Today my car went for an MOT. The garage I use is on an industrial estate just outside Barnstaple, not the most convenient for us but they have always been kind and helpful and, most importantly, not patronising. The plan was that I would drop the car off early and walk into town to do a little shopping, some chores, maybe a little lunch, and wait for their call. If it was not for the fact that the Sword of Damocles was hanging over my head, it was a treat, it is rare that I get a few hours of enforced town-dom. Christmas is coming and all that. A good opportunity.
Although the walk to the centre takes a good 25 minutes, it is not a trial. Especially not today. After just a few minutes, passing fenced off factories, forklifts, portacabin cafes and sneaky smokers, I can dip down off the main road and onto the Tarka Trail. This was once a rail line, a victim of the Beeching closures, and is now a cycle and walking route which will take me all the way to Barnstaple. On such a glorious morning, I took the opportunity to dawdle, taking photos, greeting runners and dog walkers, and running dog walkers, cyclists whooshing past. Just looking. No need to hurry.
I love bridges, ancient stone or concrete and carbon, bascule, cantilever and suspension. The bridge that spans the river here, the Taw Bridge, is no exception, such a gentle curve, elegant and understated.
As the traffic streamed across the bridge I wandered, wondering how many folk travelled this line on their way to holidays in Ilfracombe, and about the packed boxes of tulip bulbs and cut flowers that passed from the Braunton Great Fields to Covent Garden and beyond.
Along this route something ancient still holds strong, umbellifers and bees, brambles and animal runs, crumbling boats. Sparrows squabbled and terns drifted by silently, like spirits.
Then onto the next bridge, this time the Yeo, a wood and steel structure constructed in 2000. Its curving ribs remind me of a book I read as a girl about a castaway girl who made a home from a whale skeleton. Comforting, cocooning.
Cormorants and gulls vied for position, although unlike the continually dipping cormorants the seagulls seemed uninterested in fishing, rather enjoying the barely perceptible outgoing tide gently caressing them towards the sea.
And then the prize, and the final bridge, just seen in the distance, Barnstaple’s medieval Long Bridge.
The miracle was that my car passed its MOT. So although the return journey was over-cast and I was laden with shopping, I still had a spring in my step. The tide was almost out and a cormorant sat in the midst of a sand bar, ruler of this temporary kingdom.