Dartmoor is a very handy place. Particularly on those days where guilt gets the better of me and I engage in the preposterous proposition of work. After instant coffee breaks – a sure sign I have been in England too long and settled for inadequacy – it reaches something like 3pm and I yearn to break free. And there Dartmoor is, through the school and hospital and fast food takeaway traffic, and up the A386.
The area around Burrator is probably the handiest and offers a useful mixture of forests, tors, ponies and a chance to gobble down a Willy’s ice cream. Sharpitor, Leather Tor, Sheepstor, Down Tor all provide the opportunity to scramble around and over clutters of granite, to gaze north and east into the wilds and south and west over the patchwork dream to the hazy ocean on the horizon. Swathes of bracken meander down to gnarly forests and tinkling streams, some of which are occasionally plummeting (conveniently and suspiciously close to the ice cream van).
From such moorland vantages – and practically any other hilltop in West Devon and East Cornwall – the modest mound of Brentor is visible, disconnected from the barren tops of Dartmoor before it slides down into the Tamar Valley. Its distinction not only stems from its prominence amongst flatter surrounds, but its famous church that some dedicated god-botherers decided to construct a long time ago.
I suspect the church provided a symbolic, steadfast two fingers to the heathens, roaming the moor via their crazy stone circles and rows, all wild hair, posies of heather, and rampant Chlamydia. An outpost for civilisation, a rising up from the moral turpitude of the flea-bitten masses towards the light. I feel much the same leaving Plymouth and heading to Dartmoor today, bathed in its pure air and natural light. Swept away in wonderment, even my jeans are feeling holy, what with all the pasties and frequent straddling of giant cracks between granite blocks.
As well as flailing raggedly down from Dartmoor, heathens would have been in profusion west of Brentor and into the dark, forbidding uplands of Kernow. Willing to shake it up a little, I grabbed my passport one afternoon, crossed the Tamar and headed towards Bodmin Moor. Less defined and gargantuan than its Devonian counterpart, there are nonetheless pockets of heather and gorse pierced by shattered tors. Ponies graze and stone rows lurk and the diggings and ruins of the tin industry crumble away in profusion. There is less of the idyllic in this zone around Minions, but there is enough to encourage future exploration.
From these boggy pastures the River Fowey runs south and widens into that rather delightful spot by the sea. Upstream has its highlights too, as I found at Golitha Falls. Verdant woodlands are making the most of the last of the summer, tinges of yellow and orange and red brushing the tops exposed to the sun. A scattering of leaves are floating down towards the mossy branches and rocks of the forest floor. All the while, the pure waters of the river meander and tumble unendingly onward, luring you to follow them forever towards the sea. Cool and refreshing and rejuvenating, there are no excuses not to get back to work, other than more moors.