Caught by the River

A Postcard From Dartmoor

26th January 2013

The memorial stone

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

The Ted Hughes Memorial Stone

It’s been here a good twelve years now but it still looks as if it has only just been dropped on the grassy mound on which it stands. There’s no real sense that the stone was born here or that its granite has any bulk under the surrounding turf. The long white grass that has been windblown around its edges doesn’t much disguise its shape or even give much of a frame to it. Moss and lichens might have added a little age to the look of the granite, said to have come from somewhere close to Beardown, but there is actually little sense of permanence about this monument. They could have helicoptered it in only last week. It took the support of Prince Charles and the Duchy to get it placed here and there was much secrecy about its exact position at the beginning, but the threat of guerrilla attacks by the Plathites seems to have been much over-emphasised and the co-ordinates are now readily available on the net.

A bloody great crow kept barking at us as we passed close to the monument on our way back from lunch at Hangingstone Hill. Nothing new about crows on Dartmoor, obviously, so we didn’t break off much from our conversation, but it was good that we both knew the symbolism of the encounter. We weren’t paying any kind of homage, just doing another route that started from the area around the army camp at Okehampton, our third of the last couple of months and the one that took us the deepest into the moor.

The first, at the end of November, had been all about the highest tors, Rowtor, West Mill, Yes Tor and High Willhays with a return via Dinger and East Mill, spent partly in the company of soldiers being tested on a fearsome yomp. We departed for the second trip, six days later, from a flooded city. Overnight downpours had filled the culverts with fallen leaves and rainwater pooled around the lower plains, cutting off all rail movements to anywhere much north of Exeter and causing all kinds of pain to drivers on the main arteries out of town and beyond. The forecast for the north moors looked as if it would reward the hardy and so it proved, though further rain would arrive that night. South and east from the car, to Oke Tor and Steeperton Tor, then Hound Tor and Little Hound Tor with its brooding stone circle and up to Cosdon Hill with its beacon undercut on the southern side and its views back to Chagford and forward to South Zeal and Sticklepath. Our return was along a riverside walk at Belstone Cleave which took us into Belstone itself and a circle around Belstone Common with a hike up Cullever Steps to make our return, weary and cold and just starting to get wet.

A break for Christmas and then the original pair of us back for this one, a first visit to the memorial stone and a return close to the Knack Mine. You don’t really need a reason to be up here at this time of year but it is sometimes nice to have a plan. Three consecutive trips, three different routes from the same start, running as they did in the following order: high, east, and, now, south. West leads down to Meldon reservoir and off the moor and southwest leads you over to Tavy Cleave, somewhere we’d done to death, so this is it for Okehampton for a while, and it’s probably the south map that we’ll be visiting in the coming weeks, particularly if they bring the promised snow.