Signs of autumn in the Wray Valley
Home after 10 days in Scotland and autumn has certainly got into her stride while I’ve been away. Yesterday I made the most of this amazing spell of weather and walked home from Bovey Tracey (car service) to Moretonhampstead via the pretty village of Lustleigh alongside woodland and hedgerows laden with conkers, acorns, cobnuts, holly berries, sloes and blackberries… and spotting autumnal colour taking over many of the valley’s trees.
I started along the old railway line through the Parke estate, emerging onto the lane below Knowle via the recently extended southern section of the Wray Valley Trail. Spotted a number of cyclists and walkers enjoying the beautiful morning too.
Along the Knowle road towards Wreyland there are lovely views across the meadows and orchards towards Lustleigh.
Dartmoor Magazine has a new sales outlet here too: The Dairy (the excellent village shop and post office)!
For a change I took the quiet top lane north out of the village via Hammerslake and past the drive to South Harton Farm, where an old cross (once split, but repaired) is set into the wall.
Once past Sanduck I took a path down the valley side towards Steward, with great views towards Mardon Down (see above) and across the fields to Moretonhampstead.
Next week many of the articles and photos for the winter issue should be in, and the chance of a morning off walking will disappear. I had a great time away, but it’s good to be home!
Friends old and new at Widecombe Fair
There’s already been a lot on social media this week about the 165th Widecombe Fair… and here’s some more! It was a brilliant day and thoroughly enjoyed by all. The weather behaved and the crowds poured in for a long day of varied entertainment. The above photo shows the green during set-up on the previous afternoon: the stalls on the green and in the car park are run separately from all the traditional Dartmoor activities that can be seen on the showfield nearby.
The Dartmoor Magazine gazebo was busy from start to finish, selling new subscriptions and back issues, and draw tickets, and discussing all things Dartmoor with visitors and locals alike. Such chats are always a good indicator of how people feel the magazine is going, and a source of new ideas and future plans. We do listen to constructive criticism! We were also very well situated near the top pedestrian entrance opposite West Webburn Llamas (and alpacas) so had plenty to watch during brief quieter spells.
I managed a couple of circuits of the field and came across several old magazine friends…
‘Tich’ Scott of Proper Dartmoor Tours, proudly displaying his musical Widecombe Fair mug, purchased during a canal trip in the Midlands!
Lewis Steer of Lily Warne Wool with his champion Greyface Dartmoor ram (article in next spring/summer magazine).
Simon Hodgkiss, hiding away in his gazebo and selling his wonderful Dartmoor photos. Simon will be featured in the spring 2016 issue.
Busy times at the Dartmoor Preservation Association stand.
Had a good chat with DNPA’s Moor than meets the eye’s Andy Bailey and Chrissy Mason (see autumn issue In the News re Chrissy’s tour of the Postbridge haymeadows earlier in the summer).
Charlotte Faulkner’s wonderful Dartmoor Hill Pony Display Team entertained the crowds in the main ring.
Frantic activity in the sheep shearing championship…
… and in the beer tent, where a variety of excellent musicians performed through out the day. And (almost) finally…
Wonderful to hear (and see) Tony Beard behind the mike all day. Here he is with a bottle of Dartmoor Brewery’s limited edition ‘Old Wag’ beer.
Many, many thanks to everyone involved in putting on such a fabulous day. Roll on Tuesday 13 September 2016!
Away day to the northern Quantocks
Sometimes it’s good to take a break from Dartmoor and enjoy a different landscape: we are blessed with such a fantastic range of opportunities in the southwest. And one of the joys of writing walking routes for various magazines – in this case Exmoor the country magazine – is the fact that I’m ‘allowed’ to go exploring. For Exmoor my area extends all the way from Ilfracombe in the west to the Quantocks in the east (and south to the edge of Devon’s heartland), giving me a wonderful range of different landscapes to work with. And so it was a week ago that I went with John Diplock from Spirit of Adventure (Powdermills) and his Free Spirit group to re-walk a Quantocks route I devised a year or so ago. As you can see below, the weather as we ascended Hodder’s Combe and gained the Quantock ridge (around 1000ft above sea level) was less than kind…
But suddenly the cloud lifted and the views up the Somerset coast lifted somewhat dampened spirits. The temperature rose and waterproofs came off as the sun came out and we slid our way towards the Bristol Channel coast, with lovely views back across late-summer fields.
This 10-mile route enjoys both the lofty heights of the Quantocks and also the fields and quiet lanes between the northern end of the ridge and the sea. It also encounters an extraordinary run of historic buildings in less than a mile of walking. First comes the time-capsule village of East Quantoxhead, still home to a branch of the Luttrell family (of Dunster Castle fame) after 800 years, with its impressive late 15th-century Court House, simple stone church and tranquil duck pond.
A network of field paths leads from East Quantoxhead to Kilve and the way home, but the draw of an extra loop to take in the north Somerset coast here is strong. In glorious sunshine we accessed the coast path and marvelled at the extraordinary geology at Kilve Beach SSSI, where layers of fossil-embedded lias make good subjects for photographic study (described as ‘Kilve’s delightful shore’ by Wordsworth while staying with his sister Dorothy at Alfoxden [Alfoxton] House in 1797, passed on the way back to Holford and the start of the walk).
We bade goodbye to the coast has the sky darkened once more and a thunderstorm drenched us on our way past the late 13th century church at Kilve and the ruined Chantry, dating from 1329 and said to have been once used for storing smuggled goods. Wet fields and muddy woodland tracks took us back to our starting point at Holford, tired but happy!
Heather – and Hameldown memories
We’re well into August, and the heather is out on the moor. Bell heather, ling and – in damper spots – patches of cross-leaved heath. I was up on Hameldown last week (good heathery walls by the Natsworthy path!) for a very special occasion: the first visit to the RAF Memorial by the descendants of one of the crew of four who lost their lives at the spot (the pilot died in Moretonhampstead Hospital the following day) when their Hampden Bomber crashed in March 1941.
We were also accompanied by Fred Hill (93) who flew Hampden Bombers from the same Lincolnshire base as ‘The Boys’ (as the lost airmen came to be known), just a few months after they died. Fred had an extraordinarily distinguished career as a WWII fighter pilot and was awarded the DFC. The images below show the Wilson family et al at the memorial stone, and Fred with Tony Beard, examining a ring made from Perspex taken from the crash site all those years ago. The two clearly enjoyed meeting each other and sharing reminiscences.
The story of ‘The Boys’ and one man’s personal mission to find out about the lives of the crew is related in the autumn issue of Dartmoor Magazine. John Lowe has worked tirelessly over the last few years and it is down to his endeavours that the investigation of the crash site featured on the BBC’s Countryfile programme in September 2014, and that last week’s event took place. He even arranged for a salute from a WWII Auster while we were there: a moving moment, especially for Fred.
If you want to read more please buy a copy of the autumn issue, which will hit the shelves just before the Bank Holiday weekend: it’s an intriguing story and yet another part of Dartmoor’s fascinating and varied history.
And for me an excuse to get out on the moor – albeit on a disappointingly dull August morning – and enjoy the company of some very special people (and the heathery hedge banks!).
The show season looms!
The 2015 show season is about to start in earnest! Dartmoor Magazine has a pretty packed programme this summer: do come and say hello if you happen to be passing. It’s Dartmoor Folk Festival (www.dartmoorfolkfestival.org.uk)at South Zeal this coming weekend (we’ll be in the Crafts Marquee on Saturday and Sunday), a wonderful time of traditional music, singing and dance in a beautiful setting. Next we’re taking the gazebo to Harrowbeer 1940s Weekend on 15 and 16 August: a must for anyone interested in military history and a spot of World War II nostalgia.
On 20 August we’ll be in the gazebo at the popular and long-standing Chagford Show, on 29 August (a new one for us) at Sampford Spiney and Walkhampton Sheepdog Trials (a good chance to get some photos to support an article on the subject commissioned for 2016), and on 5 September at the Nourish Festival in Bovey Tracey. And finally we’ll be at good old Widecombe Fair on Tuesday 8 September, where I always particularly enjoy visiting the local produce tent…
… as well as watching the livestock classes, of course!
Last weekend I caught sight of South Zeal’s Tinners Morris on an away day at Sidmouth Folk Festival: no doubt brushing up their skills on the seafront before coming back to the Dartmoor this weekend! Sidmouth was awash with music and colour and sunshine: a wonderful place to while away a Sunday in festival season.
Exmoor ramblings… and Dartmoor deliveries
I seem to have been all over the place this week. On Monday I drove 170 miles in all: starting with Horner Wood on Exmoor where I had to work out a walk for next summer’s issue of Exmoor: the country magazine. A good route but muggy, damp and sticky… the sun wasn’t out for long and I got very wet under dripping trees in the valley of the Horner Water. Still, a lovely day out in all, followed by a drive along the beautiful coast road west to Lynmouth before dropping down to Barnstaple for an interview on ‘The Voice’, North Devon’s local radio station, about my new Two Moors Way/Devon Coast to Coast book.
Much of the week has been taken up with editing features for the autumn issue, and on Wednesday I loaded about 4o pages’ worth of words and images into Dropbox for Emily to start the layout. A great relief, but I still have about the same amount to sort out!
Yesterday saw me on the road again. First to Manaton to pick up some printed DM indexes from Darren at Moor Print: quick, efficient and friendly service just a few miles from the DM office. Bit of a grey morning, but cottages on the Green, and the church, looking as lovely as ever.
Then it was off the the Highwayman Inn at Sourton (photo needed for an ad in the upcoming issue: the pub is also covered in Robert Hesketh’s next feature on Dartmoor’s inn signs and names), and top-ups of stock of the summer issue at Lydford Farm Shop and Mary Tavy PO, two of our much-appreciated 60+ sales outlets in the area.
Next port of call was the Royal Standard at Mary Tavy, base for the autumn Walk & Eat feature (see photo below); then I called in to see Lisa Jenkins, owner of Dartmoor Accommodation. My day ended with a wonderful drive back home across the moor (was supposed to picking up the books that John Earle near Widecombe has reviewed for the autumn issue, but ran out of time!). Today I’ve been keeping out of the rain, hard at it editing features and news items.
And so ends another busy week in the DM office…
A good week for Dartmoor's hay meadows
I’ve been immersing myself in hay meadows this week. On Monday I went on a ‘Moor than meets the eye’ hay meadow walk with ecologist Chrissy Mason: an exploration of some of the beautiful traditional hay meadows around Postbridge. Extremely informative, and some pretty hard-hitting facts and figures divulged: nationally 97 percent of our hay meadows were lost during the 20th century. Dartmoor has an impressive 450ha remaining, and those around Postbridge are particularly special (no public access). We were privileged to be allowed into three meadows belonging to Beechwood B&B: awash with common spotted and greater butterfly orchids, common catsear, ox-eye daisies, hay rattle… and to top it all off very nicely we finished with a delicious cream tea in the garden at Beechwood!
Coincidentally on the same day I received an exciting press release from the Devon Wildlife Trust announcing the leasing of a new nature reserve in the area: Bellever Moor and Meadow, close to the Bellever youth hostel. Described as ‘a patchwork of traditional hay meadows, wet grassland and moorland’ this 70ha site will be open to the public all year round. A fantastic asset for visitors to this part of the moor.
The following day I went to Brook Manor at Holne to meet Kevin and Donna Cox, instigators of the new Moor Meadows group (see In the News of the summer issue of the magazine). Their beautiful house overlooks an extensive and traditional hay meadow, which they have restored over the last ten years (Kevin will be writing a feature on Dartmoor’s hay meadows for the summer 2016 issue). Following on from the inaugural Moor Meadows meeting held in Scorriton in April, a Yahoo group has been set up: to find out more, get advice, learn how to create a meadow and so on visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/meadowexchange/join or send an email to email@example.com.
Away day to Widecombe in the Moor
After several days stuck in the barn deep in a complicated edit, by Thursday last week I had to get out for a bit of ‘work’ R&R. So I took a trip to Widecombe (a lovely drive across the moor via Grimspound, though on that morning in monsoon-like conditions). I confess that I rarely stop in Widecombe in summer, unless passing through on foot, but it’s a place really worth spending some time in. Apart from the historical and legendary aspects (such as tales of the Devil and the ‘Great Thunderstorm’ in the 17th century) and the world-renowned Widecombe Fair (Tuesday 8 September this year) there are great places to eat and lots to see.
The Cafe on the Green (a tearoom since 1926) has recently been taken over by Edward and Liz Corwood, and has been given a real makeover! It’s fresh, bright and spacious: the interior decor colour palette has been carefully selected to reflect the natural hues of granite, lichen, berberis and copper beech that can be seen through the windows. It’s capacious, too: 110 covers inside and 120 in the garden overlooking St Pancras Church. You’ll receive a warm welcome, and I felt a real buzz of enthusiasm running through the staff and building (and the food looked delicious too). Go and see for yourself next time you’re there. (Edward also told me how welcome they had been made to feel in the village, and that Tony Beard had shown him some postcards of The Cafe in years gone by: look carefully at the one below and you can see a charabanc, back in the days when tourists arrived by train at Bovey Tracey and were then taken on a tour of the moor.) The autumn issue of Dartmoor Magazine will have more about The Cafe and planned future events.
Next I went to the National Trust’s 16th-century Church House to take a look round Widecombe Craft Market, held here once a week (pretty much) for 30 years. Rob Hutchinson of www.dartmoorphotos.co.uk shows his work there, and had recently reminded me of the market’s existence (I had been meaning to revisit for ages). And it is well worth it: a great selection of handmade products from a variety of Devon and Dartmoor crafters: perfect for presents (or a spot of self-indulgence). Basketry, jewellery, ironwork, knitwear, leather and linen items (and the ‘Old Forks Home…’, recycled cutlery!): a lovely place to spend an hour, and in a seriously historic building. Every Thursday 10.30am–4.30pm (starting in May: last one this year 15 October).
I also hadn’t visited the National Trust’s new gallery at Sexton’s Cottage next door since it was revamped. The old ‘bookshop’ area upstairs has been transformed into a beautifully lit gallery space where you will find a wonderful range of items on sale, mostly from Dartmoor. But what caught my eye came from a pottery in Bideford, the last in the country to be producing traditional cider jugs. Harry Juniper has been potting for 67 years, and his son and daughter are now involved in the business: Sexon’s Cottage is the only gallery where his work is on sale. His work is grounded in the North Devon 17th-century pottery tradition, using rich red earthenware clay and yellow lead glaze, and sgraffito decoration. (Another nice thing about the gallery is that there is information about each maker clearly displayed).
When I emerged from Sexton’s Cottage the downpour had stopped and the sun was shining, perfect for a drive via Dartmeet to Tavistock Pannier Market, my next port of call. Not a bad ‘work’ day all in all!
Dartmoor Access Forum Joint Training Day
I had an interesting day out last week with the Dartmoor Access Forum (of which I am a member) on a joint training day with Devon Countryside Access Forum. DAF meets a couple of times a year to discuss access issues on and around the moor, and we have a training day in the summer. We met in Yelverton for coffee then made our way to Clearbrook to view the ‘new’ access ramp for Drake’s Trail. Issues arising from different user expectations and demands on multi-use trails were discussed on the ground: so much better than doing so when sitting around a table!
We kept having to make way for passing cyclists, a clear demonstration of the popularity of the trail (an estimated 500 people per day at weekends on this stretch). Fittingly Dartmoor National Park launched their new Cycling Code of Conduct last week: the overall message being that all road and trail users need to show consideration for other users at all times, and act responsibly and legally.
Next it was off to Buckland Monachorum to see the results of their Paths for Parish Landscapes work: the restoration of a useful link path near the church, which was been upgraded and made suitable for all users. The photo shows the way a granite Devon stile has been effectively bypassed and an unobtrusive new surface laid. A great example of a successful community project for the benefit of all.
Our day ended on Roborough Down where we listened to Tracey Weaver, a West Devon/South Hams Dog Warden, talk about her work and the well-reported issues with dogs in our area.
A fascinating and highly educational day all round. If you are interested in joining DAF new members will be sought this September: email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.dartmoor.gov.uk to find out more. DAF works independently of the National Park but Authority staff attend our meetings and facilitate our training days.
Wall to wall
I took a break from Dartmoor last weekend (before the summer issue deliveries) and went walking in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Around 300 sq miles greater in area than Dartmoor, this is a land of dramatic limestone scenery: crags, scars, gorges and weather-worn pavements, intersected by broad, fertile green valleys. One iconic feature of the area is its thousands of drystone walled enclosures, many with a small stone barn in one corner. These stone walls snake in every direction across the fells: it is said that in the late 1990s there were over 5000 miles of walls in existence.
We can learn much about the local geology of an area by studying buildings, barns, walls and so on. Here on Dartmoor we have our solid granite drystone walls (the one seen in the photo above edges Open Access land near Prince Hall Hotel, Two Bridges) and beautiful Devon hedge banks, whereas on Exmoor walls tend to be built of local slate (below). And when researching the route of the Pennine Bridleway for a book several years I could tell when I was leaving the limestone White Peak and moving onto the gritstone Dark Peak simply by studying the make-up of the lane-side wall I was passing!
Summer issue to print!
After two long days at the computer(s) in my barn outside Moretonhampstead, Emily and I are pleased to say that the summer issue is (almost) ready to go to print! It’s a time-consuming process: correcting text glitches, moving around photos and captions, checking photo acknowledgements, finalising ads and cover lines and so on. Over the weekend Emily will go through every page again before I have a final look and then it will be uploaded to the printers’ portal. Subscribers’ copies will be sent out around 26 May, and the bulk delivery will reach us that week for delivery to our 60 or so sales outlets around the moor.
In this issue we’ve got a broad range of articles, as usual: I’ve been out to Shilstone Rocks Stud near Widecombe to learn all about the registered Dartmoor Pony; Richard Horsham examines Dartmoor’s blanket bog in enormous detail; we have walks along the Two Moors Way, to Cranmere Pool (and with llamas!); Tavistock Golf Club celebrates its 125th birthday; Tim Jenkinson takes an in-depth look at the rocks of Hound Tor Coombe; and much, much more. There are interviews with ‘Tich’ Scott and Bill Murray, and with sculptor Peter Randall-Page from Drewsteignton, and Nick Baker looks at the underwater life of a Dartmoor stream. This issue’s beautiful cover and Contents page photos (see Contents spread below) have been supplied by Richard Fox of Bovey Tracey. And in this issue we have an amazing eight pages of News, including the story of the new part-time Post Office that has taken up residence in Throwleigh parish church.
Tomorrow I’m off to Princetown for the Dartmoor Local History Day: an annual gathering of representatives from local history groups, with talks from an excellent range of speakers. After that it’s down to Parke for the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust’s 10th birthday party… and then next week I shall be commissioning articles and planning the autumn issue!
Welcome to the new website!
After many months of hard work we are delighted to launch the new Dartmoor Magazine website. One of the new features will be the Editor’s blog, through which I plan to keep interested parties up to speed with what’s been happening on Dartmoor and with the magazine. We would be very interested to hear what you think of the website: if you have any constructive comments please send them to email@example.com.
My first ‘proper’ blog post will follow soon!