My friend, Elaine Sylvester from Love Dartmoor, and I have just spent a magnificent day walking on this unpredictable moor (today it was sunny and warm, if windy). A little east of the route Elaine is planning for those of you who are coming on the Dartmoor weekend in September, we started at Sourton church.
As with most Dartmoor walks, you’re straight into a pretty steep incline, in our case heading for Sourton tors. Almost the instant we were out of the car park it felt remote and we only saw a handful of other people during the course of the whole day.
There’s so much history intermingled with this barrenly beautiful wilderness. The track we took followed an old route to an ice factory that was someone’s failed business idea. Bog cotton was all around us and the skylarks were in full song. On a clear day such as ours your views are extensive, reaching over to the Cornish coast in one direction, north Devon and Oakhampton the other way.
The Nordic walking experience is very different from our usual fitness walks. Don’t think you’ll be striding out over easy ground. It’s boggy, uneven, full of tufts. Elaine has adapted her Nordic walking technique for maximum effect. It’s more of a four wheel drive experience and similar to the way we use the poles walking on tarmac. She uses the poles very effectively to claw her way up the steeper sections which means there is no rotation or pushing of the pole behind you. You’re stepping up high to ‘bog hop’ from tuft to grassy tuft and we used the poles both as stability aids and ‘prodders’ to test the firmness of the ground in front of us. Quite handy frankly as, once, Elaine’s pole sunk right up to the handle – and it wouldn’t have been fun trying to haul ourselves out of that bog!
The red military maneuvers warning flags were out, prohibiting us from entering certain sections of the moor. Not wishing to get shot we steered clear of the exclusion zone, lunched at Kitty tor and headed back along the peat excavation tracks. Much easier walking but still rough underfoot. This was another Dartmoor industry. Peat, harvested on the side of the moor, was transported off to use as fuel, industrial and domestic. Other industries that have come and gone include, tin, granit, flax, lime. The only surviving business is the china clay quarrying, conducted by the French multinational giant, Imreys.
The wonderful experience about walking on Dartmoor is the isolation. This is a place that man has not been able to conquer. It is untamed in a Wuthering Heights sort of way. A free spirit. A place where nature still holds the upper hand. Despite the beautiful day, I was very glad to be walking it with someone with over a decade of experience and excellent navigational skills to boot.