Country diary: Morwenstow to Bude, Cornwall: Below the listening domes the turf is sprinkled with late summer flowers

Morwenstow to Bude, Cornwall: Vertiginous cliffs hem boulders and choppy water, but turf on the cliff-land is sprinkled with stunted flowers

From Taylor’s Cross – on the watershed between coastal land and the marshy headstreams of the Tamar – drove roads and sunken lanes lead westwards towards the misted ocean. Up on the plateau, plastic-wrapped silage is piled in ricks beside hedges loaded with ripe blackberries. Sheep scatter in pastures and a few swallows course low around bales of golden straw on stubble. Beside the concreted access tracks of a dairy farm, banks, shorn of woody top growth, sprout new fern fronds. A fox streaks silently across a steep way overhung with trees that shelter leafy primrose and the plumes of full-grown ferns. Gateways afford glimpses back to Kilkhampton’s church tower and, in glades in the bottom of the Coombe Valley, speckled wood butterflies flit between knapweed, scabious and purple loosestrife.

Out in the open, where hardy sloe and hawthorn lean away from the blast of salty winds, a bridge (built by public subscription in 1836, including a contribution of £20 from King William IV) improved the lives of isolated farmers whose stock had been subject to drowning by flash floods as they crossed the ford. At Duckpool, vertiginous cliffs hem boulders and choppy water, but turf on the cliff-land is sprinkled with the stunted flowers of late summer – successors to the thrift and vernal squill of spring. Shallow soil is carpeted in bell heather and yellow gorse. In boggy hollows thrive flowery mint, fleabane and rushes. Below the exposed switchback of cliffs, sharp ribs and pinnacles of eroded slate protrude from the incoming tide. In the enclave off Sandymouth, overseen by diligent lifeguards, visitors in wetsuits wallow in the surf.

Beyond Northcott Mouth and towards Bude the coastal path is again overlooked by the white dishes and domes of GCHQ’s listening station at Morwenstow – eerie as they emerge from mist to rear above a cliff-top tumulus. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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