Caught by the River

Postcard From Bodmin Moor

18th May 2012

The Cheesewring, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

Words & pictures from West Country correspondent, Mr. Alex Smith:

Not so much a trek as a local exploration, this short trip was about dipping into the ancient and modern Cornish mining landscape. With a new walking partner who brought a weight of knowledge to the party, this was exercise of the brain more than the heart. We drove to Minions on the only half-decent day of the week. Showers that were forecast passed to the north and the unseasonably cold winds brought cleaner air and clearer horizons to the higher vantage points. Minions is a small village on Bodmin moor, the highest in Cornwall at 300m. Towering even higher above the village is the transmitter on Caradon Hill, provider of Freeview to North Cornwall and South Devon homesteads and vital navigation tool to walkers on both moors. We headed off first to The Hurlers and The Pipers, a set of three impressive stone circles with two standing stones to their west. Restored, of course, but worth a look. Many do so, even on days like these.

We branched off from the more direct route to the Cheesewring and had a little wander around some disused mine workings and a small lake in the valley to the west. We set off a wheatear from the ground in front of us and it very obligingly led us in our walk, stopping when we stopped and moving on only once the camera had been retrieved from its pocket or we signalled our intent to carry on, the white flash of its tail at times all we could see of it against the tussocky landscape. It was in lovely colour, the grey on its back was blue, the black below its eye contrasted with the brilliant strip of white above and it had an amazing apricot hue to its breast. Stunning little bird. We saw another later, whilst taking a sneaky trip up Caradon hill and it too was in beautiful shape.

Further along the valley, bounded by ancient field systems with tumbledown stone walls and stunted, windswept trees, we came upon a grey horse standing on top of a wall, her foal keeping close station at the wall’s base. The foal was a little more worried about us than she was but they held their ground and watched our passage, the foal returning to grazing once we’d left their orbit. I took a couple of photos from distance but, disappointingly, they didn’t turn out quite as Craggy Island as I had hoped.

On the long way up to the Cheesewring we heard the urgent pew of buzzards. A family group, mum, dad and last year’s young, starting a rise from the valley bottom. The parents appeared to be pushing the youngster away. The smaller bird moved off at speed, leaving the two of them to gain some height above the valley. As it turned towards us we stopped to watch, grateful for the rest. Lighter in colour and squarer in the tail than the parents, it didn’t have the banded underside to its wings which it beat a little too regularly. It was only as it passed above and a little to the south of us that we saw it was actually a female hen harrier, a very rare sighting, particularly at this time of the year. She would ordinarily be up in Scotland by now, leaving us just as the winter had left us, transiting the Highlands and dodging the gamekeepers. A lifetime sighting for me. Bird watching, bloody hell.

The top of the Cheesewring gave us views west to the Cornish Alps. My buddy, an expert on all things geological, explained the visible topography and the rock beneath our feet in absorbing technical detail. There was talk of gabbro and granite and there was a promise of books, since delivered. We had lunch on the lee side, looking over the flat approaches to the Tamar Valley with Dartmoor behind. Flasks and Tunnocks and tangerines. Ideal.

We descended on that flank and entered the quarry on the old rail line. There was a rook’s nest just below the top ridge. The youngsters, on the cusp of leaving, were taking VTOL test flights of six inches or more, not quite brave enough yet to answer the parental exhortations echoing around the quarry from an adjacent ridge. If we’d stayed long enough I’m sure we would have witnessed their maiden flights but we’d promised ourselves views from Caradon and Kit Hill on the drive back so we left along the track and returned to the car, untested physically, perhaps, but buzzing all the same.