I recently explored a new area of the moor. There were many features of the landscape that I wanted to visit. My preparations indicated that I would need my map and compass to navigate some of my route. Equipped I set off for my goal.
I had quite an adventure just finding my way to the moorgate combined with the challenge of finding somewhere to park my car. To be travelling by foot with all my needs in a backpack, was a welcomed relief.
Initially, there was a wide rough loose stone path. It was arduous underfoot even in walking boots. The river brought little satisfaction as I clocked up the kilometres, feeling restless and questioning my decision to be here.
On spotting a small brook and finding the nearby beehive hut, my spirits lifted. Shortly, I left the monotony of the rough stone path, for a small barely visible track across the moorland. As I crossed the next brook, the route taken previously by others deteriorated and I was left to navigate my own way to my first destination. I was heading to a primitive stone circle and row. The row stones were small but formed the longest row on Dartmoor and suggested as one of the longest of its time in the world.
My high expectations were somewhat confused when I reach what I thought was my target area. However, here I found what I rather considered to be various settlement remains. This surely wasn’t it?
I walked around checking my map trying to find an error in my directions, feeling a growing sense of frustration that this was not working out the way I had imagined. The more my attention went to my thoughts the less I noticed my surroundings.
As I had all but given up I caught a fleeting glimpse at first. This distinctive structure somehow blended into the background, hiding in plain sight amongst the near distant vastness. As I walked closer ‘The Dancers’ or ‘kiss-in-the-ring’ circle revealed itself.
The stone row continues for 3.3km into the distance. Heading down into the valley below before climbing over the next hill, across the water beneath and ceasing on the summit of a subsequent hill. Its route was not part of my plan for today, but it provokes questions over the significance that had purposed its construction. Perhaps they offered navigational guidance for an important journey, who can be sure?
I paused for a snack here. Feeling a resistance to move on. This was not out of fascination for this spot but rather a feeling of anxiety about again crossing the unknown moor to my next destination, relying once more on my navigational skills. I was feeling self-doubt which was now breeding fear.
The alternative to going forward was to return on that rough stone path I had come to loathe. It would feel all the worse with a sense of defeat – not a prospect I favoured. I looked ahead at the far-reaching land and space before me. The visible route showed hard tussocky ground and the possibility of some marshy areas. As I took in my surroundings, map and compass in hand, assessing my proposed route of travel, I realised things were not as complicated as I was making them.
To the south of me was a huge hill. Beyond that hill was my clear route off the moor. As remote as it felt here, civilization was not that far away. I would be able to sight this landmark for my entire journey, my route curving around the contours of the land before heading slightly off to the east. The possibility of being able to get lost was considerably smaller than my fears. I had my walking pole if the ground became uncertain and if things got too dubious, I could head for the south hill! I had walked miles across other parts of the moor during Winter my feet barely out of mud or marsh, for sure, that ground was more familiar, but after 40 something days of sun and a cloudless sky with a stable forecast – I had to trust in my ability and my relationship with the land.
As I walked, my confidence grew, the land was rough but surprisingly accommodating. The land told its story of its changing affinity with water. The craters left by dried out bogs, the remaining hard tufts of compact grasses, once rooted in wet land. Some marshy areas survived the heat from the sun and provided deep areas of underground water, miraculously still providing resources for the nearby rivers and brooks.
Feeling more at ease with my surroundings. I considered how we cling to what feels safe, even when it no longer serves us, out of fear of letting go into unknown territory. In doing this we close our hearts to the experience of living, like water that doesn’t flow. The land seems to speak of a simplistic wisdom which we humans find so difficult to conceive, but if we pay attention perhaps, we stand to learn how to live more akin with its powerful presence. Something our ancestors seemed to have embraced. I question why it feels like an act of bravery to have trust in ourselves and consequentially, a trust in the world around us? What is it we fear?
I reached my next destination exactly where I hoped. Rewarded with a beautiful sight!
My heart gladdened. Several miles downstream, as a child, I played in this river. I began to walk downstream with a sense of intimacy and love. From fun to reflection, time had seen us share many changing moments together once.
As I walked with lightness, I was met with a sight my photo cannot do justice to. The ‘Yealm Steps’. The river water here is presented with a 30m fall through huge granite boulders to a slow tranquil sequence of pools beneath. With a towel in my bag and feet in need of relief, I could not resist the invite to paddle.
My path ahead was clear now. Across the brook and finally up that south hill I had used to keep me on course. It was way higher than it looked from where I sat, feet dangling in the cool flow of the Yealm.
This river had restored a deep sense of assuring peace and connection to what is. I felt more whole, more together, more awakened. Whilst the hill seemed a never-ending climb, there was a bounce in my step, confident in the strength of my legs to see me to the top. Before the final summit there was one more treasure to discover.
I reached the sight and immediately felt like I had stumbled upon one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A stone row 500m long, with a small circle to one side of the midpoint. They looked salient with many of the stones standing over a metre high. I felt humbled by their presence. As I walked, from the corners of my eyes, the stones resembled figures, only adding to their wonder. Standing here I did not feel alone rather watchfully welcomed.
From this hill, I could see the rough stone track that required perseverance. I could not see The Dancers, but the contours of the land no longer held their location secret. I had found aspects of my childhood self by the river and we travelled forward together more assured of our being.
As with my walk, we have to navigate our way in life, over rough terrain, hills that feel more like mountains, through insecurity, uncertainty, and trepidation. Sometimes we may need to pause, to rest and restore our resilience and resolve. We can decide each step consciously as we go, working our way through the obstacles like flowing water. We can lead with our hearts, trust in our knowing and reveal the many wonders of life that hide in plain sight.
To finish a quote from Alex Honnold, an incredible free climber from the recommended film ‘Free Solo’
“Its about being a warrior, it doesn’t matter about the cause necessarily, this is your path and you will pursue it will excellence, you face your fear because your goal demands it – that is the goddamn warrior spirit”.