A lot of time has passed since I crossed the border into Cornwall, and the further away it gets in time, as does it in memory. For this chapter I shall refer to my notes. Another reason I shall refer, is that I noted many things during the last two days of the journey. In fact, my note taking and general introspectiveness increased with each day I was on the road.
The penultimate day of my long walk started with a coffee in the ruins of Lydford Castle. I’d bargained on there being some form of cafe in Lydford, so had foregone making myself a cup back at the beloved caravan. There was a cafe/pub/hotel/only place with any sign of life within, but it was closed as everything in or around Dartmoor seems to be, for almost all of the hours in a day.
The castle was fairly basic – just a shell of a tower really, with some stairs in one corner. I sat on the steps and brewed myself a cup of strong black coffee. A few dog walkers emerged telling me that perhaps people did actually live in Lydford. I had arranged to meet my father-in-law in the car park opposite the castle. I had been on my own for almost two weeks by this point and was most in need of some company. Lawrence lives in Exeter, and being a veteran wild camper, was good company to keep. We exchanged pleasantries and made for Lydford Gorge – which like everything else in Dartmoor was closed. Being National Trust members, we took it upon ourselves to declare the gorge open and walked through the gates with purpose. Sure enough, none of the sleepy workers batted an eyelid, or if they did they weren’t bothered enough to chase us down the trail.
The gorge is an enchanting entanglement of woodland trails, with mining relics hidden here and there. We descended deep, down into the floor of the forest, passing questionably carved wooden sculptures. Lawrence being eagle-eyed saved the most nanoscopic frog from becoming buried under my boot. How he spotted it in the shadows and leaf litter I don’t know, but I expect the frog was thankful. We walked until we reached the waterfall that the gorge is famed for. Having ignored the opening hours, we had the place to ourselves and stood for a while absorbing the sound of the water as it fell 30 metres to our feet.
Leaving the gorge, we got our first and last real taste of the moor. The West Devon Way, which we were loosely following, when we could find the signs, skirts the moor, which had I spent longer thinking about it, would have been a reason to avoid it. I wanted bleak. I wanted tors. I wanted anything but the West Devon Way. I’d been spoilt with the challenging and splendidly remote North Downs Way and South West Coast Path. On either of these trails you can, at times, feel completely isolated and battered by the elements, but you are always able to find comfort in the path. They are logical and well trodden. The West Devon Way, has some half decent PR, but is essentially not a real trail but a line on a map linking various footpaths and cycle routes. I have few good things to say about it, and the best walking I had in Dartmoor came from getting lost and finding myself in a cloud atop Belstone Tor.
We strode across the moor, taking in views of Brentor to our right and highland cattle to our left. The rain held off and we had pleasant walking to Peter Tavy and more significantly, the Peter Tavy Inn. Here we tried three local ales (Jail Ale, Tavy Pale and Legend) over good conversation and high spirits. We hadn’t walked far, but we’d got lucky with the weather and a new plan, to see how many establishments we could cut a path through, had filled us with a fresh sense of adventure.
The next few hours are not particularly clear, and there are no photographs except for this.
Despite several hydration stops, we made it past Tavistock, to Yelverton. After a fine supper in Yelverton’s only pub, we retraced our steps about half a kilometre to an old airfield – RAF Harrowbeer. We had bookmarked it on our way through, noting the amount of seemingly flat ground and the ability to say we slept on RAF Harrowbeer among roaming sheep.
We made camp in minutes beneath a tree, me in my beloved tent and Lawrence zipped inside a bivy. It was perfect. In the darkness, we felt sufficiently sheltered and away from potential intruders. Many nights of camping alone had been fun in a way, but at times frightening and frighteningly lonely. To once again have the reassurance that, if anyone did stumble across me in the night, I wouldn’t be alone, was liberating. It is more common to hear of the liberty that comes with lone travel, but in cases where your safety is uncertain, liberation can be found in companionship.
In the morning, we were woken by the thunderous barking of what, in my sleep state, was like a rottweiler crossed with a hippo. I thought many expletives, but kept silent. I never saw the perpetrator, and neither did Lawrence, even though the beast’s gnashers must have been within a whisker of his face. It was a rude awakening, although in the dawnlight, it became clear that our sheltered camp, was a few feet from the main footpath through Roborough Common. We hastily packed away our things and ambled back to Yelverton, where my dad would meet us for the final southwesterly stomp to Cornwall and my homecoming.
If you’ve kept up thus far, thank you and rest assured, the end is nigh.
Read the previous chapters here.
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