The easing of lockdown restrictions means that socially distanced walking with a friend (what a strange concept) is now an option. So Martin drives up from the other side of Plymouth and we meet up at Peek Moor Gate for a stroll up Ugborough Beacon and onto the moor beyond – I’d been reminded how much I wanted to do this a few days ago during a walk across the fields and on to Didworthy.
It’s a convenient parking spot to get straight out onto the moor, but it has a downside; leaving the car and passing immediately through a gate leads straight into a steep 180 metre climb up to the summit of the Beacon. With no warm-up, we’re both breathing hard as we move quickly, straight up the hillside, with Marloe excited to be out on the open moor again and pulling on the lead. But it only takes about 15 minutes, and we pause a few times on the way up, because the view out over the South Hams is opening up behind us. There’s a north-east wind blowing, so the air is particularly clear and we can see over 50 miles along the coast as we near the top of the slope and the angle starts to ease. A cuckoo too, the first I’ve heard this year.
There are rocky outcrops at the top of the Beacon, and as we approach the first and lower of these tors, we can see what appears to be a signpost sticking out of the rocks. I haven’t been up here for a while, and the last time, the visibility was very poor, but I’m sure I haven’t seen this before. So we walk over and find that it is indeed a solid wooden, two metre high, National Park permissive bridleway sign. It’s clearly not official – it’s wedged roughly into the rocks at an angle, and none of the arrows point even vaguely to an actual path. So we look at it for a while, slightly bemused as to how it came to be there – it must have taken a good deal of effort – and move on to the less impressive but higher tor a couple of hundred metres beyond.
As we walk across the grass towards it, moving more easily now, we watch a skylark climbing up from the ground cover making a sound out of all proportion in volume to its tiny size; it gets higher and higher until we can barely make it out, but its song still fills the sky all around us. The moor opens up now, with gentle, brown and green rolling hills in the foreground and, in the distance Plymouth Sound. We haven’t really planned a route for today, so carry on north-west across Beacon Plain, bearing right a little, and keeping determinedly two metres apart, until we reach Spurrell’s Cross, at the junction of tracks heading south to north and east to west. It’s the best part of 2 metres tall and despite several repairs over the last hundred years is damaged, with one arm of the cross missing. Apparently, there was once an attempt to steal it, which led to this and other Dartmoor granite artefacts being microchipped, so they can be identified should they turn up for sale.
You can head down and right here, but we decide on a longer route and carry on, skirting Glascombe Ball to reach the Puffing Billy track, built early last century to service the clay works high up on the moor to the north. We leave it after a few minutes though, striking off to the right – colder now we’re heading straight into the wind – and follow a faint track downhill, passing a short and low double stone row, and heading for an unusual and isolated copse of tall trees at Glascombe Corner.
Here we pick up the valley of the West Glaze Brook and follow it downhill. The main track stays well above the stream, but it’s worth dropping down to the water and following the faint grassy paths along the bank. We do this, and arrive at a beautiful pool of water underneath the trees – it’s spilling gently over a lip downstream, like some kind of natural infinity pool, and is perfectly still and clear (at least until Marloe – off the lead briefly in the absence of any sheep nearby – plunges in and splashes and drinks noisily).
The path continues downstream. Despite it being so close to home, I haven’t been this way for years and I’d forgotten how beautiful the valley is. Vivid green fields on the far bank, leading up to Corringdon Ball, and on our side open moorland, with views of the Beacon and the ridge we’ve walked. There are mature trees – mainly oaks – whose leaves are filtering the sunlight and giving everything a greenish tinge, and a striking, bare, dead tree somehow still standing stark among the living.
We pass on further, through ground that’s marshy in anything but these dry conditions, passing a deep pool in a ravine, complete with frayed and precarious looking rope swings, following the stream to the point where it is joined by the East Glaze Brook. Here we cut uphill away from the water and past another remarkable tree – blown flat and uprooted, but flourishing and providing shade for a lone sheep. At this time of the year ewes and their lambs are everywhere on the moor – nowhere more so than here – and Marloe is back on the lead again for the rest of the walk.
Soon we meet up with a stony track above Owley Moor Gate and the walk is almost over. We follow the course of a dry-stone wall, with a field of bluebells on the other side and are back at the car within ten minutes. Despite it being only the second day that restrictions have been eased we’ve only seen a few people in the couple of hours we’ve been out. It’s great to be able to drive to a place of exercise again…