A visit to Dartmoor and a chance to take my time, revisiting some past spaces in better weather. Dartmoor is a place I love to visit. Quiet open places, rivers, old places that have no context except the meanings we read into them ourselves, the ideas they strike in our own minds.
Work from my trip to Dartmoor.
Going back to old words, older than any I have spoken,
old enough to have never been written.
Lines and circles, single statements
marking the landscape that has become
devoid of the trees that made it what it was.
Bridges, across water, across ideas of places
and leading to other words left behind
of such density we can’t carry them
with us in our pocket as we do now.
Words so important we set them in stone.
Any of you living in the UK will have noticed the rain and wind on Saturday (3rd). I watched the weather forecast, and since the 3rd was my spare time day I went anyway and dragged Pete into it as well. Nobody else seemed to want to come?? So it was off to Dartmoor, North East side and a little village called Teigncombe as a starting point.
Dartmoor is a place to test things, on a wet and windy day, we tested our navigation under duress. We tested our wet weather gear, our boots, and our willingness to be there when most other people stayed at home. The plan was a ten-mile circle taking in Kestor and its rock basin. The stone alignments and what-nots on shovel down. Then open moor to another settlement followed by a waterfall on the Teign river. Where we would execute a crossing over the rocks or ford or something to be decided when we got there. From there head north around the high ground to avoid some bogs and drop south to the Scorehill Circle, recross the river and head home after a satisfying day out. This plan went well until we got to the river.
Two days of rain had pushed up the river level beyond the roll your trousers up and carry your boots level. It went beyond the rope and loops I carried in case of a difficult water crossing or something going wrong. It was high and fast, bouncing over the rocks and drowning conversation let alone people trying to get across. Plan B then, the footbridge half a mile upstream. A stomp along the squelchy banks and slopes, hopping around, through and tip-toeing over pools and spreading river edges.
We were dismayed, but not surprised to find the footbridge struggling, more than was reasonable considering we had come all that way to cross it. The level area surrounding the far side was an expanding river Teign. A prod with a stick at arm’s length went in about two feet. The pull was strong even where the river was wide, and the draw under the Clapper bridge was immense.
Now we needed a plan C. And any plan is better after food and coffee in the shade of scented pines with the sun dappling the ground, or, as in our case, hiding in a pine plantation from the wind and rain eating a picnic and clutching a cup to stop it blowing away. We decided to attack the circle from the other direction, cross the moor to Batsworthy Corner again and head north to the end of our walk, Scorhill Circle. Crossing the Teign further downstream across a series of Footbridges marked nicely on the map (I know). Wind buffeted, rained on, yet undeterred we found the bridges, and the disconnected Islands between them. We could see the circle half a mile away across the river, but once again water stopped our progress, we hunted the hummocks for a way to cross, watched the water pouring over the rocks, listened to it raising the roof in its hunt for lower ground. This time we admitted it was not happening today. A decision was made. Sadly, we turned towards the car to go find a pub (A nice pub called the Sandy Inn) and a pint of Dartmoor Jail Ale before heading back up the M5 and home.
Not quite the day we had planned, but a great day out in some wild weather and a visit to some more of Dartmoor’s ancient landmarks. I am fascinated by the amount around on the moors here. Most are easy to find and it is great to trace the layers of humanity that have created our countryside. The pubs are pretty good places to visit too.
Happy New Year everyone, I am leaving Facebook for a while and trying to concentrate on my blog and writing, so hopefully you my audience will benefit and enjoy.
Sometimes it is good to get out in the rain and splash in the puddles
Before the end of summer, I wanted to head out and spend a night under the sky, to watch the sun set and rise in a wild place. The place I had in mind was Dartmoor, and to add a bit of mood to the trip I chose to walk the Lychway, an old coffin road across Dartmoor. Where they would transport the dead to Lydford for burial. And I picked a site below the Devil’s Tor, a bronze age settlement for my campsite.
I’ve walked Dartmoor since I was a kid, and I think that makes it a special place for me. Though I haven’t been there for a while, the rough ground, the rocks and wild vegetation are all familiar. Crossed by streams and rivers, with bogs and pools lurking on most open ground, it is a challenging environment to travel through. It is however worth the trouble.
I love the way you can make your own path on Dartmoor, the National Park has an open access policy and encourages landowners to do the same, that includes the Ministry of Defense who own much of the moors. Checking for live firing and watching for red flags is a must when you plan your trip.
Below Conies Down Tor there is a Bronze Age Settlement, as is usual, it will be near water and on level ground. Often the stone walls of these circular huts can still be found. They make good places to camp, dry, level and sheltered. I chose the spot, and arrived with plenty of light to set up, and scout round. The stone row marked on the map was little more than stubs, grass-covered and proved hard to find, an hour of crossing to trace its course up the side of the Tor. Marked by three larger stones at the head. The views for Conies Down Tor where good, but the low cloud made for poor pictures, I would have to hope for a better sunrise.
Ghost stories and beast stories abound around Dartmoor. The stone circles and lines, the old settlements and deserted homestead farms make for spooky nights, just over the hill from me was The Devil’s Tor, with The Beardown Man standing watch. I woke at four in the morning, rolled over to look at the magnificent stars. The milky way arching across the sky, silver moonlight casting itself low across the ground. The stream below the camp gulping across the rocks was a peaceful backdrop and I drifted back to sleep, warm and comfortable.
I was up early in the cool of the pre-dawn light, a cold but fascinating shade. Nothing was moving except the water and me, I packed quickly and climbed to the Devil’s Tor, ready for sunrise and breakfast. That time when waiting, a chance to plan for the day, to sketch out the next few miles and watch the light spread across the sky. An inspiring time to be in the right place, coffee brewing, camera ready and a breakfast waiting in the wings.
My guardian for the night, the Beardown Man, a standing stone with no known history. A boundary marker, a waypoint to join the Lychway, a meeting place. Lost in time, I like to think he’s there to look after the Devil’s Tor, to keep in check the spreading dark. Who knows why he was placed here, he cuts a dash though at over three metres tall and built of granite.
After breakfast It was over Rough Tor, following animal tracks to lead me through the bog, across the West Dart river and over Broad Down to a waterfall at the East Dart River, a pleasant flog through the long tussocks and over the marshes that reach out to grab you without warning. It was dryer than it has been, but you still spend a lot of time squelching through areas to big to go around. Hopping from tussock to clump, avoiding the more obvious wet ground. Most rivers are laced with rocks and fords so crossing is OK, although in rainy times they can be problematic.
Since the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, and I had the world to myself. I had to have a dip in the Dart, would be rude not to. You will need to take my word for it, I was the only one so no pictures in the water. I cleaned of the days walking, cooled the moors from my skin. And warmed up and dried in the heat of the sun. Nothing better. With only an hours stroll back it was a good moment to rest and savour the best of this patch of the country.
Lots more pictures here, hope you don’t mind too much. Anyone else been out under the stars, slept a night in an old place, somewhere with history? Where would you recommend? The leaves on the cherry tree in our garden are turning, the mornings are cooling now, Autumn is near the weather for nights out will soon be gone. I do like cold crisp starts though, and camping out in the snow, maybe this year I’ll get lucky. Get out there and see the world, close to home or far away, there will be something new to find, go find it.
Last weekend I revisited Dartmoor, a wild place with many leftovers from previous settlers. I walked the Lychway, an old coffin road. Where the dead were carried to the church at Lydford. More of the trip at a later date. For now a short piece about the standing stone called the Beardown Man.
Eleven feet and more and silent as the grave
and all that stands between the Devil’s Tor
and Conies Down settlement.
Sunrise to sundown and back again
four thousand years and still watching.
High stone marker to some purpose
lost on us now. We pass, like time
and are lost on the old Coffin Road.
A night out on the open moors, time spent inside the stones of a bronze age house. Sunrise and breakfast on the Devil’s Tor with the Beardown Man for quiet company. Hope you find some adventure this week.