Saturday, 12 August 2017

My Own Private Wyoming

First thing Thursday morning the sunlight through the gap in the curtains was doing something interesting to the half line from U A Fanthorpe's BC:AD that I painted on the wall last week. 

And since it is written that the British Isles are permitted only one sunny day per week throughout August, I packed Ted dog in the front passenger seat footwell and headed for Dartmoor.

I had a hankering to see Double Waters again - the spot in the far west of Dartmoor where the River Tavy and the River Walkham meet. So we parked at Magpie Bridge outside Tavistock and set off.

The Walkham valley is a bit magical.
I was reminded of this when my camera took a photo of its own accord. I've no idea how it did this, but the result shows promise. (I'm pretty sure it's my head and not Ted's arse, though he is still moulting and shaggy-looking.)

It's a bit of a scramble down to Grenofen Bridge. Every now and then the path by the river peters out so you climb the muddy, stony bank to a higher alternative, only for the original, idyllic path to open up again about ten yards later.

There did seem to be a lot of downed trees. 

Past Grenofen Bridge we were on familiar ground, though I hadn't been there for almost 11 years. It's sylvan and gorgeous ...

... though there are also plenty of reminders of the river's industrial past, such as this revetment or retaining wall which supports the track into the old quarry. 

West Down Mine Chimney. There were at least six mines here in the past.  The most famous, probably on account of its name, is the Virtuous Lady Mine.

But the river always refocuses your attention as it tumbles over rocks and pools in hollows. 

And all this to ourselves. Almost. 

Eventually we reached a spot where the river runs tight around the base of a cliff. You can only follow it further by climbing a steep track and passing through a cleft in the rock ... 

... and just like that, you're in the valley of the River Tavy and there are two rivers becoming one below you. This is Double Waters.

Sitting on a handy milestone, I remembered that 11 years ago the rock and the two valleys had reminded me of something from my childhood, but I hadn't been able to recall what it was. But having recently reread all of Mary O'Hara's stories about Ken McLoughlin and his horses in Wyoming, I knew this time: it was like that episode at the end of Thunderhead Part III where Ken dynamites the pass into the Valley of the Eagles so that Thunderhead and his mares can't escape from their place of safety.

I watched the two rivers for a while - the Tavy the stiller of the two, the Walkham fretting over rocks as it loses itself in its neighbour's waters. 

Our return route was over Roborough Down. On the way I kept an eye out for wild boar, which were big news in the area ten years ago but seem to have gone deep undercover since.

I also looked out for adders because I'm not sure Ted doesn't know not to sniff at them and he sniffs at a lot of things on Dartmoor.

Just about the only thing we saw, however, was a buzzard high overhead and something that scurried into our path and then departed as quickly and insubstantially as a blown leaf.

As we climbed out of the woods, that glorious ridge of tors to the north came into view: Cox Tor, Roos Tor, Great Staple Tor, Great Mis Tor, and King Tor.  And I had an inkling then as to why Dartmoor started to mean so much to me during my childhood.
I don't think it was so much my father's annual road trip - from Haytor Rocks to Widecombe-in-the-Moor to Dartmeet to Princetown and finally Postbridge - as my imagination: reading about far grander landscapes I'd never have a realistic chance of seeing for myself, and finding an echo in my own, more modest wild place. Dartmoor, with its hills and its loneliness and its wild ponies, is my Never Summer Mountains, my Valley of the Eagles, my green grass. And if we're going to bring that blessed red pony into it, it's my own private California too.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Jeremy Corbyn in Filton and Bradley Stoke

With Bowie and Leonard dead, it's a relief there's still someone worth going to see.  And unlike Dylan*, Jeremy does run through the riffs you want to hear. 

Today there was a moving reminder that all of the firemen who went into Grenfell Tower with breathing apparatus and police riot shields over their heads to protect themselves from falling debris in order
to save lives were trade unionists.  Looking after and caring for other people. (Not getting a pay rise either.) 

*The Times, They Are A-Changin'. Play that one, Bob.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Return to Eastleach Martin and Eastleach Turville

An armed man was holding a two-year-old boy hostage in a stand-off with police on the M4. As a result, the motorway was closed and by the time we'd negotiated a series of traffic-choked A and B roads to reach the irredeemably posh Cotswold pub where my then husband had booked a table for my 40th birthday lunch, we were very late indeed. The staff took one look at us and our neurologically interesting children, and showed us into the skittle alley where we ate our indifferent (but expensive) meals in isolation. And by the time we emerged, this being late October, it was getting dark, the motorway was still out of bounds, and there was no time to do any of the things we'd planned apart from the briefest of visits to the clapper bridge spanning the River Leach in the neighbouring villages of Eastleach Turville and Eastleach Martin.*

Here's the bridge, in the etching by Robin Tanner I'd been given to mark my great age. 

It's taken me 16 years (almost) to muster the heart to go back. 

This time the worst thing that happened on the motorway was a sudden squally shower. Not to worry, I told the dog. We are poets. What care we about soaked jeans and dripping hair?

But by the time we'd parked in Eastleach Turville and made our way down to the river it had stopped and the worst hazard we had to negotiate was some over-protective swans and their offspring. 

It isn't an exact rendering of the bridge, by the way, nor the view from it. It's more of an idealised composite, but no less pleasing for that. 

After the bridge, the next stop on our short but sweet route was the mediaeval Church of St Michael and St Martin, which gives the village on yonder side of the bridge its name. 

Even I could throw a stone from this House of God to the neighbouring church of St Andrew's, so it's no surprise that only one of the buildings is still in regular use. 

St Michael and St Martin drew the short straw for closure and is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. It has that pleasing emptiness of such churches that makes it easier to focus on the fabric of the building. 

One of the windows contains fragments of mediaeval glass.
I am always drawn to the faces. 

It's hard to pick up in photos, but there's a delicious wonkiness to the north and south walls and windows. 

There were also postcards on sale featuring the local hunt. This was less pleasing. I bought one, pointed out the incongruity on the back, and left it there. 

Our route took us down a lane past an orchard with already rosying apples, and trees dripping with damsons and plums. Putting thoughts of my favourite damson vodka from my mind, I conceded that even if they weren't owned by anyone, their bounty properly belonged to the villagers rather than me, but it was a close call.

The walking book boasted an idyllic path by the river with herons and even the chance of a kingfisher, but sadly the route has been diverted away across a field, I suspect due to erosion. 

And when I did spot it, the river was clearly a bit of a winterbourne, being almost completely dry in parts. 

And instead of herons and kingfishers, I was accompanied by the bedraggled squeak of a bullfinch.

There were one or two impressive trees, though, and it was interesting to see how the river, in more prosperous times, has affected the lie of the land. 

Eventually our route turned south and climbed. On top of a ridge, I encountered a sizeable collection of puffballs. Yum.
No more self-restraint - I seized a couple, stuffed the smaller in my satchel and tucked the other under my arm.

Having stowed them safely in the car, I made my way back into the village to visit the other Church, that of St Andrew. 

Its saddleback tower is so very familiar from the etching. 

St Andrew's obvious glory is its Norman doorway, dating from 1130 ...  

... the tympanum of which depicts a defaced Christ in Majestas, flanked by angels. 

The interior feels rather more lived in than that of its sister Church, though still very stripped back.  

There was just time for a last maunder down by the bridge, this time sans swans. With the trees beginning to think about changing their garb for something rather more seasonal, it felt like the last lushness of summer.

*As I recall, the little lad was safely rescued.