Country diary: a Dartmoor walk takes me back to my moment as a child star

Country diary: a Dartmoor walk takes me back to my moment as a child star

Country diary: a Dartmoor walk takes me back to my moment as a child star

Merrivale, West Dartmoor: The tors here are magnets for spry youths as the rest of us admire the view to Bodmin

Pew Tor above the River Walkham

Thu 19 Aug 2021 00.30 EDT

Cloud shadows race across the summery moor and hilltop tors. Away from the carpark on Whitchurch Common, yellow tormentil stars the greened-up turf, and prickly tussocks shield the pink bell heather and fresh molinia. Southward, above the granite moorstone marked with old cut marks, Pew Tor draws in spry youths to clamber among the boulders and leaning capstones. Staider folk shelter from the wind and admire the view across the Tavy and Tamar valleys, towards the distant Bodmin Moor.

Scattered across the expanses of rough grazing are red-marked, shorn white sheep and, by Vixen Tor, near a patch of boggy cotton grass, a herd of pregnant ponies and a few foals stand at ease. This tor, set above dark green woodland, can appear like the Sphinx, but notices – including “Bull roaming” – remind that its stone-walled enclosure is in-bye land with no right of public access.

Closer to the village of Merrivale and the dumps of quarried granite, a path along the moorland’s edge wends between Sortridge Leat and a bank. Atop, beech trees shelter uncut fields of polleny grass. On the opposite side of the Walkham Valley, sheep stand out as incongruous turquoise blobs, meandering uphill through bracken towards higher open land where a silhouetted group of people stand among prehistoric stones.

These ancient rows featured in a BBC film, made in 1954 to mark the opening of North Hessary Tor’s TV mast, which broadcast across the west country. A Brief Journey follows a sailor, on shore leave from his boat at Plymouth. He alights from the Princetown train at King Tor railway station, and walks across the open moor to a relative’s clearance sale and retirement party at the farm below. Next day, hitchhiking and by bus, he reaches Looe for shark fishing; en route he is rowed across the tidal Tamar by a local salmon fisherman for a quick visit to my grandfather’s mill and waterwheel at Cotehele. Cousin Josephine and I feature briefly (at 19 minutes 19 seconds), peering from the cab as he hops into the corn truck for a lift to “St Ive”.

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