I've saved my favourite day-trip post until last of all, as it's a place that makes me very happy. On a hot summer's day we packed the car and drove through the top of Somerset into North Devon. Hills became higher and higher and the scenery more dramatic, until we found ourselves on the top of Exmoor. We stopped the car at a viewpoint to drink in the scenery and smell the sweet summer air.
Under a wind-blown, leaning hawthorn sheep rested, glad to be out of the sun. They roam freely on Exmoor and frequently wander along the roads. This must be a bleak place in winter.
The road wound on ahead like a ribbon, up and over the hills. We've driven this way many times.
Green, lushly-wooded combes fell away from us on either side, giddyingly deep.
Before long the sea came into view. Here the road drops 1300 ft from the heights of Exmoor to sea-level and the precipice is just over that grassy bank. You need to have excellent brakes and a steady nerve. I discovered this video of the descent on You Tube - watch it if you dare!
After a long, slow descent we arrived, brakes intact, at Lynmouth, a village by the sea. It's where two rivers converge after flowing through rocky gorges and 700 ft above is the town of Lynton. The two settlements are connected by a road and a cliff railway. Today, however, we weren't stopping here.
We took the road out of Lynmouth and drove along the side of a wooded river gorge for a mile or so, the road winding between towering tree-covered banks on one side and a steep drop on the other.
Before long we parked the car in a car park cut from the side of the cliff and made sure we had stout shoes on. The air was very fresh and we were surrounded by greenness. We started our walk down into the gorge. The path is steep and zig-zags its way through the trees to the very bottom of the Lyn Valley. The side of the cliff is lush, packed with ferns, moss and plants which love the shade.
It took me a while to identify this little yellow flower, but thanks to the internet I discovered that it's melampyrum sylvaticum or small cow-wheat. It likes river valleys and humidity and is mainly found in Scotland.
Gradually the sound of rushing water became audible as we approached the bottom of the gorge, and we crossed the first river, Hoar Oak Water. Water cascades over rocks here, in a waterfall which crashes down from the hills above.
Next we crossed the East Lyn, a little more sedate, but nevertheless beautiful. My heart began to quicken. We were nearly there.
And so we were. We had arrived at one of my favourite places in the world, the place where two rivers converge, Watersmeet.
Here two waters rush down from the moors over rocks and waterfalls, and have carved out the gorge, leaving boulders strewn in their wake.
Victorian writers and artists loved this place, calling it 'Little Switzerland', and it appealed to the Romantics' sensibilities. A local lord, a follower of the Romantic poets had a fishing lodge built here.
Here it is, beautiful Watersmeet House, now owned by the National Trust. It has an excellent tea-garden and gift shop which overlook the river, and couldn't be more romantic and picturesque.
We have come here many times for lunch or a cream tea followed by a walk along the valley. Today we had a quick lunch and then headed out to the river.
The steep sides of the gorge towered above us in all directions, walls of green which encircled the bright blue sky.
This is a place where I notice and remember the small things. I love the cobbles laid on their sides which form a pleasing and repetitive pattern all around the lodge.
I also love the criss-crossed rustic fencing around the tea-garden, and the sweep of the lawn. When we first came here there was an enormous cedar tree which shaded much of the garden. it has since been felled and grassed over.
Flowing quickly alongside this path is the river, clear and pebbly, inviting me in for a paddle or dip.
My, it was cold and wonderfully tingly! I can never come here without paddling.
It was a hot day and the sun was at its highest in the sky. The water was very cooling indeed.
Looking down the river it tumbles over a little waterfall into a deeper pool where P and J swam for most of the afternoon. D and I were content to paddle and splash about, as were several other families. The larger pebbles and boulders are smooth and slippery with weed, and you have to watch your footing as you balance between them.
I am always indescribably happy when I'm here. For me it's a place with magic in it. The woods are mysterious, yet strangely comforting and the river has drama and power. It's an ancient place with echoes of past industry - lime kilns, a mineral water factory, a Victorian hydro-electricity station and woodland industry like oak-coppicing and charcoal production.
Now, however, that's all fallen silent and the sounds come from the river, birds and walkers. Despite being a popular place, it's never overcrowded here.
There seems to be room for everyone to find their own piece of tranquility and stillness.
I had my own little Andy Goldsworthy moment, making a little piece of natural art from meadowsweet leaves.
I love the frothiness of meadowsweet. In medieval times it was made into a drink, used in bridal garlands and strewed on floors to make rooms smell sweet. A delicate flower, its scent is like honey.
It was very relaxing to sit and walk beside the noisy river and to look up into the trees above.
There is a rich mix of trees here: oak, holly, hazel, ash, rowan, whitebeam and myrtle to name a few. Many varieties of lichen also grow here.
Enticing steps lead steeply away and out of sight, tempting me to to climb them.
This is an enchanted place. One might believe that fairy folk dwell here unseen.
In foxglove bells perhaps.
The bramble flowers here are a deep pink and foreshadow the stain of the berries to come.
I sat on a rock and worked on some crochet which I'd brought with me. Some little seasonal hydrangea flowers. It was delicious to crochet in such a wild place with my toes in cold moorland water.
All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Watersmeet and head back up the hill to the car. I was sad to leave such a wonderful place and cast several backward glances as we wended our way up the steep path. Goodbye, lovely Watersmeet - I hope it won't be too long before we're back again!
We drove back along the gorge to the coastal village of Lynmouth and went for a bit of a wander around the little touristy shops and cafes. It's a very sweet place indeed.
A little fishing village, this is where the river Lyn runs out into the Bristol Channel.
As we wandered back I caught sight of this hydrangea - just the same as the flowers that I've been crocheting.
Back up Countisbury Hill - so glad that P was driving, but look at that view!
And up and over Exmoor, stopping to enjoy the heather.
Those sheep do like to wander in the road. I'm not entirely sure what this one was up to!
Another stop at a viewing point looking over towards Porlock.
I could look at these views all day, and love the freshness of the air up here. It feels good to be alive.
And now it was time to drive back down Porlock Hill, another 1300 ft drop, and one of the steepest A roads in the country. We had taken the slightly less steep scenic toll road coming up as we once broke down on Porlock's 1 in 3 hairpin bends. It's still an adrenaline-fuelled drive, though!
I have something else to remind me of this wonderful place - an Exmoor Heather candle which I bought at Watersmeet. I shall enjoy its moorland scent. Although better than that are my photographs and happy, happy memories.
For me it's a place that leave a lasting impression and a sense of well-being and calm. Everyone should have one of those, I think x