Not all walks on Dartmoor have to be expeditions, if you have an hour to spare there are some nice short ‘trundles’ that will give a great deal of pleasure. One such is a short stroll to The Beckamoor Cross or as it is commonly known – The Windy Post.
Imagine a hot summer’s afternoon, the road from Princetown to Tavistock is throbbing with visitors. The car parks are packed with people, scavenging ponies, buses, ice cream vans and more people. Hardly the way to spend a peaceful hour one would have thought. But, park (if you can) and head out over Barn Hill, as the car parks slink out of view you are suddenly presented with a very picturesque vista. The mobile masses are quite content by their cars and for what ever reason that is where they stay. On the flank of the hill is a lone hawthorn tree surrounded by rocks. The welcome shade provides an ideal place to ‘sit and stare’ at the expanse of moorland which unrolls before you. The huge enigmatic granite mass of Vixen tor shimmers in the heat haze down below. It is not hard to imagine Vixiana the old witch, cackling and croaking deep from within its stony fortress. On the far horizon two silhouetted ponies graze on top of Feather tor, the perceived epitome of Dartmoor. Two rooks noisily squabble and squawk over a huge wedge of discarded bread, it gets torn asunder in the violent struggles. All the time there is a feeling that some how you are being watched, unseen eyes burn into your back. Then you spot the still form of a sheep that is sheltering under a large overhanging rock. It knows that it should scamper away but the heat makes it too much of an effort. Human eye meets ovine eye and for a second there is a mutual feeling of empathy, the panting animal realises that there is no danger and flops back on the ground.
The Lone Hawthorn
Amble down the hillside and you will soon come to the small gurgling Grimstone and Sortridge leat. The cool waters sing as they gently flow around the moorland contour. Here is another spot to sit and drink in the relaxing sights and sounds that surround you. Find what you think will be a comfortable spot, sit down and jump up as the unseen gorse prickles stab into your legs, find another ‘comfortable’ spot. Be really decadent and remove boots and socks and then dangle your buzzing feet into the cold gurgling waters. A loud whirring noise catches your attention, at first the unseen denizens of the leat are hard to spot but suddenly two bright emerald green damsel flies dance into view. Busily they skim and flutter across the crystal clear waters, up and down they roll like two gemstones in a mineral tumbler. You slowly take out your camera and desperately try to follow their antics in the viewfinder. Every time you think you have captured them the playback shows an annoying insect void. Time and time again you click only to find they have evaded the time encapsulating photograph. How much longer can they keep up this wild frenetic dance? Finally, as if in sympathy of your plight one of the damsels settles on a plant below your feet. The viewfinder frames the spectacle and slowly the zoom drags the image closer. As the ‘jewel of the leat’ stands on the wafting weed its colour changes to a translucent shimmering turquoise, with a satisfying click you have finally captured the moment. The creature even stays a bit longer to give you a second chance and then it flies off to find its partner. Once again the dance of passions takes to the watery stage, consider if your lifespan was only five days would you not want to merrily flit around the leat as long as possible.
Jewel of the Leat
Not wishing to be too voyeuristic you avert your eyes to the hazy moorland scenery. At first Vixen tor draws your gaze followed by the ridge of North Hessary tor. It is then that the huge metallic needle of Hessary TV mast magnetically draws your attention. Currently there is much made of the anti-social inane dawbings that youngsters place on our buildings, some call it graffiti others consider them as vandalism, either way it is deemed offensive. But here infront of you is a perfectly acceptable form of human ‘graffiti’ that has stained the natural decor of Dartmoor. At least with a few meaningless words they can only be seen for a short distance, this steely stain on the landscape can be seen from nearly everywhere on Dartmoor.
The ‘Steely Stain’
Kick a stone and wander off in anger down the leat. Before long you will come to another human erection jutting up into the blue summer skies. This one however is made of granite and blends sympathetically into the landscape. This lonely moorland cross is called ‘The Windy Post’ and has stood on this spot for hundreds of years. It was erected as a marker on the old ecclesiastic branch track of the Abbot’s Way. William Crossing described this stone sentinel thus: “Some moss and lichen are seen on the head of this interesting relic, telling us of its age, like the silvered hair of an old man.” I wonder if anyone will ever write of the TV mast in such prosaic terms? This old granite cross must have been a welcomed sight to any stranger tramping the moors on a wet, foggy day, at least it would have shown they were on the right track and maybe remind them that their God was ever present?
The Windy Post