Friday, 31 August 2012

Testing Times on Dratmore

It was clear from the fast-flowing, peat-stained waters barging under Harford Bridge that the River Erme was running very high, and this was bad because Ted and I would have to ford it several miles upstream.  But faint heart never got wet feet, so we continued on our way, up onto the moor via the gate at Hall Plantation.
Our first stop was the Tristis Rock.  I've long wondered why it's called that, wondering if the name has its etymology in the Latin tristis, which means 'sad' or 'foul-smelling' - like, say, star-crossed lovers met there and fell into a bog - or if it's connected to a person, for example, a garlic sausage-gobbling Norman invader who seized the land, simultaneously spilling his Listerine.  Whatever, I haven't turned up a story yet.

Normally the first thing I do when I get to a tor is climb it, but Tristis looked like quite a challenge with one very dodgy looking foothold in particular so I gave it a miss, deciding that if I did fall and sprain my sprained ankle, it would be quite tristis for me out there on my own, Ted's Lassie skills leaving rather a lot to be desired.  There were great views from the base of the rocks, anyhow, up the Erme valley to Sharp Tor.

The main reason why I wanted to do this walk was to get a closer look at one of three extreme oaklands on the moor.  Like bumble bees, which, the laws of physics assure us, cannot fly, Piles Copse, Black-a-Tor Copse and Wistmans Wood do not exist because oak trees cannot grow at such a high altitude and in such exposed conditions.  Except that they do.  And there, up ahead on the right hand bank of the Erme, was Piles Copse, the only one of the three I had yet to visit.

First though, the locating of a rather whimsical path through boggy scrub, through a gap in a wall and another gate, followed by a slantwise trek up hill before joining a good track leading up the valley from the Water Treatment Works through a well preserved bronze age settlement containing hut circles in an enclosure.


When walking through such sites, I always wonder about the people who were born, worked and died here so long ago, what their lives were like, what hopes and dreams they had.



The path headed on up the valley alongside the copse. It was easy walking, albeit pretty wet in places.  

There were lots of sheep and ponies about, so Ted went back on the lead.


We were now opposite the copse.  A handful of oaks and one or two rowans had even seeded themselves on our side of the river, which, incidentally, was still looking pretty fierce.  I wondered about the crossing.  I s
omehow doubted we would get over but kept on going, not least because the walking instructions said to turn right at the lone hawthorn and make one's way down to the bank, which pleased my inner Blytonesque adventurer no end.
  

And there it was, the lone hawthorn, its berries reddening ...

... and there the river was, nigh on impassable.


  At this point I had three options.  1. Risk it.  2. Carry on upstream for another two and a half miles where there was a second crossing point.  3. Admit defeat.

Number 1 option was a non starter.  
Dartmoor rivers are notorious for sweeping people away and not just in folk tales, either.  I couldn't risk Ted's safety, nor mine for that matter. 

Number 2 option also lacked appeal.  It was already mid afternoon and the weather was closing in.  What's more, there was no guarantee the ford upstream would be any less dangerous and I risked adding an extra five miles to my journey and still having to resort the dreaded option 3 ...
  
Every particle of my body hates, loathes and detests turning around and retracing my steps, and it never gets any more palatable.  But Dartmoor is my teacher and its lessons are always challenging, this one just more so.
  

It's never as easy finding the path on the way back.  And I'd forgotten how bloody boggy the Erme valley is, I'm sure it's wetter than all the others.   Ted seemed quite happy, though.  And before I'd got back to the car, I was already working out a different route for next time.  


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