Susie David writes:

A pirate, stuffed parrot on his shoulder takes up position by the public loos. The open air caff gears up for the day. Neon lights flash electric in sunlight. We slip away, through the gate.

I notice the way we enter the Warren is always different to the way we come out. Returning over a hedge worn down to Devon red earth. Desire lines.

The coconut scent of gorse.

Let’s go to the furthermost point of the Warren.

Crow on his tapping stone tries to tap into a snail. A birder strides past. Tripod over one shoulder. On a mission. The birder disturbs the bird. Gives us a sideways glance. Two pigeons get too close to crow. Stay back, no closer. The snail will not come out. Try drowning it in a puddle. Nothing.

We are walking at talking pace but whose talking? The crow falls silent as his mates fly overhead.

My snail

We ramble meandering sentences snagging on the fresh blossom of a small tree. No thorns. Not a blackthorn then. A few speculative names dry up. Prospecting rabbit-scrapes break the ground cover of moss, lichen, liverwort and …Warren Crocus! Smaller than a rabbit dropping. Attitude of a garage forecourt lily.

Small blades of grass ranger Steve says aren’t strictly speaking grass. We’re a bit lost.

Bird foot prints, beak prints — dunlin? A trio of them, an almost not-there grey, dribble past us. A sideways glance from one of them (the second today), towards the sun-bathing seal on the shoreline. Dappled grey-green in full sun. Its fat body gouging a wide desire line down the beach marking high tide to low, as it gradually traces water’s descent. She lollops down a bit further. Ready for a quick escape. Wide whiskers fan out sand to sky. Flippers flush with her white under belly. We step closer. She arches backwards to look. Dark eyes, dark nose. Stay back, no closer. Asleep again. Megan and Gabby mimic seal, so light, they barely leave any imprint behind.

Thrill of arriving at the furthermost point but Exmouth is just across the water! Stay back, no closer. Machinery reversing and pneumatic hammer sounds hitting something hard clanks over the water. The tourist boat chugs by loudly announcing — And to our left, beyond those three people — that’s us — what looks like a log, is a seal.

This far out the sand is undisturbed. The sacrilege of our footprints.

Flotsam lines high water mark. We speak of seaweed looking like plastic. Plastic looking like seaweed.

I pull open a tawny owl pellet — Jaw, scapula, rib, fur. A small rodent rearranged.

All is calm for a moment. Skylark only seems to sing when disturbed, so we sit waiting in silence in an auditorium of dunes. Suddenly it sings. We listen to the whole story speechless in case any clues fall into our laps. Dull ache of a plane’s humming ransacks the lark’s pristine sky. This is the problem of ‘metaphorical interference’*. Can we edit it out? Do we want to edit the un-beautiful out?

I think you’ve got to keep going till it’s ordinary.

A vapour trail gets left behind and is wind twisted helter-skelter.


* Thanks Nicholson Baker


Megan Calver writes:

Dawlish Ranger, Steve, points out the tiny flowers of the Warren Crocus.

At first we can’t see anything.  You need to look carefully to spot these rare and diminutive plants.

Steve: “Is it rare or can no one be bothered to look for it?”

We become aware of crushing the crocuses under our booted feet and ask if trampling spreads the seed.

Steve: “The trouble with trampling…you need diffuse trampling.”

(Clue for the day)

If you trample too heavily in one place it crushes the flowers before they can set seed, though a little light trampling after the seed is set may be a good thing for dispersal.

Walking further into the Warren along the spit, we find a clump of Spanish bluebells.  In contrast to the crocuses they appear like brutish imposters.

A sign at the very end of the spit reads:


(Huge bird flocks must rest ahead when tide is very high)

You need to look carefully; the lettering is weathered, obscured.

(And I fail to grasp this second clue)

At the far end of the spit, our feet sink into the wet sand leaving deep footprints.  Sharp little beak holes in the sand alert us to the most delicate of footprints scattered across the sand’s surface —Dunlin, we guess.

Are we careless, monstrous?

“No” says Susie “We are allowed to be here too.”


Bellows the megaphone from a tourist boat.

The seal at the sea’s edge lumbers elegantly when we get too close.

Its mass equates to ours.

We are allowed then, like the seal, just as Susie says.

At the end of the day we try out some gestures together, mimicking the dignified movements of tufts of marram grass that we have observed leaning sideways into each other and drawing perfect arcs in the sand.

Our attempts at marram calligraphy are coarse compared to the real thing.

Frustrated, I break the no-talk rule, becoming bossy.

It’s a case of direct trampling.

As this sinks in, I resolve to GIVE WAY a bit more from now on.

A successful collaboration, I’m learning, is based on diffuse (rather than direct) trampling.  Disperse — don’t crush — the seed.