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!
One thing that happens to my year as a result of editing a quarterly magazine is that time appears to speed up! Yesterday I went to Home Farm Café at Parke for a lunchtime meeting with Catherine Parsons, Visitor Services and Enterprise Manager for the National Trust on Dartmoor. We looked through Catherine’s suggestions for subjects for the NT pages in each issue and before long we were deciding what should go into the next winter issue… another year gone, just like that! While I was at Parke I also met the NT’s Lead Ranger AJ (Bellamy) properly at last, and caught up with the National Park’s Visitor Services Manager Richard Drysdale too.
There’s a lot of that every January for me: meetings, making plans, looking ahead to issues later in the year (as well as thinking up ideas for series to run through 2016, which need to be decided a year in advance so that the photographs can be taken in the right season). Today I’ve had my Mac chap here sorting out a few problems with my 7500 iPhoto images (hence ‘spring cleaning’), and tomorrow I’ll be getting on with editing some of the spring issue features that are starting to trickle in.
It’s all a bit of a juggling act… but never boring!