Friday, 7th August, Murchington to Okehampton Camp, 12 miles.
I am absolutely delighted that Fiona has offered to escort us on part of our route over North Dartmoor today. The day dawns bright and promising. This is the view of Rippator that my hosts enjoy every day from their kitchen window.
I decide to turn Tommy back into a pack pony and load him up with our kit.
Unlike her husband, George, who is Joint Master of the Mid-Devon hunt, Fiona doesn’t ride, but she knows these moors well enough to get us up to Belstone and beyond.
Here we are entering the moor at Throwleigh Common, before going off-piste onto moorland tracks.
She is a hill runner and once on the moor, Fiona sets a cracking pace which Tommy and I find hard to keep up with. We do our best but the going is often quite unforgiving and I am forced to ask her to slow down. The last thing I want is a twisted ankle or worse.
We backtrack a bit to find the ford that crosses Blackaton Brook, which Tommy wades through while we jump from hillock to tussock to avoid getting wet and start to follow the contour around Cosdon Hill, heading towards the pimple on the horizon that is Foxes’ Holt. On the way we almost stumble over the Stone Row which lies due East of Cosdon Beacon and where, a little over a year ago, at the cist I had laid a ‘Cornish’ stone in memory of my darling whippet, Sadie whom I had just lost in tragic circumstances. (I wrote about it here: http://carowoods.com/2014/06/30/contrast-between-life-and-death-joy-and-sadness)
I lead Tommy up the ceremonial row towards the cist and say a silent prayer for my little whippet who is still dearly missed.
The gloom has lifted a little bit and the views North-East over Sticklepath and South Zeal are spectacular.
Fiona does a pretty good job of navigating a path for us away from bogs but this one catches us unawares and Tommy sinks in up to his knees. Thankfully, with some effort, he manages to scramble out of it, emerging with only 4 brown legs and a mud-splattered bottom, looking like a little Appaloosa horse. I’m relieved. It could have been a lot worse.
Finally, we reach the marker near Tawcroft,
and start our descent into the Taw Valley, fording the river at the bottom because the footbridge is too narrow for us, after acknowledging the horror on Fiona’s face when I said I thought we could do the bridge. She says the planks are thin and there are steps the other side. In order to get across then, I have to mount Tommy to ride him across, the first time I have sat on his back since leaving Cleeve Hill near Cheltenham, four weeks ago. Finding a handy boulder as a mounting block, once on board, as we approach the river to ford it, there is a flurry of activity and all the dogs and people playing in the water suddenly scatter to let us through. I wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction but at least we have a clear path through the river, his bog-brown legs getting a good wash in the process, and I let him then carry me on up the other side to Belstone where we stop for a lunch break on the green. I said to Fiona, I knew there had to be a reason why I put his saddle on today. She replies you could have done it bareback.
After calling home, I’m delighted Fiona has decided to come a little further with us but before we do, I need to clean the dog shit I have picked up on my boot and smothered over my stirrup in the process of mounting, then over my jodhpurs in the process of dismounting. Fiona has a tissue which I manage to wipe most of it off with and for the price of a small bottle of water I wash my hands in the pub loo.
I am impressed to discover there is a defibrillator installed in the telephone box in the village. What a great use for an old telephone box.
Back on the moor, I tell Fiona that there was a horse and trap being driven along this track when I walked along it last year.
By the ford at Gullever Steps, we stop to say our goodbyes, and Fiona heads back home with the dogs. I am thinking they will sleep well tonight, while Tommy and I head the other way up the track towards the sanctuary of Caroline’s B&B at Moorgate Cottage, next to Okehampton Camp.