had been posted where it could be seen for miles and I had visions that the whole Down had been burnt. The strong smell of smoke lingered in the area for hours. I assumed that the piles of gorse and bracken had been set alight and had got out of hand. I thought that I would not be able to walk Henry up there on Thursday 19th March 2015, but we made our way up the track half expecting not to be able to access the moor, so was relieved when we manage to reach the top of the track with no problem. I was expecting to see the charred remains as soon as we went through the gate. I was really surprised to see the piles still intact and it was still very green in this open area, and there appeared to be no sign of any fire.
However, as we walked further around the Down I started to notice the green changing to black and as I carried on walking saw the extent of the fire. It really was a huge area that had been burnt and blackened and the smell of fire was still very strong. It was quite lucky that the main pathways had acted as a fire break which obviously helped stop the spread of the fire, but it was still an enormous area which appeared most of the right had side of the Down that had caught fire.
I had to turn around and walk back on the areas that were still green, as I was afraid that if the ash was still hot, Henry might have burnt his paws. I needn’t have worried as Henry passed a blackened area that he decided to have a roll in and when he got up he was covered in black soot, although the photos below do not look as bad as he actually was in the flesh. He is a golden retriever but he looked like a two toned one (perhaps a new designer breed!!), how was I going to explain this to his owners? I decided before I took him home, to give him a brush at my house, hoping that some of the soot disappeared. Phew, I was lucky as he certainly looked like his normal colour when I dropped him home. However, I thought I had better let his owners know what had happened as there were still areas of black in his coat. However, his eagle eyed owner as soon as he saw him, said “he has been rolling in the soot!” I did remark that he should have seen him before I brushed him!!!
Let’s hope it will not take too long for the scorched areas to grow back and return this picturesque piece of moorland to its normal beauty.
This is just one photo of Henlake how it should look, but in a lot of my doggy blogs there are various other photos showing Henlake in different areas UPDATE as at 8th April 2015. The blackness is beginning to fade and I am pleased to say that new green shoots are beginning to appear, and on my walk up on Henlake this morning I took some photographs to show Mother Nature working her magic. A couple of the photos were taken in exactly the same place as the blackened areas, so you can see the difference. The 3rd photo shows that even the burnt clumps are springing to back to life with new green shoots appearing and the 4th photo shows how quickly the black is turning to green once more. I would however say that as lots of the gorse and bracken was destroyed it is now quite a flat landscape and therefore it is quite a challenge to get your bearings and find the original paths.
I will continue to update with new photographs, so in a few months there should be a vast difference. UPDATE as at 21st April 2015 Just a couple more weeks have passed and the new growth is coming on a treat. Here are some photos showing its progress
UPDATE as at 19th May 2015. Almost another month has gone by and here are some photographs of the growth progress which I took when out walking with Henry this morning. Along with new grass the ferns are beginning to grow and unfurl. Each year there is always a lovely bluebell display, but with the cutting back and the swaling (fire) I have to say that there are more bluebells than ever and almost all of the Down is swathed in a purple carpet at the moment which is really quite beautiful.
UPDATE as at 25th June 2015. Another month has passed and it is now the ferns’ turn to open their leaves to the World, and it is quite astounding to think that a few months ago, this was just a scorched piece of land. Here are some photos taken when we were out walking this morning 25th June and the new growth just keeps on coming. I have taken one photo in the same place throughout this blog, so you can see the change from scorched to green
UPDATE as at 28th July 2015
Thought it was about time to do another photo update on the growth, particularly the ferns (which obviously were not affected by the swailing). They are taller than ever and it is quite difficult to find a path that isn’t overgrown, so if you walk a dog or take children up there it is great for hide and seek!!!
UPDATE as at 17th May 2016
Well, it is the bluebell season and Mother Nature’s blue carpet is at its very best at the moment – it really is quite beautiful up here on Henlake Down. There is even a small herd of cows that have just materialised enjoying this lovely bit of moorland.
Update 1st, 2nd, 3rd March 2018
This is a slightly different picture of Henlake in the snow, during the Beast from the East and Storm Emma’s arrival. With the bitter winds from the East, there were very deep snowdrifts underneath sheltered hedges that actually lasted for a week before they melted. My dog Archie loved the snow and played for ages in the snowdrifts every time we went for a walk up there. He was most upset when they finally melted.