The Two Moors Way, PART 8... Dartmoor at its finest.
Day 6 started in Chagford, a quaint little area that holds part of the guilt for me picking this location in the first place. In 2015 the family did a road trip of sorts to introduce the kids to the UK, and we passed through here briefly, spending a couple of rain-soaked nights at Bovey Castle. The one short walk we took from the hotel to dinner, through the woods and along a creek, into a churchyard and past several unimpressed townie cats sitting on stone walls, was just too much of a tease. I was determined to come back and dive into the landscape properly, but figured it would be more of a daydream than a real actual trip - then things changed, and I made it happen.
Chagford sits on the northeast portion of Dartmoor, where things were still a bit green and lush and a quite agricultural. The trail was still well marked and went in an out of sunken lanes for a bit, lanes so deep that when I saw these horses, they were a full 6 or 7 feet above the trail. As a side note, often on this trip I would see a brown horse and white horse watching me - it's either a sign of sorts, or farmers in Devon have a penchant for contrasting design of livestock.
A more appropriate post about this part of Dartmoor might be to just post pictures and silent videos, because that is what it's like there - quiet, uncomplicated, and peaceful. However, it's also full of life, and leaves you with so much to say about it after visiting. I even ran into some lovely people up there, despite the seeming emptiness - there was a woman a bit older than me who was out for a 'little' 12-13 mile walk, and a young man walking a very enthusiastic jack russell terrier. I stopped him in particular because I was having another moment where I may or may not have been on my desired part of the trail. The eastern bits of Dartmoor are criscrossed with local trails, and some combine with the Two Moors Way, but some don't, and I knew the end of my day would also take me slightly off the main route. Every trail went somewhere, but I needed to be sure I didn't add 3-4 miles to my already long route - the man with the terrier(and no backpack or even a jacket) was obviously a local, and we determined that where he had parked his car was near where I was headed. We backtracked his route on my map, did lots of pointing and orienteering motions that would have conveyed to anyone within a half mile of us that ONE OF THESE PEOPLE IS LOST, and compared it with my planned route, then off we continued in our opposite directions. He and his little dog were aiming to do 15 miles - he said the dog never got tired no matter how far their walks took them. As I came down from the windswept and straw-colored moors, scattered with neolithic stones and with nary a tree in sight, I entered the town of Widecombe-In-the-Moor for a late lunch. Looking back on it now, it seems like I was up on those moors for days and days, not just hours. Widecombe was a busy spot with plenty of charming places for lunch, and again had that feel of a strange island of human business in a sea of wild places. Very charming - highly recommend it for a stopover while hiking, especially if you feel like being a bit civilized and having a proper meal while mucking across the vast expanses. The high moors that I experienced that day were not the lonely, windswept, inhospitable moors you hear about, or that I read about in my preparation for the trip - instead they were friendly, changeable, and interesting (also very windswept). At times I would see clouds form overhead, and a few drops would get slung at me from above, but they would blow away just as quickly as they came up. I couldn't help but figure, though, that this had to have been a very different place 2000+ years ago when the people who created the ruins strewn about had lived there. It might have been nice for my sunny day's walk, but I can only imagine how unpleasant it would be to live there, without shelter from the winters and winds, or the frames of reference that a friendly wood or nestled riverbed would provide. Luckily I had plenty of time in the evenings to sit at the pubs with my dinner and WiFi to read up on the history of Dartmoor and the way people have lived on it - a history buff's dream vacation, for sure. Even the city planner in me, that loves to study and experience the way a place is used, manipulated, evolves, and is continually reborn under human activity could find plenty to daydream about in such a contradictory landscape.
The end of this day brought me right up close with the path of the River Dart, which was something I wanted to include on my route since we first drove through the area 2 years prior. Something about walking the path of a river from its origins to the ocean just sounded appealing, and it looked like such a perfect candidate in my research. I never did find the source along my route, but as it appeared and reappeared along day 6, it was always a welcome sight. I still regret not being prepared to jump in for a swim. By 'prepared' I mean having a towel and means to dry off so I don't go into shock from freezing to death after only a few seconds in the water - it might be hard to tramp off to my hotel if i'm shaking in the fetal position on the trail.
Just as I was sorta starting to worry about making it to the end in daylight - I projected best case scenario got me in by 7:30pm - I had to scoot aside into the nettles on the wall of sunken road to allow a car to pass and recognized the driver. It was the young man with the jack russell terrier, the terrier now eagerly positioned with his front paws up on the dashboard. He recognized me as well and said 'ah! so you made it!' It had been several hours since we passed each other, and he obviously had enjoyed his day up on the moors as well. We chatted briefly and he offered to drop me at my inn, but I took it as a sign that all was right in the world that I had run into him again, so I said that it would be silly for me to not finish the day after having made it so far already. He thought that made total sense, reassured me that I would have plenty of time to make it before dark, and off he went. I will never tire of the attitude towards extensive time out of doors that I encountered. No one I met found anything remotely odd, unusual, or extraodinary about what I was doing - it simply wasn't an issue. What was an issue, however, was the election of Donald Trump. I found myself having to try and explain that disaster to strangers nearly every day, as soon as my Chicago accent gave away my citizenship. Walking 130 miles by oneself, regardless of weather, blisters, directional misshaps, etc was not at all unreasonable to anyone in Devon, but the American political landscape was a quandary without explanation that was making people even in the magical fairyland of SW England feel uneasy and concerned. Walking 20 miles in a day does help take one's mind off potential war with North Korea, though. I think everyone on the planet would be at least 30% more sane and reasonable if they took a good long walk once in a while...