This was another short ‘trundle’ back to the same area that was visited on the Mistery Tour but with a stark contrast – I could actually see where I was going. It may have been only about 4 miles but it was one of those Dartmoor days that you will always remember and never want to end. Occasionally these exceptional walks happen and not only do you get the sights, sounds, and smells associated with the experience you get a wonderful nights sleep that is filled with the memories of the moor.
Basically, all I wanted to do was to go to King tor up on Hookner Down, nothing adventurous in that but what a morning it turned out to be. The moorland fringes were cold, dank, and gloomy which did little to inspire any enthusiasm but by the time I reached the carpark it was another world. The snow lay crisp and virginal, the air was fresh and the skies were watery and still. There was a biting north easterly wind that stung the ear lobes and numbed the fingers which made for brisk walking.
The views on Hookner tor were stunning, and the snow laden granite outcrops bore witness to the skill of Winter’s ice sculpting talents.
The enigmatic Bronze Age settlement of Grimspound lay shivering in the valley below and it was not hard to transport oneself back 4,500 years when there was thatch on the huts. The dwellers of the ‘settlement of Grim’ were scurrying around collecting stick for the fires and water for the cooking. Plumes of smoke seeped up through the hut roofs as they steamed and sweated in the cold. A small, fur clad boy was herding the cattle up onto the down to browse the snow crusted heather. A party of hunters were gingerly picking their way down through the icy banks of Grim’s Lake, their shiny flint spearheads glistening in the weak winter sun.
This part of the moor was totally devoid of human presence which was selfishly indulgent but so appreciated. All around the activities of the previous night were spelt out in the myriad of animal tracks that scampered across the virgin snow. As I walked across to Shapley common I was following in the footsteps of a lone fox, its tracks leading in a single straight line with the occasional mark where his brush had dragged along the ground. Again the imagination starts to picture a clear moorland night bathed in moonlight and a lone fox trotting along the snow filled path, occasionally it stops to smell the still air, ahead the shrill single ‘yap’ of draws his attention and he races off to meet his mate. Actually, the tracks eventually suggest this because at the wall corner they are joined by another set of fox tracks coming up from King Down. The two foxes then went over Shapley Common. The silence is broken by the slow rhythmic ‘woomping’ of a raven’s wing beats as it nonchantly flaps overhead, I grab the camera and frantically try to get a shot but by the time I have framed it the bird is but a mere currant amid the pudding sky.
The Fox’s Trysting Place
As I trudge over Shapley Common the northern sky begins to turn a ominous shade of black but I did want to try and work out what had gone wrong on the previous walk and soon come to the conclusion that it was basically atrocious navigation. Having ashamedly put my mind to rest I re-trace my footsteps, literally walking step by step back over my outgoing tracks and childishly thinking of the confusion it could cause. Having returned the ‘fox’s trysting place’ I headed off across King Down to visit Kings Barrow which was silhouetted on the skyline like a Christmas pudding. The old wartime pole which marks the barrow acts as a guide post.
Looking back over Shapley Common
Now I am back tracking the other fox and can see that this one came up from West Combe. Again the raven taunts with a ‘clonking’ cry as it glides overhead, again I fumble with the camera and am left with a huge expanse of sky with a tiny black dot in the middle. It does not take long to tramp through the snowy heather and reach King tor, time for a cigarette and to ponder on the stark contrast which lays before me. Up here, where the snow lays thick and the wind doth blow, just below, where the air hangs grey and the fields shiver green. This really does demonstrate what an isolated, unique land Dartmoor is, as you can see from the picture below it is truely amazing how the two worlds seamlessly blend into each other.
Just by the tor stands the old burial barrow called King’s Barrow with its single weather beaten wooden sentinel. There are many of these wooden posts on the ridge and it is said they were erected in the second world war to stop enemy gliders from landing. One cannot help feeling envious of the long dead ‘ancient’ who was buried under the granite pile, what a resting place to have, maybe its grandeur reflects his importance but who could wish for better. The early antiquarians thought that it was a Viking chieftain buried here because of the association with the Norse name of ‘Grim’ appended to the nearby Grim’s Lake and Grimspound. I don’t think the Grim’s Lake was ever deep enough to sail a longship up.
Time for some personal indulgence, for some weird reason I have a fascination with old boundstones and if ever I see one I have to photograph it. Just down from the barrow stands a lone granite post and today it was lightly decorated with a dusting of snow, making for a nice photo. This boundary marker delineates the old limits of the parish of North Bovey.
Having got yet another picture of the old stone I head back across to Hookner tor when I spot a raven perched upon one of the wooden poles. It is about 300 yards away and so I prepare the camera. Gingerly I take crunching step after crunching step, this is the picture I need, the gamble is how close dare I go before it flaps off. I look through the view finder and see that it will make an acceptable picture, the raven ‘cronks’ loudly as if giving due warning of its imminent take-off. Greedily I ignore the departure call and take some more steps, all the time looking down the viewfinder, doubt casts a dubious shadow, is the camera on the right setting, quickly I check but even quicker the raven alights and steadily glides away – much wants more!
I see from the solid clumps of ice that a pony passed this way, these would have fallen from the snow accumulations in the hollows of its hooves as it trudged through the frozen heather.
Sadly it was now time to tear myself away from this winter wonderland of solitude and tranquillity. It was time to stop voyeuristically intruding on the lives of the moorland animals that were written in the snow and head back to normality. What a perfect day, I thank the ancient spirit of the moor, Old Crockern, for providing such splendour and lasting memories. Shame about the raven but I suppose there will be other walks and opportunities. I went back to Hookner tor to drink in one last gulp of the scenery. It was here that I noticed a lone figure stood below in Grimspound, the first living soul of the day and from appearances a kindred spirit imbibing in the solitude. One look at the sky said that I was about to outstay my welcome as a bank of black, brooding cloud began to paint in the numbers of a perfect day. If only I could have got that photo of the raven.
Time to go Home …
So with a last, lingering look I descended from the tor back down to the road. Now rightly or wrongly I believe in the living spirit of the moor and that somewhere it silently watched over its rugged realm. It can be harsh and unforgiving but occasionally it can be compassionate, what am I burbling on about? Well, as I got to within a few hundred yards of the road I spotted two ravens flying towards me. It was as if that ancient spirit was giving me the gift of one last chance of that corvid photograph. But once again, cold hands messed up the opportunity as the birds flew over. However, much to my disbelief one of them landed on a rock which stood about 200 yards away. This time, daring not to move a muscle I managed to get the shot, but still the bird sat there as if saying – “you can get closer if you want.” In rugby there is a time when you know you have been awarded a penalty but the referee allows play to continue. So there is nothing to lose and risks can be taken in the knowledge that the penalty is safely awaiting should all fail. This was one of those moments, I had one decent picture so I could afford to risk getting as near as possible to the bird. In the end I got so close I would never have dreamed it possible and thus ended up with what I consider to be an amazing shot. The reason I wanted this picture so badly was that I had written a page about the Dartmoor raven but didn’t have a picture of one – now I had. The perfect end to a perfect walk, all I had to do then was safely download the precious photographs?
Thank You – Old Crockern of the Moor.