Saturday, 21 June 2008

Onto Dartmoor...

It was almost as if I'd entered some kind of full-size, 3D computer game, with me and the van as the perpetrators - twisting through all the obstacles in order to reach the other side and victory. I departed Totnes and Dartington and went in the direction of Exeter. Sort of. I'd read so much about Dartmoor - about the ancient tors, the murky swamps, the mist coming down and enshrouding the place with unspeakable disquiet. And about the bleakness that can bore right through you. I wanted to get right in there and traverse the entire moor.

From Buckfastleigh I cut up through a 1960s housing estate, already pushing Jimmy into second gear just to rev past the kid outside fixing his scrambler. As I turned the corner I was soon ensconced by high, dense hedgerows that seemed only just able to frame us as we wended through. The road was absolutely tiny and Jimmy collected all kinds of fern and bracken round his wheel arches. There was nowhere to pull in anywhere and I have no idea what might have happened if another vehicle had come along - it was all I could do to squeeze past a disapproving woman and her dog.

Every person I saw, in the occasional village I'd enter - in Buckfast, Coombe, Scorriton - would look at me with eyes of pure, local distaste. She's got to be out of her mind, they seemed to say, bringing that monstrosity through here, and then, she'll get hers...and as if I'd read their minds I would then be confronted by some new challenge - either a terrifyingly steep hill (shades of Yorkshire) or a bridge so tiny and so narrow that I wondered whether I might have to abandon Jimmy there in order to save myself.

But we triumphed and finally found ourselves with somewhat of an opening and engaged with the company of this merry party.

They shook their heads in horror as I showed them the route I fancied for reaching Exeter - none of them had ever done it, but I had to cross the moor properly or I wouldn't have been able to rest easy at night. And oh my! What a wild, beautiful thing it is! Hosted entirely by languishing sheep and the odd self-sufficient pony, it engulfs you with its sweet, chilled, marshy air. And time could fall away.

Not for me though; not for long. I had a dinner date on the fringes of Exeter and didn't want to throw the paella into jeopardy...

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