Tuesday

49. This Beautiful Land.


On Facebook I often write about my love for the place where we live - just on the borders of north Dartmoor in West Devon.

So it's about time I introduced you to it.

This is the view over our gate to Cosden Hill. It's ten minutes' drive to the moor proper and I go there most days with our two beagles, Dessy and Razzle. They are better known as Biggle and Thunderfeet MegaBeagle (Mrs) on Facebook where they both have their own page which is written by Lion.

Right now, over the gateway it is a cold artist's palette of dark greens, browns and greys. This land is slowly awakening to spring with the snowdrops striving and shining like white candle-lit bulbs in the hedges and all round our driveway. The robins threaten the chaffinches and the blackbirds out-bully the robins on and around the bird table while the other finches, the yellow hammers and the tits circle the sunflower seeds and nuts. The ever-cleansing wind caresses us every time we go out. A little too cold for comfort but it blows the cobwebs of the mind away. At least the rain stopped today.

Most afternoons I put on my thick anorak, and reach for my walking socks. Even before I get to the point of lacing up my walking boots, looking out my gloves and hat—the coiled energy of two excita-beagles in front of the Rayburn unravels and they start to bounce up and down the hallway squeaking with delight. 'The Moor, the Moor!' The Sox of Joy are always the clue – these are the walking boots' socks. If it’s a ‘lesser walk’ then it’s trainers with ordinary socks. That gets some bouncing for sure but not the Moor Ecstasy.

With a mixture of laughter and exasperation I herd them into the back of the landrover and we will set off towards the West for today's adventure.

There's one point where I drive down the road towards East Week, through the flooded lane and up over a hill, to the brim of a small valley, currently encrusted with snowdrops. There, the trees and Moor behind reveal themselves in all their beauty, completely differently every day.  Every single time that view unfolds itself, no matter what I'm thinking at the time, my mouth curves up into a smile as broad as Julia Roberts's.

Today, albeit briefly, there is a respite from the rain and the sky is cold turquoise with cirrus clouds flying. As we tumble out of the landrover at Shilstone Rock and begin the walk upwards, shaggy bay Dartmoor ponies forage between the patches the stumpy bronze bracken. The grass is still green – it has been so mild this year. And there are sheep all over the moor. No lambs here yet though there are plenty on the lowlands.

Everywhere there are still, clear pools of water - just like in the world between the worlds in C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. Normally at this time of year they are set in hollows of black peat but this year they have bright grass at the bottom. Everything is ready for spring.

When I reach the pinnacle of this particular walk I can see miles of Devon farmlands and our house on the hillside across the valley. We have a wind-blown leaning tree just outside and that helps to identify it. It is so lovely walking without hat and gloves today and being able to see the bright yellow of gorse flowers. The weekend's sea of mud has already drained through and walking is easier again. So blessed to live here.

Some nights, when the weather is clearer, the starlight is so beautiful it sings through your heart and soul. Every evening I walk Dessy for half an hour before bedtime. When the moon is full, no torch is needed and you can see how people navigated their way to those Jane Austin Regency parties. But when the moon is waxing or waning, the stars come into their own glory.

On warmer nights, if I wake in the night, I sometimes wrap up warm and go out beneath the star-sprinkled sky prepared to lie on the ground and gaze and gaze upwards with awe and wonder. We have no light pollution here so you can stand or sit or lie and watch the sky unfold before you as your eyes adjust to the night. The whole Universe comes and wraps itself into your heart so you are part of the cosmic dust — completely caught up in the organic presence of it. Every minute, more icing-sugar wreaths of stars reveal themselves. One day I'll see Andromeda. Now we have the wonders of the SkyWalk app on the iPad we do at least know where it is...

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