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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Sherford an Awesome Walk

Go for a walk, it's a beautiful October day, grab my camera, edit the photos, post them to my blog, it turns into a story. Why keep things simple when you can elaborate. I will elaborate on "awesome" later. Cupcake or black hole, I'll let you decide. Stick with me, this is a long walk.

Elaborate - Develop or present (a theory, policy, or system) in further detail. Involving many carefully arranged parts or details; detailed and complicated in design and planning.

Two definitions of elaborate there. Both only apply to the blog post rather than the walk , as the walk came first, before the design and planning ideas. That means I didn't elaborate on the walk but after the walk. On the walk I just snapped away at what caught my eye, so the photos are literally a snapshot of the walk on that day in that moment.

While on a walk though, I do find my mind wanders and connects chains of random thoughts rather like a dream is supposed to serve the purpose of filing away all of the random events a day normally throws your way. This walk then, became a story of a place and time. This blog post is the only record of that place and time.

The walk is a circular walk starting and ending in Frogmore, Devon, England on the 7th of October 2023 during a longer than expected "Indian Summer". It takes in the village of Sherford, the road through Sherford Down and the Green Lanes over the top of the hill and back down what used to be the main road into Frogmore.

Frogmore is at sea level, and the sea visits it twice a day, and science and our knowledge of the stars and planets being what it now is, you can get a little booklet every New Year telling you when the sea will arrive and leave, on any given day of that year. As I write this, the booklet says the sea will arrive in almost exactly four hours time.

My first photo is on the Sherford Road and I have decided to give the elevation of each photo taken, or at least, the elevation of me when I took it. Why not, when I'm starting at sea level? There's a satellite up there somewhere that has measured it.

So here I am 33ft above sea level but the top of the field is obviously a lot higher than that. As you can imagine, a walk starting at sea level is likely to be going uphill, not down, unless you wear a wetsuit.

I am using a clever, I hope, website where you can click anywhere on the planet and it will tell you the elevation at that point. It is because we have satellites whizzing around up there that we can do this. Mapmakers used to have to walk everywhere and look at poles on the tops of hills with telescopes and use compasses and string and lead weights and paper and pens and log tables and before all of that, just their imagination. Now, I have no doubt, there are probably satellites that can just see everything and turn all of what they see into a map in the blink of an eye. A lot of what science is discovering about the universe today was predicted by a "Swiss Patent Office Assistant Examiner Level III", about 120 years ago.

Elevation - 33ft 10.1m

If you didn't already know we are near the sea then here is a big clue, although I am not really sure why these are in a field and not on a quayside. We're already another 20 ft higher now. The reason I like this walk is that it has a nicely spread out series of mostly gentle, ups and downs, so that you are not permanently walking up hill fighting gravity, but rising incrementally. Walking downhill of course is working with gravity, a sort of controlled falling.

As Laurie Anderson put it...

You're walking.

And you don't always realize it, but you're always falling.

With each step you fall forward slightly.

And then catch yourself from falling.

Over and over, you're falling.

And then catching yourself from falling.

And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time.

Incrementally - In regular increases, additions, or stages.

So my notes of elevation are also notes of increments.

Having digressed a lot already, I nearly forgot to say, these are lobster pots, just in case you didn't recognise what they were. You might not have seen any before if you live in a desert.They normally sit on the seabed with a piece of fishy bait inside and when crustaceans climb in the hole in the top for a snack they cannot get back out, so they ultimately end up on a plate as a snack in an expensive bistro or in an overpriced sandwich sealed in cling wrap. If the proponents of "The Climate Emergency" are right, this will soon be the seabed, so at least we'll have a nice lunch coming our way. Thinking about it further, is this why they are here, is someone planning ahead? We'll see more of the seabed and a desert later on.

Elevation - 53ft 16.1m

I haven't featured much of Sherford or the route up, because I have done that before, in my Photo Walk to Sherford post. I have, however, included the ancient church tower, because the flag was doing a great job letting you know that there was a lovely breeze. Don't forget the elevation is me looking up, not the top of the tower. I'll soon be looking down at it.

Elevation - 152ft 46.5m

This ruin is in the village and I hadn't really noticed it before, this was one of the downhill bits, as you can see from the elevation. As you walk and fall through the village there are peaks and troughs on the way.

Its walls are made of slate blocks, notice how straight the horizontal edges are. Slate is all about layers.

This little news snippet is quite poignant and in a way sad and touching. It sort of fitted in right here.

Western Times - Tuesday 22 June 1920


Albert Edward Moore; 16, labourer, pleaded guilty to breaking and entering a dwelling- house at Sherford, near Kingsbridge, and stealing £I. Mr. R. A. Dummett said the lad found the key of the door hanging in an out house. He opened the door, and in an upstair room found £5, the savings of William Merrifield, labourer. He took one note. Prisoner was bound over for twelve months , the sum of £20.

What was going through Edward's mind as he found £5 but took only £1?

Elevation - 111ft 33.8m

Back up again, and a left turn to Sherford Down, with this Fuchsia, below, in the hedge on the corner. I used to grow Fuchsias so I know that this one must be in a bit of a micro climate, because it shouldn't really be this big and tree like, outside in England.This Fuchsia is a hybrid variety which should be non hardy, but that is what a maritime influence does.

The majority of Fuchsias are tropical or subtropical mostly from South and Central America. They were noted by Charles Plumier a French botanist who travelled the world noting things. He was also noted for having a very big note book. He had an unfeasibly not to say ludicrously large forehead, according to his portrait, but we cannot hold that against him, as it was on top of him. He named it in honour of the earlier German botanist Leonhart Fuchs, the flower, not the forehead. Who wants to draw more attention to a huge forehead than you need to.

If he had named the flowers after himself he would have been an actual bighead rather than just having a big head, and I would be photographing Plumeria instead. Not to worry though, because the Swedish botanist Linnaeus named another plant after him so there is a Plumeria, and this isn't it. Of course because the flower gave rise to a colour, the botanist Leonhart Fuchs also ended up inadvertently having a colour named after him too. Did he ever imagine himself in Fuchsia Pink?

Incidentally #FF00FF is the official international colour code for Fuchsia Pink which coincidentally looks like a social media acronym for an insult not a million miles away from the name Fuchs. So far I have not made anything up, but to keep you on your toes, I might at some point.

Elevation - 150ft 45.7m

I think this flower is Morning Glory or Convolvulus and the hedges are full of it. From a distance it looks quite endemic and weed like, but up close it is quite beautiful. I am actually very pleasantly surprised by how many flowers are still flourishing so late in the year. The various insects are taking full advantage. This walk was particularly marked by clouds of assorted butterflies, which was quite remarkable to me.

Elevation - 144ft 44m

This is a Red Admiral, and there were hundreds of them about in the hedges. These butterflies are migratory, flitting back and forth between North Africa and our lanes. How do they do that? Some adults overwinter here and they are quite common in early autumn. Early naturalists dubbed it The Red Admirable because of its beauty, and this was later corrupted to Admiral. At this time of year when ivy is flowering that is where you are likely to find them, along with bees and wasps.

Despite their size, migrating butterflies, including red admirals are not at the mercy of the wind. In fact, recent research using vertical-looking radar shows that they make maximum use of windy conditions. By selecting the most favourable tailwinds, often at altitudes of 1300 ft or more above the ground, butterflies can reach speeds of 30 mph – and can even correct for crosswind drift.

At 30 mph they need to stay out of Frogmore High Street, we have a speed limit campaign trying to lower it to 20 mph. The last thing we need is hordes of orange insects carelessly flapping away, correcting their crosswind drift.

Elevation - 141ft 43.1m

Now I am headed away from Sherford towards Sherford Down. The hedges are high, but at the field gate there are some lovely views of the village. On the horizon is the lane to Chillington.

Elevation - 142ft 43.3m

The harvest is mostly finished and ploughing and planting are underway.

Elevation - 142ft 43.3m

Elevation - 137ft 42m

Now there is another dip as the road drops into a dark, high sided holloway.

Elevation - 130ft 39.8m

Elevation - 124ft 37.8m

Elevation - 101ft 31m

Now we are down in the holloway and it is dark and damp. Holloways are created over a long period of time, at least decades and in most cases centuries. Before we started to surface roads with tarmac they suffered badly from erosion both from the weather and from passing traffic. Are holloways an example of entropy ?

Entropy - Broadly : the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. The degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity. Entropy is the general trend of the universe toward death and disorder.

The laws of science dictate that if not halted by some other means water ultimately flattens everything out. Gravity causes water to head downhill and if possible to take everything in its path with it. Break the soil with feet and hooves and rain will wash it away. Over time a defined path will cut its way through the landscape, until it gets tarmaced that is.

The Swiss Patent Office Assistant had a lot to say about entropy. Entropy can only increase as the universe is destined to increase disorder. You can tarmac a road, which stops your holloway getting deeper but in universal time frames that halt is a mere blink of an eye.

Of course here on this planet there are other natural means to stop the great flattening out over geological time. This means while water and wind try to flatten it out, the movement of the continents themselves counteract that to raise up the land again and even to twist it and roll it over and tilt it on edge.

That brings me to a natural wonder of this walk. Sea level is what we have here at 100ft above sea level, because these are marine sedimentary rocks spilling out of the side of the holloway. A geology map of the area describes the local stone as slate, the Lower Devonian band of slate runs from Dartmouth to Plymouth. There were many small home grown quarries in the area and here in this holloway you can see how accessible it is. Here you can easily make out its horizontal layers. It is seen in most of the walls of the local buildings.

Elevation - 100ft 30.5m

Now, finally we get to the awesome bit, and I don't mean the sort of enthusiasm sometimes shown these days for a rather nice cupcake, I mean awesome in its original true sense as something that inspires awe, here in this narrow, dark leafy lane in South Devon.

Right here at eye level and close enough to touch is the result of the power of the continents, solid, but at the same time moving like liquid as thy take horizontal layers and twist them into a fractured spiral of great beauty.

In fact it took me some time to realise what I was looking at here, having first spotted it about four years ago. Initially I had thought it might be spoil of some sort but I discounted that idea after I realised how intricate and perfect the spiral of turned slate was. A stone vortex. This is entropy once again.

Elevation - 100ft 30.5m

This slate was laid down just over 400 million years ago. These are the oldest rocks in Devon and were created at a time when this was a seabed near the equator. This has to be more awesome than a swirl of icing on a cupcake, surely.

This period was slap bang in the middle of two of the greatest extinction events on Earth. 440 million years ago 86% of all species were lost and then after these slates formed 375 million years ago 75% of species were lost. Microscopic organisms, including bacteria, were the most abundant forms of life on Earth from about 2 billion years ago until 400 million years ago, when plants began to spread across the land.

It would have been much later, when this slate was on its way here from the Equator on a moving continent, that it twisted into its spiral of today, and much later still when people arrived and started walking on this route when millions of footsteps carved out this holloway to reveal its secret.

In 400 million years maybe someone will be looking at something similar and noticing a dark band running through the layers, a band of tarmac. Entropy will do that.

Elevation - 100ft 30.5m

Now we reach Sherford Down Farm and at the entrance is this cattle grid which has filled up over time, making it less of an obstacle to hooves. I like the repetition of the idea of layers and the laying down of sediments.

Elevation - 166ft 50.9m

On the gatepost is this old iron latch that someone long ago decided would look nice enough that a bit of extra effort in design would be appropriate. It is fixed of course to the same slate building material we have already seen elsewhere. A small autumn leaf has landed on it and settled there in a small gap at the back. This is one of my favourite photos from the walk.

We are headed back up hill now, by the way.

Elevation - 166ft 50.9m

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Friday 01 August 1873


To be LET by TENDER, for a Term of 10 Years, from Michaelmas next, the ESTATE called Sherford Down, in the parish of Sherford, about 2 1/2 miles from Kingsbridge, in the county of Devon, containing about 210 acres of good orchard, meadow, pasture, and arable Land, with a superior dwelling house and good outbuildings. The estate is situate in the centre of that fertile district known as the South Hams. It is well watered, having water almost every field. The farm is also intersected with good private roads, and there are useful buildings conveniently placed about, also two cottages near the centre of the estate. The house is a large one, in a good state of repair, and suitable for a gentleman's residence. There are extensive manure stores both at Frogmore, which is within 1 1/2 miles of the farm, and Kingsbridge, and the latter is an excellent market town, with a monthly cattle market and weekly market for corn, &c. There are navigable creeks up to both places, so that all kinds of produce can be easily shipped, &c. Conditions of letting and plans of the farm can be seen at the office of Mr. John S. Hurrell, Solicitor, Kingsbridge, to whom Tenders are to sent on or before the 22nd day of August, 1873, and application for viewing made. The owner does not bind himself to accept the highest or any Tender. Kingsbridge, July, 1873.

Here are some "useful buildings conveniently placed about"

Elevation - 166ft 50.9m

Elevation - 182ft 55.6m

Elevation - 182ft 55.6m

Here, above and below, are two slate walls just for comparison.

Now for a bit of a climb.

Elevation - 225ft 68.6m

Elevation - 235ft 71.7m

Elevation - 235ft 71.7m

This is what a 400 million year old seabed looks like today. In a complex twist, what we see is rich red farming soils laid over the slatey bedrock. While the slate seabed was moving north from the Equator it became a desert where red sandstones were laid down. This is what are termed today The Devon Redlands and here we are on the edge of that area which gives us this deep red soil. Anyone who has been to nearby Torbay will have seen far more evidence of these red rocks where they form the common building material. Just south of here where tough rocky headlands jut out into the English channel the slates and siltstones were transformed by pressure and heat into much harder schist. Start Point and Prawle Point are the result. That transformation at Start Point was the result of the awesomely named "Variscan Orogeny". The Variscan Orogeny was the collision of two colossal continental landmasses. Who knew that this quiet little corner of South Devon was where continents collided? That is awesome in itself.

Elevation - 262ft 79.9m

You have heard the expression "All roads lead to Rome"? Well in the South Hams all roads seem to lead to Totnes.

I didn't even notice the small brown sticker until I looked at the photo later. It turns out to be a sign claiming that this is the Kingsbridge Estuary Cycle Route, something I never knew existed. I am not sure anyone knows it exists either as I have certainly never seen a cycle up here at 262 ft above the estuary. Even the 2021 Tour of Britain cycle race shot through Frogmore at sea level, in a matter of minutes, not venturing up here, and those guys are happy to cycle up the Alps.

Elevation - 262ft 79.9m

Elevation - 262ft 79.9m

Elevation - 262ft 79.9m

We are still climbing gently to the highest point of the walk in the Green Lanes and where there is another farm gate expansive views open up, and we are now looking down at the top of the church tower.

Elevation - 268ft 81.9m

Highest point. Elevation - 326ft 99.5m

Headed back down hill now to Frogmore in the Green Lanes and that means there is no chance of a passing car because cars are unable to manoeuvre these routes. They are rough tracks which are bare bedrock in places, narrow and often quite steep, water worn and sometimes even difficult to negotiate on foot. Farmers still use them for tractors to access fields. These were the main routes that never saw tarmac. In the 1840's before tarmac arrived in these lanes, the new turnpike roads were built along the estuary, leaving these quiet lanes in their original state. This is a Peacock butterfly warming itself on the bedrock floor, and I think I can say without hyperbole that this stretch of lane had more butterflies swarming around me than I have ever seen in my life before in one place.

Elevation - 270ft 82.6m

Peacock butterflies are very different to Red Admirals in not being migratory. They hibernate over winter and mate and lay eggs in the Spring. The males are territorial and rely on this defence of a specific location to acquire a passing female, they mate only once, so the male puts all his efforts into defending his territory rather than finding and defending a female.

The peacock spots which look like eyes are in fact evolved for exactly that reason. Tests have shown that most bird predators deterred from attack do see the eyespots as a threat, some even issuing distress warnings to other birds. It hasn't been determined what threat is perceived by the birds but we do know it works, and evolution, working the way it does, the most successfully threatening spots are on the butterflies that survive and produce more offspring with equally threatening spots.

Coming down the other side of the hill a view of the creek opens up. The channel markers are clearly visible in the middle. This is the view in the direction of Prawle Point.

Elevation - 208ft 63.6m

There is a lot of cattle farming in this area and these examples all have their heads down making the most of some of the last fresh grass of the year.

Elevation - 208ft 63.6m

Coming out of the Green Lane on to the main road and one of the remaining thatched cottages is getting a new roof. Not a fire, just more entropy.

Western Morning News - Monday 11 March 1935

ALARM DELAY AT KINGSBRIDGE FOUR fires which broke out in widely-separated parts of Devon during the week-end rendered three families homeless and caused damage estimated at hundreds of pounds................ Attempts have been made from time to time to get Kingsbridge Urban Council to provide an up-to-date method of summoning the fire-brigade in the place of the present method of a man running around the streets sounding an antiquated hand-manipulated fog-horn. There was on Saturday a fire call between mid-day and one o'clock, a thatched roof at Frogmore having caught fire. Con. Bickford ran around the town with the fire horn, blowing it at the heads of the passageways and the local public-houses as well as in the main roads. About ten minutes after the first sounding of the alarm only one fireman—the engine driver—had arrived at the fire station. After several minutes' wait a second man arrived, but, luckily, the call had been cancelled in the meantime as neighbours had the flames under control. The other firemen did not hear the call.

Elevation - 79ft 24.3m

As I come down to the creek the Little Egret is in his usual spot fishing.

Elevation - 9.3ft 2.8m

On the bridge looking down, and the tide is not fully in yet so the stream is still running out in a spot that regularly changes from fresh to saltwater. There is slate here too. The water was so clear that I took a photo because I thought something had moved. I stared hard but couldn't see anything. I have seen an eel before so I always look.

What I hadn't noticed was the small crabshell bottom left, and when I zoomed in on my PC screen and had a closer look I counted 14 small fish. Can you see any? I would make a very poor and hungry Little Egret.

Elevation - 5.9ft 1.8m

A note on the satellites that enable all of our location, elevation and GPS facilities today. None of these would be possible without the Swiss Patent Office Assistant. His name was Einstein of course and since he came up with all his theories a hundred years ago, tens of thousands of scientists have been testing them out and finding that he was just about right on everything. He theorised about the deepest depths of the universe which we are just starting to see now with the new James Webb Telescope. Einstein was 26 when he made his predictions. It took 30 years just to build the James Webb Telescope. Einstein didn't use a crystal ball he used mathematics.

Einstein said all light must obey the speed limit of 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) per second. Even if two particles of light carry very different amounts of energy their speed will be the same. It was 2009 before this was proved. NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected two photons at virtually the same moment, with one carrying a million times more energy than the other. They both came from a high-energy region near the collision of two neutron stars about 7 billion years ago.

Einstein claimed that although light travelled in a straight line, gravity could bend it. This was behind his theory of relativity in which space and time are linked. Because spacecraft communicate with Earth using light, in the form of radio waves, they present great opportunities to see whether the gravity of a massive object like the Sun changes light’s path. From 1970 onwards various space missions have tested and confirmed this theory. The mass of the sun does indeed bend radio signals.

The awesome result of this gravitational effect is that because of Earth’s gravity curving spacetime, satellites experience time moving slightly faster than on Earth. When scientists worked out the net effect of these forces, they found that the satellites’ clocks would always be a tiny bit ahead of clocks on Earth. While the difference per day is a matter of millionths of a second, that change really adds up. If GPS didn’t have Einstein's theory of relativity built into its technology, your phone would guide you miles out of your way!

The Swiss Patent Office Assistant worked on his theories in his spare time. When he was doing it, almost every vehicle on London's streets was horse drawn. 300,000 horses kept the city moving. Back then, astronomers believed the Milky Way galaxy was all there was. They didn't know there were billions of other galaxies; they didn't know how small we really are, but the Swiss Patent Office Assistant was predicting that colliding black holes would have a wobble called precession, which we only witnessed a year ago.

That is awesome.

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