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Peter D. A. Boyd

Account of North Devon Meeting of British Pteridological Society

Wednesday 23rd September - Sunday 27th September 1992

Peter D.A.Boyd

BOYD, P.D.A. 1992(a). Report on British Pteridological Society Field Meeting in North Devon, 23rd-27th September 1992. Bulletin of British Pteridological Society, 4, 114-117.

Wednesday 23rd September 1992

32 people attended this meeting in North Devon and most of them met on Wednesday evening at the Cedars Lodge Inn, Bickington Road, Barnstaple for a briefing from Peter Boyd who had organized the programme of field trips and other activities.

Thursday 24th September 1992

The first day started with a visit to the Museum of North Devon, Barnstaple to view the displays on the Victorian Fern Craze and the unique collection of Victorian objects using ferns as the dominant decorative motif built-up by Peter Boyd, the Curator, over a period of about six years. A special exhibition of fern herbaria, fern books (including a series of Jones' Nature Prints) and ferny objects not normally on public display had also been prepared for the visit. A group photograph was taken on the steps of the museum.

After coffee, the group left Barnstaple by cars in convoy via the A 39 road to meet at Kentisbury Church (SS 623 438) . Ferns, carved in stone, were examined in a Victorian extension inside the church and Asplenium ceterach and other typical species of mortared walls seen on walls near the church. A large Osmunda regalis was admired in a garden and a plant of the same species was found growing (? wild) among the abundant Asplenium scolopendrium, Athyrium filix-femina, Dryopteris dilatata, Dryopteris affinis, Dryopteris filix-mas, Polystichum setiferum etc etc. lining the lane.

After returning to the cars the party drove to a road stop between Coulsworthy and Stony Corner (at SS 621 455) on the road to Hunters Inn to examine abundant Asplenium adiantum-nigrum in a typical 'Devon Bank' habitat.

The party then made its way by cars over the heather moorland of Holdstone Down stopping briefly (at SS 634 481) to consider the diverse fern habitats of sea-cliffs, moorland and deep wooded valleys of Exmoor visible from there. Then down into the spectacular Trentishoe Combe and the Heddon Valley, past Hunters Inn (SS 655 482) then up again out of the valley past luxuriant woodland ferns to Martinhoe and the National Trust Car Park at Woody Bay (SS 675 487). From there the party walked along the road towards the Woody Bay Hotel (SS 680 488), where lunch had been booked, studying the ferns on the way. Dryopteris aemula is a speciality of the area. Charles Druery found several interesting varieties of Blechnum spicant here in the 1880s but while the species is abundant only one unusual specimen, attempting to be serrate, was noticed. After lunch, Asplenium ceterach was observed on the walls below the hotel and the walk continued to make a round trip through the steep woodlands of Woody Bay back to the car-park. These woodlands are rich in species and Martin Rickard found a large colony of Hymenophyllum tunbridgense hitherto unrecorded. Unfortunately, National Trust workers had sprayed parts of it with herbicide to kill stumps of Rhododendron ponticum leaving ugly brown patches of dead Filmy Fern - the Rhododendron is probably more resistant then the Hymenophyllum! The two species of Hymenophyllum were collected to extinction in many parts of Devon during Victorian times and it was good to see such a large expanse surviving.

On returning to the cars, the party returned to the Heddon Valley to visit Peter Boyd's three acre ferny woodland garden (in the making) at Milltown Cottage (SS 656 478). He has a growing collection of the cultivars of British fern species including specimens of Athyrium filix-femina, Asplenium scolopendrium and Polystichum setiferum from old gardens in North Devon and the F.W. Thorrington and Bolton collections. A very good distinct crisp form of Asplenium scolopendrium found in a North Devon quarry and a fine large 'Projectum' form of A. scolopendrium found in a Victorian garden in Ilfracombe were particularly admired by certain members of the party. Peter Boyd is successfully propagating various scollies in his collection by frond bases and showed some frond bases at different stages of development.

The party returned for Dinner at the Cedars Inn and afterwards Martin Rickard gave an illustrated talk on his trip to study ferns on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean.

Friday 25th September 1992

The meeting point for the second day was on Exmoor at Dry Bridge, Brendon Common (SS 760 455). The air, weather and the autumn colours of the moor were beautiful and the walk down the combe beside the stream to Farley Water (SS 748 453) was a delight. The main purpose of the visit was to see a habitat dominated by Oreopteris limbosperma in contrast to the habitats seen the day before and those to be seen later. Drosera rotundifolia (Sundew) and other bog plants added to the interest of the area.

On returning to the cars the party made its way off the moor down into the gorge of the East Lyn River at Watersmeet (SS 743 486) an area known to the Victorians as 'the Switzerland of England' where the diversity and abundance of fern species typical of North Devon valley woodlands was met again. Lunch was eaten at the National Trust Visitor Centre. Close-by, in Barton Wood, a fine colony of Hymenophyllum tunbridgense was examined and members of the party were privileged to be shown mats of Trichomanes speciosum gametophyte (possibly hundreds of years old) by Robert Cooke who had found them (with the help of his torch) while others were eating. Further upstream along the East Lyn, Martin Rickard was able to show the party a fine colony of Hymenophyllum wilsonii, the only one known in North Devon. The area was one particularly plundered for filmy ferns during Victorian times. It was a great pleasure to see all three species of British filmy fern within a few hundred yards of each other - even if one was as the gametophyte with its closest known sporophyte in Cornwall!

On leaving Watersmeet, the party drove down the gorge to Lynmouth and then up to Lynton and parked to walk to the site of Edmund Gill's Fernery (SS 719 494). Edmund Gill ran one of the three specialist fern nurseries which operated in North Devon during Victorian times (see Boyd 1992). Lynton Church was also visited to see a Hartstongue and a ?Male Fern carved on a Victorian gravestone in the churchyard.

On the way back to Barnstaple, the party detoured to the spectacular Valley of the Rocks (SS 707 498) west of Lynton, as an extra stop, to search for Asplenium marinum reported to be there but, while good impressions were given by members of the party of the Wild Goats which live there, only some rather fleshy forms of Asplenium adiantum-nigrum were found. One small party, still not satiated, detoured south- eastwards into Somerset near Simonsbath to visit a Phegopteris connectilis site - a species which cannot now be seen growing wild in North Devon.

After dinner at the Cedars Inn, Peter Boyd gave an illustrated talk about the Victorian Fern Craze in North Devon and the history of North Devon Museums Service.

Saturday 26th September 1992

The third day of excursions was another contrast and the party assembled at the Cedars Inn to be collected by coach to be taken to Ilfracombe to board the ship for Lundy Island. Even certain members that had expressed trepidation at the idea of a sea trip were there. The MS Oldenburg sailed from Ilfracombe Quay (SS 526 479) at 10.30am and was due to reach Lundy at 12.45pm. However, the sea conditions made it impossible to land because the small boat which transfers visitors from the MS Oldenburg to the shore could not be launched from the shore. Rather than just wait offshore the MS Oldenburg sailed right around Lundy giving a view of the island which visitors do not normally get. When we returned to the bay off the Landing Beach conditions were still difficult but after several attempts groups of visitors were off-loaded into the bucking boat and taken to the shore - visiting Lundy can be quite an experience!

Close to the Landing Beach good specimens of Asplenium marinum were examined but time was now short and a forced march was necessary along the east side of the island along the top of the cliffs to reach the long-disused granite quarries where Osmunda regalis grows out of vertical fissures and a particularly crispy form of Dryopteris aemula is abundant. Knowing that the party could now get back to the boat in time before it sailed, the leader relaxed the pace and the party were able to walk back from the Half-way Wall (SS 136 456) along the middle of the island and visit the shop and Marisco Tavern to buy Lundy's own postage stamps etc. The last boat left shore at 4.30pm - nearly without the leader whose pace had become too relaxed, looking at Asplenium marinum again!

The M.S.Oldenburg sailed for Bideford and about an hour and a half later passed close to the famous Braunton Burrows Nature Reserve before making its way up the River Torridge, past Appledore Shipyards, under the new Bideford Bridge to Bideford Quay (SS 455 266). The coach was waiting to return the party to the Cedars Inn in Barnstaple and the leader could relax with no-one lost, no-one sea-sick and the transport where it was supposed to be! A relaxed evening followed at the Cedar's Inn.

Sunday 27th September

Holy Trinity Church, Ilfracombe (SS 514 473) was the meeting point for the final morning of excursions. This was the church of the Rev. John Mills Chanter, well-known Victorian pteridologist whose wife, Charlotte Chanter, wrote Ferny Combes - A Ramble After Ferns in the Glens and Valleys of Devonshire in 1856. Their plain gravestone was found but the churchyard was visited to see some of the Victorian gravestones which boast carved ferns - one with crested Asplenium scolopendrium in marble.

The party then walked from the church to see the site of John Dadds's Fern Nursery at Langleigh(SS 511 which thrived 469) from the 1860s to 1880s (see Boyd 1992). There was not time to visit the site of John Lewis's Fern Nursery at Slade because the last excursion was to be to a site on the coast only accessible at low tide.

Having returned to the cars the party moved on to park where access was possible to the Torrs Walks (SS 508 475) on the west side of Ilfracombe. Martin Rickard had visited the site before so led the party down the cliff and along the beach to find Maidenhair Fern Adiantum capillus-veneris growing in tufa near sea-level. At first the site could be not be found and the writer thought on several occasions that it would be a pity if members of the group were lost at this stage from falling off the cliff, rocks falling on heads or drowning. Eventually, most members of the group were able to see what was very much a North Devon speciality last century and far more widespread in the Ilfracombe area. However, concern was expressed for its survival as early as the 1860s because of overcollecting. This site was first recorded in early Victorian times and it was a great pleasure to see it still surviving because of its inaccessibility.

On returning to the cars by about 2pm the group dispersed with many members starting off for home, two who were absent on the first day going to see Museum of North Devon and some others, who were staying another night, going to visit Rosemoor Gardens near Torrington.

The writer has not mentioned all the fern species seen during this four day meeting. The richness of North Devon in species and abundance of many of them was demonstrated to those who attended and we were blessed with good weather for most of the time. It was a very enjoyable few days - even for the organizer!



BOYD, P.D.A. 1992 The Victorian Fern Cult in South West Britain in IDE, JERMY AND PAUL, 1992 Fern Horticulture: Past, Present and Future Perspectives. Intercept, Andover. 33-56. (Proceedings of the British Pteridological Society Centenary Symposium held in 1991).Web version available

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Revised: December 30th, 2001