Day 5: Dartmoor

Below is the fifth journal entry recording the events of the trip Carolyn and I took to England and France in July of 2006:

Saturday, July 22, 2006 London, England

This morning we left our room about 5:40 and took the Tube to Paddington. From there we took the train to Bristol, passing through Bath. The train was delayed twice en route, and we just barely made our connection from Bristol to Exeter St. Davids. We hopped off there and took a bus–the only one that day–to Portsbridge in Dartmoor National Park. I don’t know how long that bus ride took, but it must have been at least an hour and probably closer to two. The bus was a double-decker, and was definitely not suited for the terrain. The moors are unbelievably curvy, windy, and steep. In places where there are two lanes, the road is not actually big enough for two vehicles, much less a double-decker bus. But in many areas the narrow road did not even pretend to be made for two lanes. Throw into the mix that we’re still not used to vehicles being in the left lane, and you’ve got one scary ride. Scenic as anything I’ve ever seen, but several times–no, many times–I thought we were done for. On a great many of the huge hills, the bus slowed to a crawl as it tried with all the gusto it could muster to creep to the peak. The engine was grinding and we all held our breath, and to my great surprise, the bus actually conquered every slope.

The moors are stunning. Situated in Southwest England, they are the stuff of great English lore and legend. Enormous, craggy hills laden with plush green plants and dazzling heather and other flowers, the moors are home to ancient stone structures as well as roaming ponies, sheep, and cattle. We wandered among them as we walked.

As the bus neared Dartmoor, a 360-square-mile national park, we began to see sheep dotting the landscape–and the road. We saw a funny sign that said “SHEEP LYING IN ROAD,” and sure enough, we then began to see sheep lying in the road!

When we got off the bus at Portsbridge, we bought a little map. Then we stopped at the post office for sandwiches (Carolyn had a very English meat pasty), which we ate while sitting on the clapper bridge, a medieval stone bridge leading across a stream to our entrance to the moors.

I had a great vision of the moors already, thanks largely to my studies of English literature, with the likes of Hound of the Baskervilles, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre. But the moors far, far surpassed anything I had ever imagined.

We started out walking along a fairly flat field with a stream running through it. There was wool everywhere from the sheep, along with enough varieties of animal dung to fuel a country.

If you look closely at this picture, you can see wool caught in the tall grass. 

We wandered along, enjoying the countryside, and passed by an enormous, imposing, centuries-old-looking house. It was very cool. I can’t really describe the landscape, which began to open before us as we followed the stream. It was like all those movie scenes that I’ve seen set in Ireland or Scotland, where the huge green hills roll on forever, and I wish I could go there. Well, I did go there today. As we wandered among the ancient stones and sheep, walking along and sometimes crossing the gentle stream, some wild ponies–including a baby–moseyed along nearby. Eventually we climbed to the top of one of the great moors. As we stood there at the top of the world taking in the miles of rolling moors all around us, and as a strong and steady wind cooled us off and breathed ancient yet fresh breath into our spirits, I realized something startling but comforting: I was standing in my new favorite place on this earth. Of all the heart-stopping masterpieces of nature that I’ve seen, none comes close to this. I felt so alive and renewed and at peace. It was a pinnacle of many kinds.

Eventually we had to come back down and make our way back toward the bus stop. On the way we got some ice cream at the post office and ate it while we sat on the clapper bridge and watched some amusing little birds.

This time the bus ride back to Exeter St. Davids made me feel queasy, a real letdown after our wonderful five hours on the moors. But we made it back and returned by train to Paddington. From there we took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus, at the heart of the Theatre District. Carolyn had discovered that restaurants there stay open later in order to accommodate the theatre crowd.

I cannot think of a greater contrast than that between the serene, wide open moors and the packed, loud, flashing crowd of London’s Theatre District on a Saturday night. Eventually we found a little Italian place called La Locanda where Carolyn had minestrone, pasta, and ice cream, while I had Quattro Formaggio (pizza) and this weird but good dish that was a grilled avocado with smoked salmon, cream, and black pepper on top. We were there for quite awhile, dining at our table on a side street, with London’s nightlife bouncing all around us.

We took the Tube back here to the room and arrived around midnight. It’s been an absolutely incredible week, but today was perhaps the best so far.

Oh yeah, we finally got some rain last night and this morning. It cooled it down a little, but it’s still pretty hot. I have totally fried my head and need to start wearing sunscreen.

Right now outside our window I hear the cars racing by, the buses and trains in the distance, and the people walking up and down the road below us, laughing and talking loudly in foreign languages or very British English. Funny how I’m almost starting to get used to it.

Tomorrow: Stonehenge!

Published in: on May 22, 2007 at 7:30 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The stone fences remind me of Antietam battlefield in central Maryland, there is something envigorating about low mountains or hills without trees,the openess of it all.

  2. Yeah, it’s a pretty cool landscape. But in my mind the beauty of Antietam is tainted by the thousands of needless deaths that occurred there.

  3. Hmmm were they needless or were they needed? That is the question. Was our country at war to abolish the institution of slavery or was it for some other darker purpose? Anyway the cumberland valley is still interesting ,the stone fences were there before the civil war. Now why did they call it a civil war? I didn’t think any war was civil.

  4. Nope–I definitely agree with you on that point!

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