Moor or Less

Springtime here in the extreme South West of the UK is always a wonderful time of year, because we stick out into the warm Gulf Stream waters of the Atlantic Ocean, spring and summer always comes just that little bit earlier than the rest of the country.

Back in the halcyon days before the Second World War, the old Southern Railway used to advertise that “Summer Comes Soonest In the South!” (Sic), but I digress.

For various reasons, some of which regular Blogonaughts will already understand and some due to business commitments, I haven’t been out much on two wheels since my last road trip of La Route des Grandes Alpes….all that is now beginning to change, thank goodness!

Just recently I got out for some mind clearing two-wheeled therapy, to enjoy the Spring weather and take in some of my favourite roads in the high country of Exmoor and Dartmoor.

Now, I’ve written about both Moors previously, so I’m not about to do the whole description geography lesson again, if you want to know more about the Moors (good eh?) just go Google. All I will say is that they are pretty cool places, in more ways than one….OK enough of the puns, promise.

The other thing about the moorland roads is that they were some of the favourite ones for little brother G and I to ride together. My recent blast over them was a really great way to draw a line under my grieving and move on; G was there with me I’m sure and he was saying, “Let go now, it’s all fine, move on.”

Exmoor takes a little time to get to from Dookes H.Q., but the ride there is fun in itself as you can keep off the main roads and stick to minor routes, yet still make good progress.

I love the Exe valley road from Tiverton to Dulverton, where Exmoor really begins. This is a landscape that has been groomed by man over the centuries, but is still wild and refuses to be fully tamed. It’s also hunting country, red deer roam wild, pheasants and partridge flit across the sky and local public houses serve hearty dishes made from local game and produce accompanied by the sweet aroma of open hardwood fires; I love it. Oh yes, the Exmoor beers are pretty special too, but not when riding a motorbike!

One place that I had never visited was the famous Tarr Steps bridge; so I resolved to put that right. Beat you there G!

According to he Exmoor national Park website:

“Tarr Steps is a 17 span clapper bridge (Tarr Steps is an example of a ‘clapper’ bridge (the term being derived from the Latin ‘claperius’, meaning ‘pile of stones’) and is constructed entirely from large stone slabs and boulders.), the longest of its kind in Britain. It was first mentioned in Tudor times but may be much older. The river has silted up over the last century and often now comes over the stones in times of flood. The bridge has had to be repaired several times as stones of up to two tonnes have been washed up to 50 metres downstream.

The name ‘Tarr’ is thought to be derived from the Celtic word ‘tochar’, meaning ’causeway’.
It’s only because the local sedimentary rocks form such suitable slabs that it was built at all. At 59yds (54m), Tarr Steps is by far the longest of the 40 or so clapper bridges left in Britain.”

All I know is that it’s one of the most magical places I’ve been to in a long time!

From Tarr Steps we rode north the Simonsbath, that’s pronounced “Simm-ons-bath” before cutting West for lunch in the delightful market town of South Molton.

From there it was a brisk ride South to the majesty that is Dartmoor.

If Exmoor is grand, Dartmoor is royalty. It demands to be taken seriously, in bad weather you can get into serious trouble very quickly on its unforgiving landscape. On a nice day it appears demure and benign, but it can change at the rolling in of a cloud; temperatures can plummet in a cloaking mist, whilst bogs and cliffs wait to capture the reckless and inexperienced. It’s a landscape of myths and mystery, not very different from my beloved Welsh mountains, which is probably why I love it so much.

We got home after 250 miles of mind clearing, soul cleansing, ecstasy.

Ghosts were laid to rest and now it’s time to move on…

Thanks for understanding, now if you don’t mind I’m off to plan a little road trip: stick around things are going to get interesting again!

“With the wind in you hair of a thousand laces
Climb on the back and we’ll go for a ride in the sky.”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

Big Sky on Bodmin Moor

OK, I have to plead guilty of living in a beautiful part of the world. True it’s not on the scale of the Alps, The Grand Canyon or the Norwegian Fjords, but you know in it’s own way Cornwall is right up there with the best of them!

The 80 square miles of Bodmin Moor lies in the heart of Cornwall’s geography and life. To explain, a Moorland is a type of habitat found in upland areas that are generally characterised by low growing sparse and tough vegetation on acidic soil. The United Kingdom hosts approximately 15% of the world’s moorland, which is great for me because I just love the wildness of this type of hard country. Best of all, Dookes H.Q. is right on the edge of the high moor; my moor.

I don’t intentionally take our easy access to the Moor for granted, but occasionally I have to give myself a slight kick on the backside to get out on the wild side and let my senses drink in the landscape. The beauty of the moor can be deceiving, this is truly hard country when the weather takes a turn for the worse and although you are never really very far from civilisation its easy for the unwary to get into trouble. On a day like this though, when skylarks soar and sing and the plaintive mew of the curlew drifts across the landscape all is well in the world. I find that even a short excursion onto the peatlands clears my head, both literally and spiritually, but then I always have loved the high country landscape. On a clear day it is possible to spot the other high moors of South West England, Exmoor and Dartmoor, from the slopes of Bodmin Moor.

Looking East at distant Dartmoor.

Like many moorlands, Bodmin Moor is almost totally bereft of trees. It is believed that clearance started in the neolithic era, between 12,000 – 6000 years ago. Those trees that remain are usually isolated and stunted by the poor soils and constant winds. This particular hawthorn, Crataegus in latin, always fascinates me.

I couldn’t help taking a few shots in black and white just to experiment.

I hope you agree that I am really lucky having all this just five minutes from my front door!

“On the hills where the wind goes over sheep-bitten turf,
where the bent grass beats upon the unploughed poorland..”
John Masefield

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Sea Fever and Steam Trains

I don’t think I get the dreaded writer’s block, but sometimes I feel that I have so much to say I don’t really know where to begin, call it muddled thoughts if you like!

The Dookes life is remaining busy, perhaps sometimes I should just say “no” when I get asked to do things, but hey busy is good cos you’re a log time in your wooden box! As a result though “thinking time” is a rare commodity just at the moment. I was like that today and really needed some space to think; what better than a spell sitting on a Cornish clifftop overlooking the Ocean?

There’s something about the sea that clears the old Dookes head. It’s a combination of the smells, the sound of the waves, the motion of the water and … well, just about everything! It’s a real tonic for the senses.

It wasn’t the sunniest of mornings, but the air was clear and sharp with the tang of sea salt. A hundred feet below me the lazy waves of the approaching high tide sighed as they lapped at was left of the small sheltered beach.
The famous poem “Sea Fever” by John Masefield came to mind. It’s one of those lovely pieces of literature that over the years have inspired me and if I’m honest been a comfort at times too.

I believe that the power of good literature in any language is a wonderful thing. For me it doesn’t have to be a long monologue from Shakespeare, it can be something quite brief, but it has to hit that nerve that causes an emotional response.

You see, I told you that the sea clears my mind and a free mind is able to wander…

Last week I had the pleasure of a very enjoyable motorbike ride with my leukaemia battling mate G. Great fun and brilliant to be out with my friend again. G is hanging in there, his aggressive treatment continues, but when he’s good he does OK and riding motorbikes is one of the best treatments he can have. For my part, seeing him comfortably flicking his Yamaha through the bends as I followed on ‘Harls’ lifted my spirits too. There have been dark days in hospital for G over the last months and to get out and ride together again was fantastic!

We took a long looping ride from the historic city of Exeter, Northwards tracing the valley of the River Exe towards its source high on Exmoor. Swinging West and passing through Barnstaple, Torrington and Holsworthy we certainly covered the miles, well over 250 in fact!

Northern Exmoor

Northern Exmoor

On the high Northern edge of Exmoor we stopped at the delightfully named Woody Bay station where the resurrecting narrow gauge Lynton and Barnstaple Railway can be found. As its name suggests, the railway once stretched from the port of Barnstaple across a meandering route to the small town of Lynton, a distance of 19 miles. The single track line opened in 1898, but by 1923 ownership passed to the Southern Railway who operated mainline trains and were not really in the business of rural narrow gauge railways. In 1935 the L&B was closed after a scandalously short operating life of just 37 years.

Woody Bay Station

Woody Bay Station

Interestingly, this beloved narrow gauge railway has gained more fame and interest in the time since it’s closure than it ever achieved when open. Today a group of dedicated enthusiasts have begun to rebuild the line and Woody Bay station is the main centre of activity. Brightly painted green steam locomotives are once again chugging along part of the old route, with plans afoot for further extension back towards Barnstaple. I can’t wait!

Living Steam on the L&B.

Living Steam on the L&B.

When the line closed a wreath was found on the buffer stops at Barnstaple with the message, “Perchance it is not dead, but sleepeth.” imageIt looks to me like it is now very much awake again!

Funny thing the sea, just like a motorcycle it takes you to such wonderful places……image

….and then the sun came out!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Sea Fever
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield. 1878-1967.