The title of this blog is inspired from a book by Michael Leunig called ‘The Curly Pyjama Letters‘. Wise words for the busy lifestyle we live and poignant to the experience I shall now share.
By the time I arrived at my week holiday, I was running on adrenaline and wanted to retreat into a calm state, to restore my energy and clear the noisy thoughts from my brain.
This is my fourth time wild camping, and I was returning to the site of my second camp. I wrote about this experience in ‘As Sure As Night Follows Day, Day Follows Night’. I was captivated by the dance of the Moon and the sun. Awed from the realisation that generations of humans, for thousands of years, have looked to the sky and witnessed the very same Sun and Moon. It confirmed the sense that we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves, transcending through space and time.
We were at the start of a heatwave, so having ample drinking water was a necessity. The need to carefully consider this precious resource, made conscious how, in countries where safe water can be easily accessed by turning a tap, we often take it for granted. Much of the water I get from my tap originates from reservoirs on the moor. The human engineering that channelled river waters into leats and transported it over miles, can be readily seen, some still maintained, like Devonport leat, close to where I wandered. A theme about how we use and abuse the resources on our planet was at the forefront of my mind as I walked, provoked further by the unprecedented heat, attributed to human impact on the Earth.
I had wanted to walk to Fox Tor for some time but the notorious Foxtor Mires, which inspired Sir Conan Doyle’s Grimpen Mire in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles‘, had been somewhat of a deterrent. Similarly, there are legends of escaped Dartmoor prisoners and travellers sinking without a trace in the boggy ground. Yet my greatest resistance to visiting this tor, came from past experience.
Whilst walking north of the mires a few years back; one of my first routes relying on a compass to keep track in an unfamiliar area, in true Dartmoor style, blue sky rapidly became drizzle and fog. The surrounding hills quickly began to disappear and the feeling of vulnerability was intense.
There was to be no fog today and I had planned a route that kept me a safe distance from the Foxtor Mires. Avoiding falling in a bog was high on my list of considerations, well for this day anyway!
The journey was hot but pleasant enough. I felt unexpectedly tired given the distance travelled. On route, I witnessed a small herd of ponies descending a small hill to cool off in one of the brooks that feed the Foxtor Mires. I saw a green coloured lizard or newt, which moved off far too quickly to photograph, leaving him rather elusive regarding identity.
At Fox Tor, I took in the view, resting in the shade against one of the granite formations. A cuppa in one hand and a snack in the other. All I could think about was the route back, my sense of weariness creating an urgency to keep moving. Try as I might to pause and absorb the vast beautiful surroundings with my senses, gather my energy; I just wasn’t feeling It.
The walk back to the car to grab my camping pack, felt like an endurance challenge. I travelled as much as possible the way of the crow. I was almost at the summit of the last hill, only a ridge away from my pitch, when my body refused to go any further. I took off my pack and sat on a rock with my head in my hands, feeling defeated and exhausted.
Sat on the hillside staring begrudgingly at my pack, made me consider just how tough and knowledgeable our ancestors must have been to cope with these conditions. No wonder we sort to harness the power of natural resources to bring more certainty to our survival. Where did this connection to how the natural environment supports our existence tip over into the consumerism that dominates our globe today? When did taking more than we needed, regardless of the consequences become the norm? These moral questions seemed rather paradoxical whilst sat on a hillside, graving the comfort of home, looking towards 19th century mining ruins in one direction and Bronze Age stone rows in another. Humans are incredible beings. Able to adapt and build, invent and solve problems. We have become so disconnected and thrown off track. It is time for another shift, but who knows where we are heading?
My thoughts were stilled by a family of ponies moving up from the valley. They stopped to graze close by. I watched admiring how they instinctively know where to find what they need. I pondered whether the ponies would help carry my pack to the tor, but how do you politely ask in pony? The wonderment of their presence gave me the boost I needed to push onto the tor.
I pitched and ate as the sunset. It was unlike my previous experience at this spot. I watched the stars appear in the sky. The sunrise was when this spot stands in glory. I felt exposed, tired and unusually cold as a consequence. I sought the warm comfort of my sleeping bag over the wonders of the night sky.
Only sleep was not easily found. Why was I feeling so very restless?
In the morning the heat rose before the sun. Once the sun was fully over the opposite peak, I realised that things were going to get particularly hot, especially quickly. The sun’s rays aimed directly on the hillside where I camped. I began to understand why there were no grazing animals on this side of the valley. I needed to get packed up and over the ridge to relative shade or melt like candle wax over the granite rock where I perched.
With my temporary home in my pack, I was finishing my final cuppa, when another pony, solo this time, galloped up the hillside heading over the summit. It passed close by, pausing temporarily as it sensed my presence. Seemingly whispering “If you are feeling tethered, what is tethering you?”. It is indeed a strange morning when a pony gives you a koan to start your day! The morning still had another surprise for me.
I reached the Bone Stone, a menhir to one of Drizzlecombe’s stone rows. It has become a custom when passing this particular stone, to rest my forehead against its granite, give thanks for the time had and ask for wisdom on the journey forward. Little did I realise that shortly after this ritual I would let stupidity take the lead in my decision making, yet I found what I was seeking in a most peculiar way.
I could cross the brooks at Drizzlecombe two ways. The first I had walked the previous evening, so knew it was viable. The other, crossed the brook lower down the hill, where water pooled making it impassably boggy after prolonged or heavy rain. I had observed how waterlogged the ground was the previous week, walking in full waterproofs, uncustomary for this time of year. There was no logic to my reasoning to go this way, yet I continued.
I crossed the first brook quite easily, despite it initially looking impossible. Now smugness joined stupidity in guiding the way. The second main passage of the brook had spread out to make a boggy maze. I walked around thinking I was making progress only to be stopped by deep pools. I finally found a fairly narrow crossing with dry tussocks in the centre, meaning two steps and I would be across. Given my persisting tiredness, this option dominated over the prospect of walking back and going the way of the previous evening. I tested the tussock with my foot and considered it reliable. Right foot forward, I committed my weight to the decision. Somewhere in this motion I learnt… tussocks can suddenly sink warning, taking you with them!
Thankfully, I have no visual memory of this moment, I must have closed my eyes. I remember the feeling of sinking. Knowing my right leg was thigh deep in seductively soft mud. The motion of my step was still active on the top half of my body, but with my leg anchored in mud, I was simply falling forward. The stuck leg released from the suction, with a comical slurping, splodging sound. Simultaneously, a bad odour and something cold and wet splashing across my face. There was panic, but also a sensory comfort, as I landed flat on my front in the wet bog.
The restless chatter that had fill my mind, instantly ceased. I don’t think I was laid in the bog long, but it was timeless. A forced pause. The ground was holding me, hugging me. I felt physically and emotionally soothed. It was cool and supportive. The tension in my body and mind, adopted qualities from the bog. I let go. Suspended in mud with a shallow flow of water washing around me. It was unpredictably blissful.
Crawling unceremoniously out of the bog was less graceful. My hands had a firm grip on some long strong grass. Under my submerged elbows was a firm base, meaning I could slither until my knees replaced my elbows and hoick myself out. By some good fortune, my camping pack had escaped with just splashes and my camera was thankfully the same. This was a gentle, nurturing wake up call.
I cherish this time in the bog, even though I do not wish to repeat the experience. It taught me that tiredness causes dumbass decision making. The Universe sometimes gives us warnings to slow down and notice our actions. It calls us to be still, tune in and connect to that unseen force with the power to restore us. We are not receptive to this when we are restless, and we can end up in a quagmire of our own making.
I am a small speck in a bigger picture. I was created by an artist with purpose and intention. I am a small speck among many other small specks of different forms, that were created by the artist with purpose and intention. We were all lovingly placed on this canvas together. We are a living canvas that develops and evolves. No speck is more significant than another and we all bring something to the picture. The beauty comes from how we relate with each other to manifest the love that was put into our creation. The artist guides us to transform, and the reality is, that as a whole, we create the most magnificent masterpiece that defines all imagination. Humans are incredible beings. We just need to become aware of what we are, our connection to what else is, and understand it is all part of the same. We cannot realise this in a restless state. “You must rest Vasco – otherwise you will become RESTLESS!” (Leunig, 2021, p26)