Category Archives: dartmoor

Aaargh!

I thought we had some peace and quiet during the daytime, and my productivity had begun to rise.  Now the works are back, with a range of powertools, and the wall+road acting as a sounding-board to send it all straight up at me. 😦

Seems someone’s got a big works budget.  It’s not just the perpetual wall-works, but also the roads all around are getting some kind of resurface.  Well, all except the stretch of Mount Tavy road that could really do with resurfacing.  A lot of the roads now have loose surfaces, leaving one at risk of a skid, or of a stone thrown up into the eye from someone’s wheel.  The scariest stretch I’ve done is coming down Pork Hill: it’s normally steep and fast (and the surface was perfectly good), but now with the half-arsed new surface it proclaims a 15mph speed limit – about 40 below what one would naturally do by just letting go and freewheeling.

Oh, and I can confirm observationally that dartmoor ponies are rather brighter than people in town centres.  That is to say, when one of them was standing blocking a small bridge, she reacted a d*** site faster to a polite ‘scuse me please than humans blocking a narrow way are capable of.

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‘urtz

Yesterday we went up the moors to pick that sweetest of local fruits, the blueberry.  As John points out, our local blueberries are a variety called whortleberries (pronounced ‘urtz) which are tiny but very delicious.  We went as a group: four adults, one child, two dogs, one of whom didn’t want to let me get on with picking anything.

We got a reasonable quantity of the precious berries.  In fact, a reasonable quantity each, which is just as well given that we aren’t combining them in a communal kitchen.  But I found it unexpectedly hard: it only took about a minute of picking before my elbow started giving trouble, so I had to pick left-handed.  The right arm seemed OK carrying the container I was filling, but today it hurts 😦  I shall just have to hope to be better in time for the blackberry season.

Just eaten the first of mine, as a spot of dessert after lunch.  Yum!

Taking advantage of a recession

Brentor Church appears to be clad in a huge amount of scaffolding.

This church has long been a local curiosity.  It’s tiny, and it’s perched atop a tor above the village of Brentor (which also has a ‘normal’ village church).  I don’t think it serves any purpose other than as a tourist spot, and an equally pleasant spot for locals to visit.  In fact it is a tourist spot, to the extent that it even has a car park at the base of the tor!  But I think it still belongs to the church.  Some of my readers have better local knowledge than I, and will no doubt correct me if I’m wildly wrong!

Anyway, the point is, it’s not a regular church with a congregation and services on a Sunday.  It’s a bit of a luxury that they keep it open so you can wander inside.  So it’s not somewhere you’d expect to be at the top of their priorities for maintenance.  I can only infer the ever-wealthy church is taking advantage of building contractors being short of regular work to get something done at a favourable price.

I guess if I had a house and needed works done, I’d be doing the same 🙂

Whirlpool

With June’s heat giving way to a much cooler and rather wet July, the river has got lively again.  Nothing like the excitement of last year’s exceptionally wet weather, but enough to be fun.

In my regular swim-spot yesterday was a hint of a whirlpool: a circle about one meter in diameter, smoother than the surrounding turbulence, and with something of a dip in the middle.  It was rotating clockwise, between the vigorous current on the left side of the river and calmer waters on the right.

Heading downstream in the current, I didn’t really notice anything strange.  But coming back upstream, I found it sucking me in.  Not to the extent of being scary, but it was strange indeed to feel my left and right sides pulled in different directions!  The easy way out was into the current, and shoot back downstream again.  Third time upstream I approached a little further to the left, away from the whirlpool, and instead of pulling me in it tended to push me away.

If there’s this much fun to be had in one little spot in the Tavy, I must find more swimming spots in our local rivers!

Snow? What snow?

It’s all over the news: there’s been snow in south-east England, so of course the country grinds to a halt.

Here we’ve had none.  Well, the merest hint of fluffy white stuff, but not enough to lie on the ground.  Not even on the higher moors is there a hint of white.  It’s a chill wind – by our mild standards – but that’s all.

So I have to infer our MP, Geoffrey Cox, was bullshitting when he complained of people here being deprived of “cold weather payments” to which they are entitled (quoted in “today in parliament”, on Radio 4).  Sorry, we don’t get cold weather here, and we don’t have it now.  FWIW, it’s midnight, I’m sitting at the computer wearing one pullover for warmth, but with my window open and – of course – no heating on.  And yes, I was up on Dartmoor today, and up on the higher moors both Saturday and Sunday.

Oh, and Cox said they measure the temperature on Dartmoor from that in Plymouth.  That’s just nonsense: the met office make separate measurements, and they are updated continually on weather websites, such as the BBC’s.

I hope transport in the southeast will be running again by Friday, so I can take the train to FOSDEM.

Wet and Wild!

This is our second consecutive wet summer.  Not least, lots of rain this past week, so the river is again high and vigorous – and fun.

I’ve discovered a great swimming spot I wasn’t aware of before, just a mile or so upstream from Tavistock and within walking distance of home.  First time I went there was classic swimming weather (the kind we’ve had very little of this year): hot and sunny.  It was fun, a good swim, and there were children playing.  In the main flow I could swim on the spot at a comfortable pace.

This Monday I was there in wet weather, and felt the force of the river as I swam the turbulent main flow.  No way I could swim on the spot any more: I was being swept rapidly downstream despite my best efforts.  Strike out vigorously for the calmer water on the right hand side of the river, where I find there’s a countercurrent taking me upstream, at a comfortable pace for swimming on the spot.  Hinting at scary, and a swimmer could’ve been in trouble if they’d lost presence of mind.

Thursday I was in again, after sustained wet weather.  The river was higher and more vigorous, and the main stream had a powerful pull that was sucking me back in as I struck out for the countercurrent side.  Even the latter was pretty vigorous.  Lots of fun, but it’s reached the point where I could use some proper white-water training to help make sure this river remains my friend!

Must get a riverboard too, so I can get some real thrills when the water’s high.  But for that I’d love to find a local club with local knowledge.  The only ones I’m aware of are canoeists from Kelly College, Tavistock’s exclusive private school.  I was about to say they’re not open to outsiders, as that’s what they’ve said when I’ve met canoeists in the street, but their website hints that it might be worth my while to try and enlist for a course.  Hmmm ….

The most gruelling fruit …

What fruit is the most gruelling, while also the most satisfying and the most gorgeous?

My candidate: wild blueberries.  Collecting them from here is a mini-triathlon.  First I ride the bike high up in the moor, starting on the road, but later on a rough track, and finally a mile or so of non-track where I carry it much of the way.  Then there’s a landmark where I can park the bike (and be confident of finding it again) and continue on foot over rough terrain.  At this point I want a backpack, not the cycle pannier I’m carrying.

Finally the precious fruit.  But these wild blueberries are tiny compared to the farmed ones you get in the shops.  Neither do they come in great dense clumps: rather they tend to be sparse.  No doubt being rather late onna Sunday afternoon doesn’t help there.  Bottom line: picking them is a great deal of work, for very little result.

But yes, it’s all well worth it.  The bike ride is a pleasure.  The walk is almost a pleasure, even if it’s challenging keeping ones footing on terrain that varies between rocks and bogs, and when more-than-half-blinded by the sun.  But most glorious of all is the swim, in the bigger, deeper pools of the river, high up in the moors.  The swim marks the end of collecting the blueberries, and is coupled with a fantastic natural massage in the white water.  Wonderful, and a blessed relief on a hot afternoon!

The homeward journey, and each milestone is a blessed relief.  Returning to the bike; reaching the point where I can ride it; and best of all now getting back to the surfaced road.  The homeward journey is predominantly downhill, to a welcome shower and a glass of deep-chilled hungarian pinot grigio – a wonderful wine for hot summer weather.  Mmmm 🙂

Can’t beat it.  And I haven’t even collected an excessive crop of insect bites, as might be expected after prolonged exposure to that vegetation.

In spate!

Our river is seriously in spate.  Indeed, it’s the first time since last year’s works that it’s gone over the salmon chute.  I wasn’t even sure that could still happen since the works sheltered the chute from the main flow!  Apart from the high level, the water is a murky brown, as soil from our land is flushed out to sea.

This is puzzling.  The weather has indeed been wet, but certainly not that wet.  Nor has it been wet over a sustained period that normally precedes the river rising significantly.  Indeed, the grass of the park alongside it is wet, but by no means waterlogged, as happens long before the river rises this high.  At least, normally.

I suspect last year’s works haven’t helped: the canal (which draws water from the river) has looked more fragile since the works.  But I wonder if other building works in the area are affecting it, either by depriving the water of other places to go, or channeling more water in?  If so, something’s happened rather suddenly: we’ve had a few wetter spells than this this year without the river rising so high.  Neither of the really big new estates is upstream from us, but there’s a couple of smaller waterside developments, and an industrial site off the Okehampton road.

Lydford white water

Lydford Gorge is small, but it’s about as close as you get in England (south of the Lake District) to real scenery. That is to say, the word “gorge” really means it.

Looking down from the road bridge (don’t try that if you get vertigo!), the river in the bottom looks exciting. But I can’t tell from that distance whether it should be navigable by a white-water enthusiast – possibly excluding the famous 30-metre waterfall. Upstream from the bridge the view is very much obscured by trees; downstream there’s some clear view (that’s the really vertiginous one), and it’s very clearly not a wimp’s river. But in a country where anything above about grade 2 (OK maybe 3) would be impossible to insure, the absence of commercial adventure on it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible.

Hmmm. Anyone tried it?

p.s. yes, I must be mad. All the best people are mad 🙂

Water shortage?

Went round Burrator Reservoir on the bike today. It’s one of our main water sources. And in November – traditionally the wettest time of year – it should be pretty full. But it isn’t. Instead, the water level is startlingly low.

We still think of this as a wet year, after about 6-7 weeks of exceptionally high rainfall in June and July. But the past three months have been back to something more normal: predominantly dry, with occasional wet days. Still, nothing unusual, except that it should be relatively dry in peak wet season.

That leads me to suspect that the underlying cause may be more one of demand than supply. People are using more water than ever before. That’s worrying. It’s a trend that’s not going to reverse with variations in the weather, but is going in one direction only. And after a season when noone had to water their gardens or irrigate their farms through the summer.

One more reason to emigrate?

Postscript: googling for a nice link to Burrator Reservoir, I found these photos from November 2003, a very dry year. The photographer notes that the water was exceptionally low. It’s a little higher today, but not much. Other photos, such as this panorama from December 2000, show it at more normal levels.