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.


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