The Moors.

Posted on November 5, 2011

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Dartmoor is man made. It is hard to believe as you draw in breathtaking sweeps of moorland. However, it is true. Ancient dwarf oaks huddle together in small pockets, at Wistman’s Wood, the copses of Black Tor and Piles. Everything else is created by the hand of man. Quite literally. The moors are one of our greatest works of art. Unintentionally of course, but no less spectacular for that fact.

How did we create such a beautiful beast? The tale is entwined with our relationship to the land. Five thousand years ago the moorland was not moorland at all. It was rich forest. Our ancestors began to clear the woodland. They burned the trees to create pastures. Better to graze their animals and grow their crops.

With each burnt branch the geological course of the land was changed forever. You see, south of the Peak district the moors are the highest feature in England. Harsh winds swept over the highlands straight from the Atlantic ocean. Biting into the remaining land, sanding it down like a skilled carpenter. What was left behind is what we see today. A huge expanse of fern and bracken and bog. The moors.

Oh what a beautiful man made disaster it is. All three hundred and sixty-five miles of it. One for each day of the year. Remnants of modern life are deposited at its edges. Approaching Dartmoor, you turn the corner and the moors hit you. Hard. Visually of course, looming, but something more. Something carried in the wind, the water and the sky.

One surprise is to discover that the moorland is so wet. It is a true water world. Deadly marshes and mires abound. The moors force you to respect them. Tiny brooks, build into streams. Faster and faster they roll, charging down waterfalls in fern covered grottos. Out from the moors and towards the seas. Right in the centre of Dartmoor are the sources of its two great rivers, the Dart and the Taw. Each springs to life within three miles of the other. The Dart arrowing southwards to the English channel at Dartmouth. The Taw drawn north to the Atlantic at Bideford Bay.

In tandem with water, wind is the great artisan of the moors. It shapes the vegetation and the rocks. Slowly eroding granite crags into faces of stone men at moorland Tors. The wind is all.It cuts away at your being. And when it stops to catch its own breath, a great stillness descends. For a moment everything stops, including yourself. Your mind is drawn to a place of great rest.Then the wind arises a new. The sails unfurl and your path continues.

This great sweep of moorland is expressed in the palette of its colours. Who would have thought that their are so many Browns? Which, it turns out, isn’t even a real colour, just a shade of Orange. Chestnuts, Russets, Burnt, Sandy, Chocolate and Dark Browns smolder as they appear on this great canvas. Melting into the Greens, standing vibrant at the moorland fringes. Even the grassland at the moors peaks is not green, but hazel.

You stand and draw these great vistas into you. Sweeping hills and valleys take on a life of their own. The great mound of Cosdon Hill looms over me. Steep and smooth. Its surface pulled taunt like belly of a pregnant women. As you stand a top this symbol of life, Belstone and Higher Tor rise to the West. Stone tor’s emerging erect from firm round hills. The full breasts of the moorland mother.

Who knew emptiness could be this beautiful. With every step you claim the moors. Make them yours. In truth this is reversed. The moors, you see, are slowly, unnoticed, claiming you for themselves. Sunlight flooding across the moorland touches your heart. But, like the wind dropping, it is the shadows that draw in your soul. Clouds move rapidly across the sky, shading the valleys. Into these dark pits your eyes are drawn. Wanting to remain there. Within the shadow.

There are four levels to Dartmoor. I think on each as I stride into its magnificence. First, the land. Underfoot and all around, the mud, the tree trunks, the green moss that clings to everything that does not move quick enough. The second is omnipresent water. The moors life source. As you climb the water seeps around you, into you.

Third is the wind. Sheltered at first the wind is blind to you. Then, as the walls and trees disappear, the wind bites into you. It is the air of the moors. Its shaper and its movement. Finally, the fourth level is not of the moors at all. It is the sky. There, on Dartmoor’s highest reaches, standing at just under two thousand feet, all you see is sky. Three hundred and sixty degrees of heaven pans out around you.

These are the Moors. A man made ecological beast, metamorphosing over five thousand years, into beauty. They set your mind to thinking about our world, and how we shape it. When you think about it, the world we live in today is man made. All of it. We create it, environmental and socially, in our own image. In places it is beautiful, in others it is ugly, depending of course on whose heart it is reflecting. On the moorland you feel how fragile and alive the earth is. It is our souls. Out on the wiley, windy Moors.