Leaving the sunshine behind in Plympton, I see a rather strange 'flying saucer' shaped cloud. I've included a picture although the angle it's been taken from doesn't do it justice. Is it a lenticular cloud? That's what came up when I googled it, although the ones online looked more spectacular.
Grey washes the light from the sky as we drive up the A38 toward Bovey Tracey before turning off for Manaton. We arrive at the carpark by the 15th C St Winifred's church, where our walk begins. Like Buckfastleigh's Holy Trinity church, St Winifred's has been a target for lightning strikes. In 1779, a strike split the tower in two. A chill hangs in the air and the sky seems distant in its soft shade of pigeon. We're in tee-shirts and shorts, and it appears we really have left the sun behind. We check the weather app, which says the sun will come out . . . I wonder why we have this need to use technology to look up natural phenomena when we can just look up at the sky and accept what is, for now.
This is an old walk for us, but new to Franny. As always, I dodge the excited flapping of her ears as I unclip her from the car harness. Fran knows the weekends are hers. But, as the first part is a gentle walk down a lane, we contain her excitement (sort of) by keeping her on the lead. Reaching a signpost for Hayne Rd, Hayne Down & Jay's Grave, we release her through a gate and off she gallivants across the field.
A tractor has paused its grass-cutting and Franny finds a friend in a young spaniel. After a bit of delighted dashing on Franny's part, we exit the field and enter a wood. The tractor resumes cutting; the sounds of which accompany us as we follow the path beneath gnarly oaks strewn with bearded lichens and mountain ash dripping red berries. Bracken is beginning to curl, giving off a sharp earthy scent, reminiscent of damp cardboard mixed with tobacco.
We leave trees and tractor cutting behind to come out onto Hayne Down. It's breezy. We sip coffee while Fran investigates the great granite boulders. Vegetation is softening. Foxgloves have all but gone; the umbellifers are setting seed. The page of summer has not quite turned to the next chapter, yet autumn's sepia ink tints the edges of greenness. I take a conscious breath in, and out, let my eyes rest on the horizon. Is that the sea? I ask Andrew. Teignmouth, he says, by the look of it. A teal line of sea is almost seamless with sky. There is still no sign of the promised sun. We walk down to the NW side and seek out the Bowerman's Nose. It is a distinctive stack of granite, a pillar of stone standing out from the more compressed piles of granite that are around it. Naturally, such an unusual formation has a legend attached to it. Dartmoor has its share of Hunter stories, and Bowerman is one of them. The story goes that Bowerman was out hunting with his pack of dogs when they catch sight of a hare. Hunter and pack chase the quarry until they lose it in woods (perhaps the very one we've just come out of). But, ah, Bowerman has disturbed a coven of witches. Or had they summoned him with the hare? Either way, the witches turn the hounds into stones, and him into the stack of granite we know as Bowerman's Nose.
We turn away from the down, following the path through Moyle's Gate, across Swine Down to Swallerton Gate. It's easy walking across flat terrain. The carpark by Hound tor is quite busy and there's people climbing the tor. I've always loved the sprawl of Hound tor, but we're not going up there today. Instead, we skirt around the bottom of it, heading for a narrow rough track that takes us downhill and to Greator rocks. We stop to take a few photographs of the ruined medieval settlement. Greator rocks loom over as we pass by. The path is made slippery with scree and Andrew does indeed slip, landing on his backside. I laugh because it's usually me falling over.
We're back under trees hiding a stream. Franny plunges in, leaps out and shakes herself all over a woman sat on the bridge. Thankfully, the woman thought it was amusing. We cross over and sit on one of the Smallacombe rocks to eat our homemade pasties (steak for Andy; mushroom for me) and drink more coffee (laced with coffee liqueur). The sky's still grey, but with no breeze the temperature's up. A walker emerges from the wood and stops to talk. He says Franny is 'winning.' I'm not sure what he means and he explains that she seems eager to please. I smile. We are eating pasties after all, and Fran is sitting and waiting very patiently. . .
The man said he would love another dog but he's had to settle for buying another classic car. I smile again, enjoying these little chats with people I'm probably never going to meet again.
We pick up the path, enjoying passage through more mossy oaks before bearing left to Leighon. The path takes us onto Black Hill and its smattering of cairns. We look out over to Manaton church in the distance.
We've come quite a way. The walk began around ten to ten; it's now twelve-twenty thereabouts. Another couple of hours left to this seven mile walk. We're not clock watching though. This is the last bank holiday of the year and we keep to a leisurely pace.
It's too easy to let one's mind begin thinking about the next thing: what time we'll get back; what we'll cook for tea; next week's meetings, and so on. I make sure that when I catch myself doing this, I pull myself back into my body. Feldenkrais is awareness through movement, so I send my attention into my feet, into my toes and heels, feeling the sensation of them moving in my shoes; feeling the way they touch the ground and how everything is connected. I move awareness up my legs, to my hips, spine. I play with putting my attention on different muscles and joints. Sometimes, it feels quite startling to realise that you're actually upright on two legs and walking - moving through space; and it's all down to the precise workings of all these bodily elements. I still my mind by following my breath. Even if I only stop the mind chatter for a few seconds, it's enough to bring me back into the present. We are walking through glorious countryside and I keep with the sensation of being a part of it without my mind galloping off elsewhere.
Becka Falls is coming up. Fran's back on the lead in case of cars. Tiny lilac scabious dot the lane walls. Trees grow out of the high hedgerows on either side. The road flattens and we pick our way through Becky Falls. You have to pay to walk the trails that take you to the actual falls, and we notice the segregation as we pass paying visitors on the other side of the barriers.
Becka Brook has wound its way from Hound Tor, and we hear its busyness on our right as we keep to the permissible path. But the woods here always make me feel low. I find the atmosphere depressing and heavy. It's the same feeling I had when I first came to this spot twenty-odd years ago. The trees are often whippy and clamouring for light. There's dampness and decay. I can't put my finger on what it is that makes me feel low. Trees or land. I don't know. We arrive at a memorial bench dedicated to a Stephen Blatchford. Grey lichen plaques grow over the inscription. Even this makes my heart heavy, because if his spirit could sit on this bench, he might be horrified at the view he's greeted with.
So, I'm glad to leave the deciduous wood and its solemn nature behind. The stand of conifers we find ourselves contemplating is a relief. And although Franny is preparing to hare off down a path,
we turn away from the routes that lead away through the conifer forest, taking instead the top path which runs alongside the wood.
I stop to take a photograph of a web. Nursery web spider?
I'm deciding that I'm not wholly enjoying the walk since leaving Becky Falls. I'm not tired, and I'm not aching. It's just a feeling. We're heading for Water (a place), walking along an earth path, when I suddenly trip on a triangular stone buried in the ground. Such is the forward momentum of said trip, that I literally superman. I register that it's going to hurt, and then I land. Andrew who's ahead turns around to find me sprawled. He says he heard the thud as I went down. I'm still on the ground. I've cut my left knee (my left leg always gets it), and the heels of both hands are bashed and bloody. I'm crying with pain and laughing at the same time with the ludicrousness of falling over at my age! Startled this time that my legs have misbehaved!
I don't know what's worse, tumbling or having Franny take no notice that I'm hurt; she just wants to get on. Well, I can't sit here all day as there's still another forty-five minutes of walking to do. I joke that something's followed me out of the wood and pushed me over. Indeed, when we happen upon a 'money tree,' I wish we're carrying some coins to elicit some good luck ( I might add the coins were in a felled tree)!
The end is not too far once we reach Water. Funny enough, the bridleway we're walking through is very watery. I'm really paying attention to what my feet are doing when we happen upon a woman with two men and a dog; they're metal detecting, but we don't ask for what. The track's narrow and my knee and hands are throbbing. But, Franny is being fussed by the woman who is intrigued by the GPS tracker on Franny's collar. She's thinking of getting one for her dog. We say goodbye and mission the last ten minutes back to the car.
When I'm home, I think about my falling over. I look back to the cards I picked that morning: 3 Swords (Cardinal Libra), 5 Cups (Fixed Scorpio), and my Power deck Card from Lynn V. Andrews, The Power Deck the Cards of Wisdom (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, a division of HarperCollins Publishers,1st edition, 1991). The card for the day is Harmony. Harmony is about operating from a place of balance, the message of which is picked up in the Libran 3 swords and the difficulties that arise before harmony is found. Maybe I've been over-thinking, today. Before my walk, I'd already written in my journal that sometimes things go wrong or off-kilter and that It's important (much like work/ life balance) to not over depend on living in one aspect of the physical, spiritual, emotional, mental planes at the detriment of the others. Although I thought I was engaging all aspects, maybe I need reminding that I've a way to go. Perhaps, I wasn't in my centre as much as I thought I was. The 5 Cups hints at my low feelings and disappointment when my expectations are subverted. The message? Nothing is lost that can't be regained from a change in perspective.