Does anyone else feel like they are living in a world of constant notifications and updates? There is an unrest or discomfort, fuelled by the plethora of information, designed to cause various emotional responses. What we are being told may not necessarily match our lived experience. It has become noisy, confusing and at times overwhelming. There is an increased sense of vigilance towards the world outside our doors, not so much now because we fear catching Covid, but we are unsure we live in the same place as before. There is anxiety, anger, strain and struggle. The globe was on a wobble before Covid, and as we gain a certain control over the virus, those other pressing concerns submerged by the urgency of the pandemic, are resurfacing, seemingly more severe and complex than ever. It feels out of control, and there is little trust in governance to lead us forward in a meaningful way.
My anxiety was high and my thoughts overactive, all this input were burning up my energy stores like a jet engine. I needed space to find peace. And what better place than the moor with its huge sky? I had taken a few short walks across the moor; however, these sorts of places have become more popular since the first lockdown and no longer promise solitude. I was building a reluctance towards venturing further than the garden, where I could escape. Consequently, my world was getting so small, I was stagnating. I had to find my mojo.
With a spell of good weather coinciding with a work holiday. I had the time yet no idea of a specific location to explore. I hadn’t seen remote Dartmoor since before Winter, so I was uncertain of my physical limits as well as the condition of the land. All leanings were towards somewhere familiar, but my thoughts pondered over unexplored territory and the whole issue of where to go quickly became contrary.
On my moorland bucket list was the head of the River Yealm. I have mentioned before how I grew up next to this river – we have a sentimental bond. I had got close to its head on a previous walk, but the landscape was vast and daunting. Thoughts of heading further into the unknown came with apprehension, so I left this goal for another day. The idea of heading back to this destination kept surfacing in my mind. I tried to dismiss it many times. I was not feeling brave! Why would I want to return to somewhere that I’d previously experience as intimidating?
The route seemed to plan itself, despite my resistance. For every reason I put to mind not to go that way, solutions came in response, regardless of my unwillingness to accept them. It was not until that morning, as I walked out my door that I fully committed to the plan. I would take it step by step. I had planned several staggered options to loop back to the car, if I didn’t want to proceed. I was nothing if not prepared.
I had overanalysed all the predictable challenges. I knew the granite clitter and tussocky ground would be tough under foot. I did not know what to expect in terms of wetness, we had not had heavy rain, more occasional showers. I felt sure I would experience some level of marshy ground where the land was holding the very water that feeds the river. So, I set out accepting that this walk may simply be a reccy for reaching my goal on another occasion. I was tired of putting up resistance, I was going to flow like the river and let the land and my senses work together on the progress.
There was a public footpath through the beautiful bluebell covered woodland, alongside the River Erme. The path became patchy as I met with a muddy, marshy area, then ascended a gorse covered hillside onto the open moorland beyond. I found play navigating the waterlogged area, hopping my way, weaving around tree trunks and branches. I giggled, following several dead ends in the overgrown gorse with brambles. I was very much feeling my inner child, inspired by all that was around me, regardless of wet feet and prickles. I eventually emerge above the Erme valley, spotting Tristis Rock behind me and vast open moor before me. I was quite alone, in the human sense, but there was an aliveness to everything around me, that vibrated through my cells. I had missed this so much; I’d forgotten its power.
It was shortly after this point that I met Daisy, who at this time, I labelled as a cow. Overtaken by the emotion of being reunited with remote moorland, I was somewhat feeling the love, and I think Daisy got some sense of this and wanted to make friends. Daisy approached but thankfully remained socially distanced as I aimed calming, yet directly, for the style in the wall ahead; glad of the opportunity to put a barrier between us. Little did I know we would meet again.
I walked around Stalldown to meet the Yealm, following it upstream to revisit the Yealm Steps. The sound of the flowing river massaged the remaining tension from my body, leaving me feeling lighter than I had felt in a long time. My imagination began to playfully ponder over stories I have read about this being a possible location for the Beast of the Moor or Dartmoor’s wild cats. There were a lot of animal carcasses in one area, close to the Yealm Steps, that had me wondering; the huge granite boulders, long grasses and a nearby (restricted) woodland, to hide and find shelter. The flowing waters of the river and grazing sheep on tap, could all make an idea habitat for such a creature. I didn’t really wish to know the truth; I knew that it would not be the cat that would feel threatened by curiosity.
After the Yealm Steps I was quite alone, not even a grazing sheep for company. It was perhaps the most remote I have felt on the moor. No apprehension came this time, only that quiet inner strength that comes with a calm that allows your senses to absorb and process their soundings with clarity. Near the Yealm Head, the single channel of river showed how it was formed from a mesh of small water channels, some hidden by long grasses, some weaving underground. I was still only prepared to proceed if I could be sure of a route to retreat should the ground become dodgy. I continued to trace the source indicated on the map until…
There it was. What I had ventured out to see. My first impression of my goal was not overwhelming, but as I watched the tiny trickle, that had seeped through the ground in a great enough quantity to begin a flow. I began to appreciate the epic journey this fine river would take to the sea. There seemed to be a profound meaning to the story of this river, that felt too big to comprehend, fortunately my senses seemed to recognise the significance of it and my heart understood.
Images from along the Yealm’s beautiful journey.
It took a while to process that I had made it to my goal. By all intent and purpose this was not expected, it felt rather like a dream walking back. I was amazing at myself. Which is rather an odd feeling to look upon yourself as if you were another. It was not based in an egoic need to achieve but rather from a sense of preparedness and willingness to explore what may be. A trust in the surroundings and mighty presence that fills the space and calm. I was finding self-belief in a connection to what is.
The moor added one additional way to ensure I was getting the message. My second meeting with Daisy. Gratefully, it was only looking at the photos from the comfort of my home that I noticed Daisy was either a rare breed of udderless cows or in fact a bull. The heard was close to where I first met them, slightly nearer to the gorsy hillside. Daisy seemed to recognise me with all the enthusiasm of a puppy and made hast in my direction, bringing a few mates with him. By this time, my legs were too heavy to comply with any ill-advised urge to run. I adopted what I am calling PC Plod pose. A strong stance with right arm straight out perpendicular to my body, commanding it to halt. This is my interpretation of sound advice given to me by a special lady, that by chance I met previously walking a different area of the moor. She told me, that cows are curious and if you run, they sort of think it is a game and move faster towards you. Which is obviously what you want to avoid. If you stop and stand strong, they stop and keep a distance. It worked, albeit we had to repeat the exercise a few times as the persistent Daisy kept trying to sneak up behind me, long after the rest of the heard had gone back to grazing. I am not going to contemplate his intentions.
The moor has taught me many things in our times together. The teachings seem to follow a theme, once I gain understanding, it moves in a new direction and different themes come into focus. I have a sense that this walk introduces the start of a new chapter. I feel like I am being nurtured in preparation for what is to come. The walk defragmented the clutter and debris that was whirling like traffic in my brain and made space for what may be. Rooted in this state I can overcome my perceived limits without force and rather more through insight. It seemed to come by simply taking one considered footstep after another, perhaps in the way we did as children.
There was something about this walk that woke my inner warrior. It the side of me that recognises feeling alive. It has the strength and awareness, to be resourceful and resilient through challenges. The warrior is connected to the powerful Source that underpins everything and recognises the possibilities and magnificence of life. My warrior signifies self-belief. I now consider self-belief not to be something you have but is rather something you find in the calm space where you can recognise your connection to everything else, and through this know that you exist as a part of something far bigger.