Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Green and Pleasant Land, Part 4: Dartmoor

Our next destination upon leaving Bath in the Doyle Family Tour of Southern England, was Devon and specifically, the Forest of Dartmoor. That sounds rather like an oxymoron—if it’s a moor, how can it be a forest? Well, the designation ‘forest’ was used to indicate a royal hunting preserve, and that’s what large chunks of Dartmoor were in medieval times. Now it’s a national park covering 368 square miles of sheer awesomeness...but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our drive from Bath to Devon was uneventful (though we did enjoy looking for amusing tavern names along the way—the winner for this leg was “The Highwayman Inn” which sounded kind of like an 18th century version of a biker bar.) Dartmoor is not only a national park but also a geological feature: it’s an enormous granite plateau rising well above the surrounding countryside and, fascinatingly, it is a negative gravity anomaly, a place where gravity is slightly lessened due to the lighter density of that rocky foundation. And beyond that, it’s home to thousands of archaeological relics, from Bronze Age hut foundations to stone circles and standing stones. And sheep. Lots of sheep.

We rolled into the charming village of Chagford, following directions to our hotel, Gidleigh Park. The roads in Chagford are narrow. I mean, really narrow...narrow enough that in a lot of places, only one car can pass, and you either have to give way to oncoming traffic or are accorded passage by the oncoming car. Amazingly, it somehow works—drivers do rapid assessments of which car can most easily find a place to pull over, and they do so. My DH, who was driving, quickly figured this out (all while driving on the left, mind you—the man deserves a medal.) Then we left the village, and got onto some REALLY narrow roads—where there was never room for two cars, and twisty and turny to boot. And did I mention sheep? Sometimes there was one nibbling the greenery at the side of the road, which made driving even more interesting. It was nerve-racking, but the countryside was so beautiful that it was worthwhile. And then we made it to our hotel.

Yeah, we gasped too. Gidleigh Park was simply amazing, both inside and out, with beautifully preserved linenfold paneling, elegant molded plaster ceilings, and sweeping views out the windows. After a quick lunch in one of the charming sitting rooms overlooking the front lawn, we tied our hiking shoes on and set out for a jaunt on the moor, via some amazing water gardens, along a portion of an ancient footpath called the Mariner’s Way, and then up onto the high moor.

Oh, the high moor. This was why I so selfishly put Dartmoor on our itinerary—because I was dying to get back to see the moors once again. I don’t know what it is, but I love these wild, empty (except of course for sheep, ponies, and lumps of granite) expanses. Almost as soon as we hit the moor, we saw these in the photo above: yes, they’re what’s left of the foundations of what were probably wattle-and-daub huts build thousands of years ago...and there were, with sheep grazing among them and some very geeked-out Americans marveling at them.

Our next destination was Kestor Rocks, one of Dartmoor’s numerous tors or high granite outcrops. Though they look like the ruins of ancient towers built by giants they’re entirely natural in origin, bits of the enormous lump of granite that makes up Dartmoor poking up through its skin, so to speak.

Kestor has one of two on Dartmoor of these strange pool on its summit, also naturally formed but definitely looking somehow otherworldly up there on the windblown peak.

And then...more sheep. More ponies. And more signs of ancient occupation, like the Scorhill Circle. We covered six glorious miles, had a glorious dinner (the executive chef has two Michelin stars), and set out the next morning to get our fill of Dartmoor.

A visit to the beautiful Lydford Gorge (that's the nearby slightly spooky Lydford Castle, built in 1132) was sandwiched between mesmerized hours of driving on the moor, taking in the beautiful desolation and the astonishing number of prehistoric remains scattered everywhere. And, of course, the sheep.

I said I had selfishly put Dartmoor on our itinerary...but as it turned out, the family consensus was that Dartmoor was probably everyone’s favorite part of the trip. Maybe I called this one right after all.

Next up: the Regency Rocks in Lyme Regis. 

1 comment:

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Wow, Marissa. I just bookmarked this post to add to my travel wish list!