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Widecombe in the Moor

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    • Day 34


      September 8, 2023 in England ⋅ ☁️ 27 °C

      Widecombe in the Moor is a village and large civil parish in Dartmoor National Park in Devon, England. Its church is known as the Cathedral of the Moors on account of its tall tower and its size, relative to the small population it serves. It is a favourite tourist centre, partly for its scenic character and partly for its connection to the popular song "Widecombe Fair".Read more

    • Day 22

      Off to Padstow via wonderful Dartmoor

      September 26, 2023 in England ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

      Along the A303 past Stonehenge. 

      Stopped to walk up Haytor rocks, spectacular views. Then to the Ruggleston In for lunch. Ruggleston platters, cider and Dartmoor brewery Legend. All very nice. Dropped into the Two Bridges Hotel for a picture, hope to see a Clapper bridge.

      Stopped at the Princeton to view the Dartmoor National Park Visitors Centre. Fascinating, geology, nature and history, including Neolithic.

      In the bnb in Padstow, fantastic right in the middle of town. Across the road from the Tarquin's Gin School and Stop. I would be fun to do the course. Dinner at Rick Stein's fish and chip shop, very nice light and crispy batter.
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    • Day 7

      Walking - Day 2

      May 10, 2019 in England ⋅ 🌧 10 °C

      Today's Route - Chagford to Widecombe in the Moor
      Distance - 21.8km
      Beers Earned - 6.7 (each !!!)
      Weather - sun, wind, clouds, 5 minutes of hail, 3 minutes of rain

      A lot of variety on today's stretch ... villages, meadows, woods, farms, national park, ancient settlements and monuments, bronze age burial barrows and, of course, miles and miles of moors.

      The first part of our walk was on the Mariners' Way, reputed to have been the long distance route between Dartmouth (on the south coast) and Bideford (110km away on the north coast). Centuries ago, sailors would travel between the two ports when transferring from one ship to sail on another or when looking for work at either of the ports. It was a very pretty walk with nice views, fields full of fluffy lambs and bluebells in flower but we're pretty sure the ancient sailors weren't ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the scenery like we were.

      We crossed the cattle grid into the Dartmoor National Park and followed the instructions in the trail guide ... "leave the road any time after the cattle grid, make your way southwards, avoid the wet ground by the streams". With the moors stretching as far as the eye can see it's a little daunting to just "make your way" but that's what we're here for. There was a trail, of sorts, to follow ... or maybe it was a livestock track ... or just some flat grass ... but the GPS buzzed when it thought we weren't going in the right direction. In some areas deeper into the park there was a definite path so they were the easy bits but others areas were more reliant on the buzzy GPS.

      Unfortunately our buzzy friend didn't help identify the marshy, boggy, slippery, muddy bits that look like terra firma but really aren't. Lots of fun to be had slipping around in those sections.

      According to the literature, prehistoric remains on Dartmoor date back to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, including Grimspound which is one of the best preserved Bronze Age enclosures on the moor. The trail guide suggests using ancient remains as way-markers but let's be honest, some of them just look like every other pile of rocks.

      One chap we met on the trail told us to look out for the posts across the top of the next high section of the moor. Barbed wire was strung between the posts in WWII to stop the Germans from landing on the flat expanse.

      Knowing that more rain falls on the moor than in the surrounding low lands, we expected to get a proper drenching as we crossed the top. Instead we watched as the rain clouds skirted around us and dumped hail on the low lands. Our B&B hosts had lit the fire expecting the arrival of 2 wet and bedraggled guests but we arrived dry and chirpy after a great day of walking.
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    • Day 11

      Hembury Woods and Bonehill Rocks

      November 4, 2020 in England ⋅ ☀️ 2 °C

      The lawn grass of my parents’ garden was crystal cut with myriad threads of fraying ice; the first frost of the year glistening in the early morning sunlight. A little wren appeared atop the wooden garden fence busying herself with finding food to keep her tiny inner fire burning a little longer. A robin landed in the hawthorn tree behind the fence, his breast glowing bright orange as an ember, singing his self-composed symphony like a tiny Mozart, throwing in virtuoso flourishes of chirps and clicks to delight his audience. Large flocks of pigeons flew high overhead, their white rumps reflecting the sunlight, their darker wing beats flickering in contrast, like an old black and white animation. The sky was a piercing, arching, cloudless, azure blue as I left my parents’ garden with its panoply of life, and drove to Hembury woods on the lower part of Dartmoor National Park’s wild, expansive, high moorland in the centre of Devon with rolling hills of grass and bracken topped by piles of weather rounded granite rocks known as tors, remnants of volcanic upwellings in ancient chambers of crystallising minerals.

      I arrived at the woodlands, put my wellies on as I wobbled and hung on to the back of the car for stability. My breath formed small clouds of mist, like a gently puffing steam engine, in the icy, early morning air. I walked down a rocky, rain-soaked trail, as the low autumn sun fired arrows of white light through the high reaching, beech trees, casting long, thin shadows across the layers of jumbled leaf litter. On the lower hanging branches, I peered up through the translucent leaves, revealing their skeleton structures, as the sunlight made x-ray like images through them. The leaf colours transitioned almost imperceptibly from pale greens, to yellows, and into auburns from the trunk out to the periphery of the trees. I arrived at the earthen banks of the deep flowing river, wine-dark, and swollen by recent rains. Long, thin, spiralling trails of white foam, swirled like a watery memory of its tumbling over granite rocks further upstream. The imposing beech and oak trees along the banks, grew up like a great palisade, creating a natural theatre in which the sunlit, hazy light, could dance and perform on the dark, mineral waters. I wandered slowly up the river bank, occasionally spinning around to take in the various tree-scapes towering up in their golden crowns high above me. A nimble, Greater Spotted woodpecker, hopped lithely up the trunk of a birch tree, flashing his white and red feathers, before disappearing instantly in an avian trick of the light. Upstream, the river narrowed and swelled over large, smoothed, granite boulders, in an early show of its winter strength, sweeping all before it. I put my ear against the rough, ridged bark of an old oak tree by the bank to try and hear the gurgle of gallons of sugary sap descending down through the great heartwood of his regal being into the deep, dark network of roots, safely stored away from the bitter winter storms that would be howling above. After some time carousing in the society of wind-whispering trees, I began to feel the drawing stony fingers of the tors, beckoning me to the higher realms of the moor, so I turned to leave the autumn splendour behind, and head for the green hills.

      I drove up narrow, winding, ‘eye of the needle’, high-hedged, lanes, squeezing past oncoming cars with an anxious wave of thank you from both parties as we edged past each other relieved to remain unscathed. Then the lane turned steeply upwards testing the straining valves of my car’s wheezing engine. I emerged, freed, like a new-born, out onto the bright white, fizzing, light of the open moorland, with wide expanses of tufted grasses and browning bracken, occasionally dotted with hardy, wind-sculpted hawthorn trees. Old stone walls marched along field boundaries, bringing hand-crafted constrictions, until they too retreated and gave way to the origin wilderness of an ancient landscape. The sense of openness and liberation felt in these moorlands, must have also enraptured the first Neolithic farmers, who settled here thousands of years ago, clearing woodlands, putting down their generational roots, fishing the rivers, and harvesting crops from the peaty, rocky soil. They would have shared the land then with wolves, bears, elk and lynx. Such is the timeless quality of this place, that I felt as if I could turn beyond a tor, to find a stone circled hut, hearth fire smoke still lifting through its timbered roof, animal skins drying on a wooden rack outside, and a young family shouting amiably to each other in some ancient incomprehensible tongue.

      I arrived at Bonehill Rocks, a tumble of giant granite boulders in the vale of Widecombe in the Moor. I found myself unconsciously singing the famous song of the local fair “all along, down along, out along lee”. I stood humbly below the jumble of rocks living up to their name, looking like the emerged backbone of some fossilised leviathan buried in a sea bed long ago, or a great dragon that once terrorised the local inhabitants before crashing to the earth and meeting his demise in a burning ball of fire. I climbed up through the rounded rocks, wondering at how the wind, rain, snow and ice had carved them into such outlandish shapes, as the Earth turned its endless circuits around the sun, leaving some boulders finely balanced on their edges, as if they might roll off the tor at any moment, to join their fallen brethren in the grass below. A small stream flowed by the rocks, and I had taken delight, in taking off my trail shoes to go barefoot in the icy waters of the stream, to then warm them on the soft, wet, sun-bathed and sheep-cropped grasses. This contrasted sharply with the still frosted grass in the shade of the giant rocks that I climbed up and over now, where the cold wind seemed to prick air-needles into my exposed toes. I felt the rough texture of the sharp quartz protrusions in the coarser granite of this part of the moor and stood tall at the top to admire the wide view over the valley and medieval village below. Despite the occasional discomfort in the cooling November winds, I felt a deep, blissful, joy walking barefoot in this landscape, like I had gained an extra sense, feeling the granular heartbeat and rhythm of the Earth through the skin of my soles, sampling every texture and temperature of the land as I walked. I realised how shoes involve a kind of numbing or blunting of the senses, insulating us from the ground, and separating us from our ancestral birthright to walk on our own two feet.

      A small, straggled stream of chatting families and day ramblers trickled down the hill in their own gentle rhythm with walking poles swinging and conversations echoing in the shadowy chambers of the tor rocks in which I sheltered. I climbed down to follow this human rivulet, like a trout returning to the main body of the river, from a restful sojourn in a quiet pool, as we all headed for the stony necklace of higher tors, that lay adorning the rising grassy chest of the moorlands above. The clear, cooling, ground water welled up from the woven mat of grass, massaging my bare feet, blissfully bathing them, like a natural sponge. I reached a small car park and road to cross at the bottom of the hill, before climbing up again, and felt the sharp contrast of the scraping, pinching tarmac on my exposed soles. I gratefully leapt back into the soft grass on the other side, which grew drier and warmer on the sun soaked southern flank of the hill as I climbed the well worn path up to Bell Tor. The bracken shone golden, on either side, growing all the way up to the foot of the tor, which rose in a craggy cone, with vivid blue sky piercing iridescently through two triangular framing holes in the rock, capped by granite capstones. I walked off the main trail along a thin bracken skirted track, at the base of the tor, and climbed up the shallower side, to find a soft grassy spot to sit near the apex of this jumbled pile of time tumbled granite. I sat warmly, sheltered by the tor, squinting in the low sun, eating my packed lunch, looking out over a wide vista of moorland, all the way over to a distant Haytor and its near neighbour, Saddle Tor, that stood like two raised nipples on the whitish-blue horizon. I was distracted from my reverie by a crow far below, pottering among the bracken, stretching his glossy black wings, outer feathers separating almost like fingers, to lift effortlessly onto granite boulders. I inwardly said ‘hello’ to this native denizen of Dartmoor, asking silently if he would like to visit me, if it was his will. He disappeared behind the face of the tor and I returned to looking out across the moor, but sometime later, he landed on a boulder very close to me, and eyed me for several minutes, cocking his head to one side, seemingly asking “well here I am, and who might you be?” He seemed to embody the stark, wildness of the place, speaking to me in a language of gesture and curiosity older than any words I might have for him. We sat in a silent communion for a while, until our encounter was complete, and he lifted off into the wide air swooping down and out of sight to return to his own activities.

      I too had a walk to continue, so I rose up stiffly, splashed gleefully through peaty, watery puddles at the top of the tour, and on along the high ridge to the next granite knot in this string of tors. The grass grew wilder, more wiry, and windswept, with clumps of pale mauve heather sheltering by boulders. In a moment of distraction, I stubbed my bare foot toe on a rough piece of granite protruding from the path, and looked down to see that it had incised a small crescent moon shaped cut in my big toe, which was now bleeding. The watery grasses washed and cleaned the blood away, but had given me a sharp reminder, that walking bare foot requires a continual attention to where you are putting your feet on the ground. It is wonderfully connecting to feel the different textures of land, from soft, to hard, to gritty, but it can also punish distraction and inattention, so that it’s better to stop walking when admiring the view above the ground.

      I walked on, more diligently, and came to a grassy rise covering a low granite outcrop. Atop the rise, stood another denizen of this wild country; a Dartmoor pony, dark chestnut brown, with her distinctive thick, black, shaggy mane and tail, feeding lustily on the wiry tufts of grass, and contrasting starkly with the bright blue sky behind. These native ponies may have graced these moorlands stretching all the way back to at least the Neolithic, as 3500 year old hoof prints of similar wild horses have been uncovered in local archeological excavations. As the pony continued her feeding, seemingly uninterested in, and unbothered by, my approach, she afforded another wistful impression of time collapsing thousands of years. She worked her way down from the rise, chewing and wrenching up copious amounts of grass as she went, before eventually looking up to eye me fixedly through her thick black fringe, as I gave a sniff of greeting in the way that most polite mammals do. My greeting acknowledged, she dipped her head, returned to the more important business of scratching her long neck on a convenient outcrop of rough granite, and walked down to join a fellow pony, where they were both beautifully framed in the landscape of distant tors and rolling moorlands; a scene from the ages.

      I walked on through more soothing wet grasses and dark peaty puddles, where I stooped to clean my still bleeding toe. The terrain steepened again on the approach to Chinkwell tor with large cairns of granite rocks piled up to a pinnacle on top of the granite outcrops, presumably by the many thousands of passing ramblers over the years. Before I reached it, an older man with a traditional wooden walking stick in hand, and wearing a dark green wax jacket, approached me with friendly curiosity, and asked me in a well spoken accent, how tough my soles were to walk barefoot on the moor. His wife soon joined us with a similar friendly and open curiosity. I replied that my foot soles weren’t particularly tough, as I had only started walking barefoot in nature in the spring, and had since realised that our soles are all pretty tough as we'd evolved to walk barefoot, despite our modern tendency to wrap boots and socks around them. I extolled the virtues of barefoot walking in providing a much deeper connection to the landscape, but the friendly couple seemed unconvinced about trying it for themselves, even though admiring my ‘chutzpah’ in doing so. The gentleman mused that the tribes of Africa still walked barefoot, but I had to disabuse him of this idea, because apart from tribal communities such as the Masai who have stoically kept to many of their tribal traditions, most modern Africans have joined the shoe wearing ‘tribe’ now prevalent around the world. We said our goodbyes, went our separate ways, and I climbed up to survey the 360 degree view from the local high point of Chinkwell tor by one of the cairns. I spun around, taking in the grand circle of tors punctuating the horizon, with green, grassy, sun-blazed, moorlands stitched between them, and the fields of rural, ‘civilised’, Devon stretching all the way out to the coast and the rolling seas to the South.

      My nature thirst, fully satiated by such a clear and wonderful view, I carefully navigated the tumble of granite rock on the other side of the tor and followed the thin, gritty path down and along, until the path rose up one more time where I climbed up to the final, and most majestic tor of my walk, the aptly named, Honeybag Tor.

      Wren, Robin singing, crow, flocks of glistening pigeons.
      Hembury Woods - wellies
      Autumn leaves in the light
      Full Dart river
      Lesser spotted woodpecker
      Bonehill Rocks
      The joy of bare feet
      Crow visit
      Dartmoor ponies
      Cut toe
      Couple talking about my bare feet
      Circle of tors
      Rougher granite
      Buzzard calls
      Depths of the Earth
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    • Day 22

      Dartmoor, Ruggleston, Padstow

      September 26, 2023 in England ⋅ ☁️ 18 °C

      Along the A303 past Stonehenge.
      Stopped to walk up Haytor rocks, spectacular views. Then to the Ruggleston In for lunch. Ruggleston platters, cider and Dartmoor brewery Legend. All very nice. Dropped into the Two Bridges Hotel for a picture.

      Stopped at the Princeton to view the Dartmoor National Park Visitors Centre. Fascinating, geology, nature and history, including Neolithic.

      In the bnb in Padstow, fantastic right in the middle of town. Across the road from the Tarquin's Gin School and Stop. I would be fun to do the course.

      Dinner at Rick Stein's fish and chip shop, very nice light and crispy batter. Walked around the port and pubs at night.
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    Widecombe in the Moor

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