Dartmoor: Exploring the Vast Wilderness in the Shadow of Storm Arwen.
Updated: Nov 28, 2021
As Storm Arwen sweeps over Devon and Cornwall, we venture into the heart of Dartmoor.
A Journey into Dartmoor
As gale-force winds took the UK by storm last night, snow fell upon the moorlands of Dartmoor.
By midday, when we arrived at the base of Bellever Tor in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, the snow had disappeared. Yet the remnants of last night's turbulent weather still lingered over South Devon today, filling the air with a bitter and blustery coldness.
Despite the winter temperatures and strong blustering winds, the sun was shining over Dartmoor, and the landscape was nothing short of breath-taking.
As we headed deeper into the expansive rural landscape, I felt a great sense of freedom, an expansiveness inherent to the environment which protruded out from the atmosphere just like the Tors emerging from the hilltops. The land stretched for miles, with nothing but a long, straight road to divide it. Looking out over this great landscape, I felt my lungs expanding, as if the weight of contraction typical of human life had lifted. The burden of human sorrows had no power here; this was an other-worldly land of enchanting serenity.
“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
My first encounter with Dartmoor, a wild and mysterious moorland, had something of the suspenseful intrigue of Arthur Conan's Doyle's 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. When we arrived, our planned route to Bellever Tor was unexpectedly blocked by a number of police cars. In the trees, a number of police officers were searching a site sectioned off with blue and white police tape. What they were looking for, we did not know.
Suppressing my imagination, which often has a tendency to run wild, I decided to go against my initial assumption - that what the police had discovered was a body freshly buried in the ground, and that the murderer was at a large somewhere on the moors. Since a direct route through Bellever Forrest was no longer an option, we made a detour around the incident to the summit.
The word 'windy' does not even begin to describe the blustering gales which sought to throw us head-first from the rocks. Climbing the face of the stone upon the Tor was very much like being at the receiving end of a giant's hair-dryer, with the settings turned to 'icy cold'. But the stormy weather was exciting, and battling the elements gave a certain atmosphere of adventure to this expansive and wild panorama which seemed to be taken straight out of Lord of the Rings. One could easily imagine Warg-riders approaching on the horizon, or Nazgul searching the moorland from the skies.
"Not all those who wander are lost"
Having escaped the threat of murderers and Warg-riders, we descended Bellever Torr and headed East towards Mordor... I mean... towards Haytor Rock, where we would climb the summit to face even stronger and even colder winter gales. After passing a couple of hitchhiking cows, and buying a lovely jar of homemade chutney from an old man somewhere between Widecombe on the Moor and Haytor Rock, we braced the cold wind once again in an attempt to reach the summit.
Soon after the cold had frozen my face and hands, despite my scarf and gloves offering some protection from the bitter wind, I decided that I had explored quite enough rock summits for one day. As we climbed higher, the gales became quite ferocious, threatening to pull all matter straight from the rock face.
Despite my reservations, my boyfriend Patrick carried on, clambering on to the zenith of Haytor Rock with tears rolling down his face from the brute strength of the icy wind. Daring not to stand up, but still bracing the shadow of Storm Arwen head on, he recorded this video of the winter gales on Dartmoor:
I hope to explore more of Dartmoor next year. The extreme weather conditions on the vast Devon moorlands bring an atmosphere of adventure, wildness and mystery which perfectly symbolise this harsh yet beautiful landscape. Winter storms remind us of the tumultuous emotions within, and the powerful feelings which significant external events arise within. With this thought, I leave you with a quotation by the great existentialist and absurdist philosopher Albert Camus:
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”