One of the most exciting things about the acquisition of Fingle woods is the need to get to know it I had a fair knowledge of some parts but I had never been to most of it. So on Saturday I got up early and went for a long walk in Halls cleave and Coleridge wood just to the South of Clifford Bridge.
In the bottom of the valley or coombe is a picturesque stream with grassy banks surrounded on most sides by rather forbidding conifer forest but a bit further up the valley are wonderful stands of huge Douglas fir, Western Red Cedar and Sequoia just like parts of West coast America and Canada. It seems a shame that the conifers are much maligned when in a commercial plantation but if left beyond their financially optimum life span and given some space to develop into old age the trees are very impressive.
Once a thriving industry these woods and many more like them in Devon were managed as oak coppice to produce charcoal for iron smelting and domestic use, the bark was stripped from the cut trees and used for tanning leather. In these days before the first war the valley would have been full of smoke, resounding to the ring of axes and pack horses would have been busy transporting charcoal and bark to the road heads.
As the value of charcoal declined with the development of coal the cut coppice areas were planted up with conifer these fast growing trees soon grew and effectively suffocated the slow growing oak. Our role now is to remove the conifer and reinstate the oak.
Along with the dense dark conifer there are areas Larch letting in light and fragments of bluebell rich ancient woodland with huge old oaks so there is plenty of wildlife to see if you are quiet and attentive. I saw a young fallow buck asleep in the morning sun and a group of does busily foraging no time to nap as their fawns are growing rapidly before they are born in late June. Please keep dogs under close control as the deer are very vulnerable at this time.
The walks are on good forest tracks mostly contouring in rough semi circles round a deep hidden valley and not too strenuous although there are some steep climbs in places. One walk is way marked and more will be in time otherwise use the OS 1:2500 Dartmoor map which shows the main rides or for the more confident walkers it is nice just to explore if you get lost head down hill and you should end up in the valley bottom where the stream will lead you to Clifford bridge. There are 3 or 4 small car parking areas at different access points.