The saviour of the North Devon Coast by Julian Gurney


“Some of my earliest memories revolve around our fantastic and varied coastline; it feels like it is part of me, in my blood as it were. As a boy my Father would take me out in his small fishing boat, we would even sleep on it from time to time which was very exciting and quite an adventure, I remember well falling to sleep with the waves gentle lapping at the sides the boat. I learnt to swim in the sea and vividly remember my Father explaining to my younger sister and I that it was so much easier than swimming in a pool as the salt would help us float, he was right.

Later, when I was old enough to explore, my best mate Jock and I would often ride our bikes or beg lifts to get the few miles from our village on the edge of Exmoor to local beaches at Saunton, Woolacombe, and Putsborough or, my personal favourite, Woody Bay on the Devon Coast of Exmoor.

I remember one day, in September 1976, our day became rather bizarre and almost dreamlike. The extreme heat of that glorious summer had melted the tar on the road and it was quite difficult to cycle through, like going uphill all the time, the tar stuck to the wheels of our bikes and soles of our shoes! That was also the day that the ladybirds arrived at Woody Bay! We had somehow managed to get hold of a small inflatable dinghy, goodness knows from where, we were paddling around the flat calm bay enjoying a cooling breeze when all of a sudden ladybirds began to land on the boat and in the sea, thousands upon thousands of them. We scooped up handfuls but became convinced they were biting us so left them be, the sea turned red with ladybirds.

We still meet up from time to time, Jock and I, and revisit old coastal haunts or discover new ones. A walk around Hartland or a day trip to Golden Cap, recently we entered the London to Landsend Rally in my old car, I think we came last, but we are still enjoying an adventure near the coast now and then.

Little did I know back then, as a boy of 15, that I would one day have the incredible privilege of managing the Devon Exmoor Coast, including Woody Bay, for others to enjoy. Maintaining a coastal property was, and is, the thing that drives me. There are a lot more visitors now than I remember in 1976 but they are doing the same things as we did back then. The walkers, swimmers and cyclists still come and I love to see them enjoy an area I know so well.

To me Enterprise Neptune is the saviour of the North Devon Coast, beaches and coastal habitat looked after for ever for everyone.

Enterprise Neptune is 50 Years old this Year and it’s also the 50th anniversary of the purchase of Woody Bay using funds raised by Neptune. That is, in my view, something well worth celebrating.

Julian Gurney

Lead Ranger National Trust West Exmoor Coast

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *