Sunday , February 25 2024
Home / Aspects Of Dartmoor / Olfactory Dartmoor

Olfactory Dartmoor

Olfactory Dartmoor


Olfactory Dartmoor or The Smell of the Moor, this probably sounds the weirdest webpage to put on this website but I implore you to stick with it as all will come clear. First stop shows the power of advertising, today Tesco sent their monthly voucher pack which I normally never read. On this occasion I did and saw a money-off coupon for air freshener. This reminded me the dog was long overdue his bath and maybe such a purchase would be an idea until that fateful bath day came. Strolling down the Tesco aisle of air fresheners I came across and Airwick range branded the ‘National Parks’. Immediately, my heart began to thump and my eyes eagerly scanned the shelf for the Dartmoor edition. First I saw the Yorkshire Dales, then the Peak District, followed by Exmoor National Park and much to my disappointment, lastly the Brecon Beacons. Where was Dartmoor, surely it must be there somewhere? Alas no, somebody in the Airwick marketing department who clearly has never visited the moor had missed a trick.

So what is the concept? Well, a visit to their website says this: “The Air Wick Master Perfumers have crafted an exclusive collection of four fragrances which will help reignite memories of individual parks.” OK, so Exmoor is nearest to Dartmoor so what does that smell like? Well try this: “Inspired by the fresh ocean breeze sweeping across the dramatic sea cliffs of Exmoor,” – left it on the shelf. Let’s try the Peak District – “Let the scent of clean pure air, bright lilies & lively streams transport you to the Peak District in your home.” – not wishing the house to smell like granny’s bedroom it too remained where it sat. How about the Yorkshire Dales – “Bask in the playful scent of the hay meadows & gardens inspired by the Yorkshire Dales in full bloom,” – one of our friends gets hay fever so that was a definite no, no. So in the end I settled for the Brecon Beacons – “Let the scent of fresh mountain dew and white floral blossoms transport you to the striking hills of the Brecon Beacons, ” – well what the Welsh call mountains we on Dartmoor call tors so that vague association that would have to do, I was totally suckered into that purchase.

Actually, from a marketing concept it’s a pretty slick idea, appeal to folks memories of idyllic days spent in the countryside and at the same time promise to generate funds for National Parks UK who will allot it to various projects in the National Parks. The National Parks UK website states the following:

Air Wick designed the exclusive National Parks Fragrance Collection with the aim of helping to evoke the spirit of the National Parks, with the fragrances focusing on different members of the UK’s National Park familyWithin the National Parks you’ll find countless intangible experiences — sights, sounds, smells, and so on. It’s hoped this fragrance collection will help re-ignite memories of the experiences you’ve had with family and friends in one of the National Parks, as well as inspire you to get out and explore even more … In addition to raising awareness of the National Parks family, our partnership with Air Wick will help generate funds for vital projects to conserve heritage and improve facilities for the National Parks and the communities within them.”

Now do you see how slick a concept it is, having been a sales person for what seems like hundreds of years it even pulled me in, and they say ‘you can’t kid a kidder?”

OK, if you are still with this, driving home with the anticipation of the house smelling of, “fresh mountain dew,” it got me thinking, what fragrances could be used to – “re-ignite memories of the experiences you’ve had,” on Dartmoor? Well here are a few of my personal suggestions, some pleasant and some not so:

1) The the light, musky aroma of heather carefully blended with the sweet coconut smell of gorse. Just wander around Pudsham Down on a hot, balmy August day and breath deeply.

2) This may not be to everyone’s taste but the toasty smell of burning gorse and hot, acidic peat on a day when the commoners are swaling. Wander out to a common in March when you see a cloud a smoke on a windless day and inhale.

3) How about the earthy, moist smell of moss carefully combined with the nutty aroma of ancient wood. The idea place for this is Wistman’s Wood on a wet day.

4) Maybe the heady smell of Wild Garlic delicately infused with bluebell scent. Visit Lydford Gorge on  a warm May Day and the air will be filled with this.

5) Now we come to the perfumes for the more acquired tastes but which can be truly evocative of Dartmoor; a very much diluted ammonia smell of sheep’s dung and urine. Pick any large sheltered rock or tree on a hot Summer’s day and deeply inhale, probably best suited for use in the toilet?

6) Not absolutely sure about this one but it’s stench dwells deep in my olfactory library – the putrid smell of rotting vegetation combined with liquefied peat. I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Raybarrow Pool when you should try walking across it to experience this never to be forgotten whiff, or any bog come to that.

I think it’s time we stop

Hey, what’s that sound?

Everybody look – what’s going down?

Buffalo Springfield 1966

On a more serious note, us humans have several useful senses; sight, hearing, touch, taste and also SMELL. When walking on Dartmoor we all use one or a mixture of these but how often is smell used as part of that experience? It is worth noting that only two of our senses; taste and SMELL have a direct line to the part of the brain where our long term memory library lives – the hippocampus. Therefore is it surprising that smells often evoke memories – as Airwick know only too well.

Probably without even recognising it, the nostrils can act as both clocks and calendars. How? well for instance walk down any Dartmoor hedgerow and catch a passing sweet smell of honeysuckle – that must mean it’s around May or June. If there is a dense covering then it would suggest the hedge has been there for many years,

Additionally SMELL can help out in other ways, imagine you see a heavy storm fast approaching and you need shelter, you catch a whiff of ammonia coming from a large boulder. That would suggest that sheep use the exact same spot for shelter during storms and heat, OK it may be smelly but you will be dry. It will also suggest that if sheep congregate there then so may ticks.

Even before the above, you get that distinctive sweet pungent aroma that alight your nostrils, this is ozone and is because a thunder storm’s downdraft  brings down the ozone from higher levels to nostril height thus forewarning of the approaching storm.

Imagine it’s a dark, moonless winter’s night and you are lost on the moor with a flat mobile and/or GPS battery and you start to get twitchy. Then a feint SMELL of wood or peat smoke wafts on the wind this would certainly suggest humans and in all likelihood a cottage or farm – salvation.

You’re walking along and get a sweet, grassy SMELL of freshly mown hay. This may well indicate several things; it’s June/July time, in all likely hood the preceding weather has been dry or else the hay would not have been cut, you’re fairly near a farm and therefore humans. Likewise in Winter the pungent but to me pleasant smell of silage would also suggest a farm and humans.

It’s a bright, breezy day and you get the SMELL of perfume, Lynx or some such like or tobacco smoke, then there are sure to be humans nearby – pretty obvious but how many of us make that connection.

So on and so forth, but all go to show that SMELLS can always have another association which when outdoors can be very useful. We all SMELL things all the time and everywhere and very often these are just taken for granted and often not even recognised.

Next time you are outdoors, especially on Dartmoor take time to stop, sniff and associate, get to know what makes those SMELLS and what they mean.

Finally I apologise if I am preaching to the converted or teaching granny to suck eggs but this is something that I have just come to acknowledge despite many years of wandering the moors and being oblivious to the finer points. Don’t forget: the nose knows, just ask your dog.

So there is a train of thought for you – Tesco vouchers = air freshener = Air Wick National Park fragrances = possible Dartmoor aromas = SMELL associations.

Oh and by the way, having now opened and strategically placed my Air Wick Brecon Beacons air freshener it smells nothing like Mountain Dew. All I can smell is sweaty dog and something akin to Strawberry Jam.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.