I was on a solo biking holiday in Dartmoor which meant for the most part pushing my one speed bike up hills and freewheeling down them. In hindsight, I think I might have had a better time walking across the moors as I later did, but at the the time I enjoyed it very much. I think it must have been the first solo holiday I had had since my dad died, and I was still on the high of the occasional elation which that strange emotion grief sometimes grants.
It had rained the previous night and my tent had got soaked, but today was sunny, warm and dry in early October. To me the Devonshire sky always has seemed bluer than anywhere else when the sun is out. I quickly become lulled to the slow rhythm of gentle warmth. It’s the sort of weather I like to lie about in. With that in mind, I lingered off the quiet road and up a muddy track to the top of Hookney Tor, where I laid my tent out to dry in the temperate breeze. As I lazed in the shade of the tooth-stump rock, I was visited by an array of people. A teacher doing a recce before bringing a school group, a local amateur historian who told me the history of the tin mines in the area, a fellow wild camper who communicated nothing further than a nod of acknowledgement before plodding off to the next tor.
After a while, the blue sky of midday yielded to the the pale spectral sunset and I began to drink rum. Perhaps that spirit was the sole cause, or perhaps it was the spirit of nearby Laughter Tor, but I began to uncontrollably heave with laughter at the beauty of light bathing hill and rock before me. Poignantly, I could feel my dad’s presence, and the words of one of his favourite poems came to mind.
|Into my heart an air that kills|
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
When I look at a horizon in the right light, I see those hills which fade into a blue haze of atmosphere and I think of dad there in the space of impossible light and distance. Poised between memory and earth. Always visible, always unreachable.
The morning brought with it changed weather. The sun, not yet above the horizon, was weakly illuminating the pale sky and a thick, milky pool of mist had gathered in the valley below me. It poured into the depression of ground which harboured the Bronze Age site of Grimspound. There are many theories swirling around this quiet pile of stones which once were 24 huts in a 4 acre settlement. They are available elsewhere. All it seems appropriate to give here is my own personal experience of this place at 5am in the lonely mist.
The vapour formed patches of thickness which seemed astonishingly to drift in an out of figurative human shapes. As I crouched amongst them, they took more significant forms until I truly came to believe that I was in the midst of a parade of slow and oblivious ghosts. Mesmerised, I crouched in a dewy tussock to take in the spectacle, but after an incalculable moment, the last swallow of summer pierced the mist and dashed south, breaking the spell.