Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Beating the Bounds

Despite my best intentions, I never manage to get down to Devon in January or February.  Part of the problem is post-Christmas lethargy, coupled with a hard-to-resist desire to hibernate the winter away; another reason is that our caravan in the village of Holcombe is shut from late October to late March (as in no electricity or water) and the days are so brief, it’s difficult to justify 200-miles’ worth of petrol for a few short hours of sea or moor.  So Easter is my New Year, and the first visit to my patch a taking stock of the months that have passed since the previous one, and of those to come. 

The biscuit tin by the sea is only five minutes from the beach, but being contrary, my first footing has to be on Dartmoor.  To that purpose, Ted and I were up and out early(ish) last Friday despite the grey and misty weather.  At Harford Gate, we rendez-voused with my co-worker Ellie, Vicky and their two Lab-Collie crosses, Teddy and Dougal, who were camping close by.

Our walk took us up onto the dismantled tramway that runs from the former Red Lake China Clay pits, high on the moor, to Ivybridge. This offered easy walking below Hangershell Rock and Weatherdon Hill, with the added advantage of avoiding cattle which both Ellie and Ted (my Ted) dislike. 

This is a dead thing I saw – an (extraordinarily well-endowed) water shrew, perhaps? (Or maybe they are all that well hung?)

We then climbed to the cairns south of Butterdon Hill and strolled along the ridge to Western Beacon, the southernmost peak on Dartmoor.  

From here there’s often a spectacular view of the coast, but this day it was pretty murky.  Not that the weather bothered any of us – we agreed that Dartmoor was best viewed in a mantle of cloud, and as it was Ellie and Vicky’s first walk there, it was as well they saw it in all its brooding magnificence.        

We then wandered back to the car, stopping off on the way at Butter Brook, where the dogs had a good splash and a play, and the humans teetered over the stepping stones. 

Having said goodbye to our companions, who were headed for Totnes, Ted and I popped into Harford’s plain but very beautiful Church of St Petroc.  Best feature was the ancient rugged cross in the churchyard, a former wayside cross ‘rediscovered’ in 1909 being used as a gatepost and moved to the churchyard where it now stands.

Later, back at Holcombe, Sam, Ted and I went for our traditional evening walk a short way along the coast path and back via footpaths and fields – a sort of literal and spiritual beating of the bounds.

We were too early for the bats which throng the lane from dusk, but Ted alerted me to our first swallow of the year as it fluttered seductively past. Another first was this whitethorn in one of the more sheltered spots on the coast path, its gorgeous, sexy perfume so much more alluring than the pong of alexanders, lamentably ubiquitous this time of year. 

The fields were sprouting with some cereal crop – which sort will doubtless be apparent next time we're down, hopefully at the end of May.  The wood – my own personal bluebell wood – was still relentlessly green.  It will look spectacular when the bluebells are in full bloom in a couple of weeks’ time, but alas, I shall be in Bristol and shan't see it. 

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