It seems like quite a long time since our last planned ‘special’ weekend – I suppose that’s what we get for not spacing our plans evenly. However, this weekend was most definitely worth the wait!
Sam and I are quite lucky in that both of our birthdays usually fall around Bank Holidays, so we can nearly always plan something good to do. This year, Sam’s birthday fell on Good Friday, and to celebrate I took him for a long weekend away on Dartmoor.
Dartmoor has always appealed to me; I love bleak, unforgiving landscapes where I can walk for miles without seeing another soul, and the moors have all of the above in spades.
We arrived mid-afternoon on the Friday, so before heading out onto the moorland we visited Okehampton Castle, because – let’s face it – with me in charge of the itenerary we could hardly ignore it.I can’t say either of us were blown away by the ruin though; I think the castle has the (unwelcome) distinction of having the most uneventful history of any that I’ve visited. It has seen no battles, hosted no armies, waged no wars, but it does have some very well preserved garderobes. I wish I was joking, but the medieval facilities were the star feature of the audio-guide, taking up nearly half of the commentary..!
The next day, after a scrumptious breakfast (we stayed at Okeside Cottage B&B and I can’t recommend their breakfasts highly enough) we drove out to Meldon Reservoir and headed up onto the moor.At first, we were a little disappointed because we could hear a lot of traffic which detracted somewhat from the ‘wilderness’ aspect of the walk, but as we headed further south we thankfully lost the noise from the road.
The landscape was exactly as I’d pictured it – bleak, barren, and boggy. Oh, and utterly beautiful.We were lucky with the weather and although it was cloudy and very blustery we did see some sunshine and blue skies. From the Reservoir we climbed up to Yes Tor and then across to High Willhays, the highest point on Dartmoor (and yes, we did carry up a stone each from the bottom to add to the cairn).We also had a chance to ‘road-test’ our new walking socks! Sam’s Mum, Lis, is a very talented lady and has dyed, spun, and knitted our gorgeous walking socks. We’re very pleased to report that as well as being super cozy, we managed 15 miles without even the hint of a blister. Thank you!Before setting out, I’d read all sorts of horror stories about the dangers of the mists and the mires and was worried that we were totally unprepared for such an environment. Sam, with his usual level-headedness, was not so worried – and while I’m sure that in bad weather it would be incredibly easy to lose your way, on our bright and clear day there was really nothing to worry about. Once off the Tors we mainly stuck to the army tracks as they made the going so much faster, and we made a fantastic 15 mile circular walk, taking in views of Ockerton Court Pool, West and East Mill Tors, and Rowtor.We were heading home on the Sunday and couldn’t do another long walk, so planned to take an easy route around Cosdon Hill and Little Hound Tor. On the map, there was a clear footpath marked that would take us on a circular route from South Zeal and back at the car in time for lunch. Hmm – I thought it seemed too good to be true and it was. There are no other paths marked on the map, but in reality the area was a maze of criss-crossing tracks in every direction, and of course there wasn’t a single waymarker in sight. Oh, and the path that we were supposed to be following turned out to be more like a stream…Despite the difficulties with the terrain, the route we did end up taking was spectacular. Along with enjoying far-reaching views, we also got to experience some of Dartmoor’s human history. I love prehistoric remains; hill forts, barrows, and ancient settlements all fascinate me, but my absolute favourite are the standing stones and stone circles that were constructed millennia ago.
Part of my enjoyment comes from the mystery of the remains; I think it’s possible to make some fairly educated guesses as to why they were built, but we still don’t know – and personally, I wouldn’t really want to.
Dartmoor is full of ancient stone circles, menhirs, and stone rows and our walk took us past all three. The first feature that we came to was the stone row known as either ‘the Graveyard’ or ‘the Cemetery’.Although the day was clear, it was very windy and cold which made me appreciate even more the effort that it would have taken to build the row. It’s thought that it may have been longer at one point and there are also (at least) two burial chambers associated with it but the stones have seemingly been taken to build walls and gateposts. I’m very glad that at least some of it remains.
We then headed further south towards Little Hound Tor and after some bog-hopping came to the stone circle – and it was worth every muddy boot and detour.Very near to the circle was a menhir, the Whit Moor Stone (okay, so it’s not a true menhir as it is most likely associated with the circle, but it’s good enough for me) which I loved.“I have never seen anyone yet when coming across a menhir that has not resisted the urge to reach out and touch it”
While researching the stones, I came across the above sentence on the Legendary Dartmoor website and it really resonated with me. I stood and admired the view for ages, and maintained a contact with the stone the whole time. All of the stones that we saw seemed to be such an integral part of the moorland, highlighting how this landscape has been inspiring people for thousands of years. I still can’t believe the effort that it would have taken to stand large boulders of granite on end in such inhospitable terrain; regardless of the reason why they’re there, I know that they meant a great deal to the people at the time.
After taking in our fill of the scenery, we headed back to South Zeal. On the way down the hill I was struck by the contrast in the wild beauty of Dartmoor and the gentle, rolling green fields down below. The moor itself seems to be unchanging, remaining distant and remote from the rapidly altering world below as it has done for many, many years.
I think we’ll be back.