Tuesday, September 05, 2006

More Dartmoor

Friday, Sept. 1st.

Woke up to a dreary, misty morning. English weather being fickle, it quickly passed and by 10:00AM I drove into town and picked up Kay at the Morrison's Supermarket parking lot. She wanted to see Dartmoor one last time and I just wanted to see Dartmoor. We drove west through Ashburton, another old market town on the edge of Dartmoor. Cute town, but I wanted to see the moor. We followed the signs for Haytor, one of the most accessible peaks on Dartmoor. Dartmoor is essentially a high, vaguely dome shaped plateau with many granite outcroppings rising above the moors. These are tors. Dartmoor is riddled with ancient stone walls, hut circles, stone circles, stone rows, and clapper bridges. We drove up steep roads for many minutes. Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of the view behind the high hedgerows.

Then we were out in the open moor. The hedgerows were gone, replaced an open vista of Dartmoor. Bracken, a sturdy fern dominates the landscape. Growing amongst the bracken is gorse, currently in full bloom with bright canary yellow flowers. Heather intermingles with the gorse, also in bloom with its tiny upright stalks of purple flowers. Sheep dot the fields. Cattle roam free as well. Dartmoor ponies gather near the car parks and tors.

We stopped at a pile of granite stones. It looked like an abandoned farm. There was a granite gatepost, with iron hinges still attached. Dartmoor has been inhabited since ancient times. There is evidence of early agriculture in several places around Dartmoor. It is beautiful place. We drove to the car park next to Haytor. It was an easy but steep ascent up to the eroded rocky outcropping that is the tor. There were lots of families looking at the tor and the panoramic views from the summit. We could see for miles. Clouds and sun played games with the wild landscape, adding to the contrasting hues of green and brown fields. In the distance I could see the English Channel glistening in hazy light. We walked around the stones and came upon about 16 docile Dartmoor ponies. They were clearly used to people and those who were not dozing were looking for a snack. There are signs everywhere not to feed them, but this seems to be ignored by anyone with a picnic lunch. There were several young men rappelling down the face of the granite rocks. There was something for everyone on Haytor.

We made our way back to the car and drove south to a touristy village called Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Widecombe is immortalized in a traditional ballad, "Widecombe Fair."

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce lend me your grey mare,
All along, down along, out along lee.
For I want to go to Widecombe Fair,
We' Will Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

The song goes on to tell about how the horse doesn't return and Tom Pearce goes to look for it. He finds her sick and she dies from bearing the heavy load of seven men. Now, when the wind is right, the old mare appears at night with groans and rattling bones.

There are plenty of Dartmoor legends about ghosts and black dogs with glowing eyes. There are also plenty of stories about Dartmoor pixies. We stop for lunch at Widecombe. The Old Inn, the local pub was very expensive so we opted for a meal at Café on the Green. Microwaved Cornish Pasty and soggy chips for me. No thanks. Skip that place. Off we go to Postbridge. We pass by lots of sheep grazing along the side of the lane. I have drive carefully because they can suddenly jump out and hit your car. Not good for either of us, and you owe some farmer a sheep.

We spot a stone circle just off the road and decide to investigate. There is a family of four having a picnic in the center of the circle. It's a small circle, 22 stones, each about two or three feet high. There is a ditch that surrounds part of the circle. The family ignores us as Kay and I try to take photos and take in the scene. As we go around touching the stones, the mother asks if we'd like them to move so we can get some shots without them in it. Great! So I take even more pictures.

We leave happy and drive on to Postbridge. A few minutes later we were walking across the tea stained waters of the East Dart River. There are two bridges across it. One is an arched bridge and fairly modern. The other is a clapper bridge. This is a bridge built in medieval times that consists of granite slabs set upon stone piers. Farmers and miners used them to move goods across the rivers. The slabs were huge, at least six feet long and three feet wide.

Time has a weird way of just racing while we are exploring the moor, so we get a move on to our next destination: Pixieland! Pixieland is a kitschy place in Dartmeet. It's a storefront devoted to garden gnomes, oversized mushrooms, Dartmoor Pixies, sheepskin rugs, local jams, hard cider, and fudge. I love it, but cannot bring home a garden pixie or a mushroom. They are far too heavy. Must be made of cement, I guess. I bought a Lucky Dartmoor Pixie keychain. Supposedly if I have the pixie on my person it will bring me good luck. I better find out more about this legend, if I am to have such good fortune.
We head back to town and I drop Kay off in the center of Totnes.

Later that evening, I met up with Kay and her boyfriend Rob at the Kingsbridge Inn for a pint. We were joined by their friend Andy. Both Rob and Andy are finishing up Masters Degrees in music at Dartington Hall, the local arts college. Rob is a guitar player and Andy is a piano player from Glasgow, Scotland. He's got a beautiful Scottish lilt. We discuss music, naturally. It was nice spend an evening with friendly folks outside the Dairy.

1 comment:

Ian said...

Hi there,

If you're round Dartmoor way again do get in touch - I have an online cheese business based in Bovey Tracey (you probably passed through on your way to Haytor). The Cheese Shed sells only Westcountry cheeses - we're listing about 80 at the moment.

And funnily enough I'm also associated with Dartington College of Arts, where I teach in the music department ... (!)


reply to ian@thecheeseshed.com