Sunday, 31 May 2015

Goodbye To The Biscuit Tin By The Sea

There have been big sadnesses this year, with three friends dying untimely deaths in as many months. A consequence of one of those deaths is that the caravan park where the biscuit tin by the sea resides is being dragged kicking and screaming from its 1950s time-warp.  This costs money, which means substantial rent increases, and my larger family has decided that it is time to let said biscuit tin go to the caravan graveyard in the sky.

The tin has been part of my life for the last 15 years, coming to us as a 10 year old, retired from the posher sort of site that requires owners to replace perfectly good caravans at ridiculously short intervals because the site proprietors get a cut on the purchase of new ones.  So it is old - although not as old as its predecessor, which lasted from 1970 to 2000 before water threatened to leak through its mostly-held-together-by-moss roof. 

I will miss my bolt-hole.  I didn't write that many poems within its walls, but I walked the walks that would take me to places that fed my imagination, and my writing once I was back in Bristol. 

I lay in bed in the small hours and listened to owls. Watched bats in the lane and horses on the hill opposite at dawn.  

The sea blue beyond the window ... 

... some of the time. 

There are lots of good  memories there ... 

... and solace during the hard years, healing when they'd packed their bags and gone. 

One last bit of excitement ... look, the same model caravan on Broadchurch! Ye shall know it by its upholstery! 

It's really hard leaving somewhere you've been visiting all your life ...

... but wasn't I so very lucky?

Friday, 29 May 2015

Brisworthy Stone Circle and Legis Tor

Everything went wrong at the start of this walk. For a start, we arrived in Shaugh Prior, close to our starting point, without the book of walks (although I had managed to remember the map, always the more important of the two).  Plus, the only vegetarian option the village pub had available - vegetable lasagne - had the texture of cardboard that had been boiled and then staked out in the desert for a fortnight. Plus, when I got into the church, there was absolutely no mention of illustrious poet and former vicar (twice), Robert Herrick - although this, it turned out, was on account of my having misremembered Shaugh Prior for Dean Prior, a few miles up the A38 (though I can't quite believe I did, since I actually went to primary school with a lad called Dean Prior and you'd have thought that might have acted an an aide-memoire). Plus, Ted rolled in something very stinky in the churchyard.

There was this wondrous 15th century font cover, however.

And we weren't entirely deprived of poetry, either, as there was a memorial to 'the poet of Dartmoor', Noel Carrington, who died in 1830, on the wall of the nave. According to the Church guide book, no one really knows why it's there since he was born in Plymouth and died in Bath, but it is said that he was fond of the area.

Let's have a shufti at his most famous poem, shall we?

'Dartmoor! thou wert to me, in childhood's hour, 
A wild and wondrous region. Day by day 
Arose upon my youthful eye thy belt 
Of hills mysterious, shadowy, clasping all 
The green and cheerful landscape sweetly spread 
Around my home; and with a stern delight 
I gazed upon thee. How often on the speech 
Of the half-savage peasant have I hung, 
To hear of rock-crowned heights – '

OK, this half-savage peasant has had enough. Ugh. 

We drove to a very busy Cadover Bridge with the windows down and Ted was marched into the Plym to wash away at least some of the stench.  We then proceeded to Brisworthy Plantation where we parked and set out. 

Even the easiest of walks become harder when you've forgotten the book. My partner in poetry was loath to pick his way through tufty grass in the hope of coming across half-hidden vestiges of antiquity, so we made for what we could see straight away - the stone circle, also called Brisworthy, some way lower down on Ringmoor Down. 

First, though, we passed a group of bronze age hut circles in amongst thickets of spring-flowering gorse.

By 1909, only four of the stones were still standing, and those that were still in situ - about half of the original number, it is estimated, were re-erected.  

We sat for a while and listened. The soundtrack was the same as two days earlier on Yellowmead Down - the white noise of larks, against which we could hear much cuckooing, jackdaws and the cronk of ravens. 

On the skyline, Peak Hill, Ladder Tor and the top of Sheepstor. Hard to imagine that there is a village, not to mention a large reservoir, in the fold of these hills.
Having crossed the stream at the foot of the hill, we climbed up Legis Tor, which offered varied cloud-and-shadow-strewn views, my favourite sort. Here looking over to Great Trowlesworthy Tor and Warren ...
... Hen Tor ... 
... and  up to Ditsworthy Warren House, where the bulk of the Dartmoor-set scenes in War Horse were filmed.

Looked like a few contemporary soldiers had passed this way also.
Back over the stream - a third splashing for Ted, now decidedly less pungent - and we made our way back to the car.  Short but sweet for now while my ankle strengthens.  I will be back - next time with my book of walks.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Arthurian Mists

Rain was scheduled for the morning, clearing later from the west, so we headed west to Cornwall to make the most of the day. 

My partner was keen to visit Tintagel, but first we stopped off at Port Quin, which I love for its solitude, and its sad story of all the men of the village lost at sea in a terrible storm, and the surviving fish cellars which give such insight into the hard lives of past inhabitants ... 

... or would do if they hadn't been turned into luxury holiday lets since the last time I was there. What cavalier treatment of our social history. How disappointing.

And so the National Trustification of the place is complete. Apart from this door - quick, someone paint it a tasteful shade of Cotswold green! 

In Tintagel, the familiar was swallowed in mist.  My partner in poetry set off for the castle. I wanted to revisit the Church of St Materiana, otherwise (possibly) St Madryn, a 5th century Welsh princess (though I suspect they made her up). 

Ooh but it was atmospheric walking up the lane.

Eventually the Celtic cross that is the war memorial loomed from the churchyard, followed, as I drew closer, by many graves and finally the Church itself. 

It was like being in a Radio 4 afternoon drama.

I did get to spot some old friends, however, like this the altar tomb by the south door which commemorates, in beautiful lettering, Thomas, the son of John and Tamsin Heming, who was killed by lightning in 1702:


'The body that heere buried lyes,
By Lightning fell death's sacrifice.
To Him Elijah's fate was given
He rode on flames of fire to Heaven.
Then mourn no more Hee's taken hence
By the just hand of Providence.
O God the judgements of thy Seat
Are wonderous good and wonderous great.
Thy ways in all thy works appear
As Thunder loud, as Lightning clear.'

And this life belt which serves as a memorial to Cantanese Domenico, a 14 year old cabin boy who died on 20th December 1893 when the vessel he worked on, the Italian barque Iota, was wrecked on Lye Rock. Two other members of the crew also died, the remaining nine having been rescued by stalwart locals. 

The church is lovely, dark and deep ...

... and it has just about my favourite font of all time. Far less fancy than some, it is massive, Norman and carved with four heads at each corner and serpents in between, their heads and tails curved upwards representing, so the guide book says, the evil spirit expelled by grace. So there. 

By the time I met up with my partner, we were both so wet we decided to give Boscastle a miss and head back to Devon - no real hardship since he'd been totally beguiled by the castle and had already decided he wanted to revisit it on a fine day.

No sooner had we crossed the top of Bodmin moor when it stopped raining and the sun came out. But we'll be back soon, armed with a copy of the collected poems of Thomas Hardy, on another foray into poetry.  

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Sheepstor and Yellowmead Down

Two and a half months ago, newly back on my feet following a fall and a fractured ankle, I didn't think I'd be doing this ...

... at least not so soon. But here I am, walking in my walking boots (which are perfectly comfortable despite the mass of metalware in my lower leg) on Dartmoor.  And although we chose an easy, short walk, it's still far more than I dared to hope I'd be doing so soon.  

Our starting point was Joey's Lane, an ancient packhorse way that leads from the lane that circumnavigates Burrator Reservoir up to Maiden Tor, an outcrop on the flanks of the much larger Sheepstor.  

As we climbed views opened out beneath us, including this of the reservoir.  

The other side of the tor we could see Yellowmead Stone Circle which was our destination - an easy ramble over rough grass after the exertion of climbing the tor.

If it looks a little cluttery, that's because Yellowmead is - to get a bit technical, like - a rare fourfold concentric stone circle of the early Bronze Age, of which there is only one other example on Dartmoor, on Shovel Down
Within the innermost circle is a hollow where the burial kistvaen once lay.

From the circle, we walked back up to the corner of the newtake wall, and along the top to the lane which led back into the hamlet of Sheepstor. On the way Ted paused for a drink at St Leonard's Well.

St Leonard is very lucky, he has a churchyard full of bluebells at the moment as well and some great 18th century headstones. 
My favourite things, though, were this 17th century foliate skull atop an hourglass, with ears of corn sprouting from empty eye sockets ...   
... and the swallows nesting in the porch. 

After a little revisit to the church itself, we went back up the lane to the car, passing a magnificent vista of the eponymous tor en route.  Joy out of all proportion to distance covered, but no matter - Dartmoor, I'm baaaaaack!