It has taken longer than I would have liked to write this blog about the second day of my walking trip, but hopefully, it is worth the wait. Looking back at this walk after such a time makes it feel rather like a dream. My energy has responded to the increased darkness, raising concerns about whether such a walk would be possible again? Curiously, it was these exact fears that gave wings to this adventure. In this way it seems both apt and hopeful to reminisce on this journey now. A reminder to trust in the flow of life, rekindling the faith and wonder that this walk so resolutely sowed in my heart as I slipped into paradise. There are more adventures in me yet. This walk demonstrated that when we follow our hearts, energy is present, and we can foster strength we did not know we had. So, here it is, the second part of my two-day walk, the route for this day – Princetown to Ivybridge via Red Lake.
In the morning, I woke to the whisper of Autumn. The northerly wind had brought a nip to the air of an otherwise bright start. I wrapped up and sat outside drinking the first celebrated coffee of the morning, anticipating what the day would bring. I surveyed my body similarly to how you test drive a second-hand car, you expect wear and tear and hope for functionality. There were no warning lights! Intending to avoid the previous days discomfort of my pack on aching shoulders, I reloaded my contents more strategically, adjusting all the straps, and wow! We were ready to go! As my boots hit the gravel track, my sleepy sense of freedom was smiling with the waking sun.
I was not the only creature beginning the day with a gentle pace. With a gravel path to guide the section of my walk to the Plym Ford, there was time to tune my senses to the day, to feel grateful for what had been, and hopeful of what was to come. The far-reaching views never fail to give a sense that anything is possible. There were clouds banking in the distance, and with the blustery winds I suspected we may meet before my walking was done.
From Plym Ford, I was picking up a track known as the Abbot’s Way, which I would follow until I met the Puffin’ Billy track that would lead me into Ivybridge, and home. Most guides will make you aware of the need for a compass as there is no visible track on this section to Erme Pits. I have previously (well once a few years ago) been up this slope to Great Gnat’s Head, I recalled seeing a track which I assumed would be the Abbot’s Way. Despite this being more than presumptuous, I set out with the mindset that the guides were being over cautious. So enthused to be off the gravel path, I decided not to stop to unpocket the compass from the back of my pack. On crossing the ford, I felt smug, finding a visible passage, heading in the right direction.
However, the moor rarely rewards complacency. The track soon disappeared leaving me knee high in grass. I continued until my invisible feet made me aware, the ground was getting wetter. There was a distinct boggy patch ahead. It was easily avoidable, so I diverted slightly and continued battling the long grass, heading in what I thought was the same direction. It transpires that it is very easy to get turned around on a featureless hill. It was a surprise to see Great Gnat’s Head appearing before me, it should have been somewhere off to my left. It seems we were destined to meet again. At least I was not lost!
I had staggered off course slightly but had gained the height to see a large expanse of boggy ground covering the plain across to Red Lake’s ‘volcano’. I marvelled at the way the huge proportions of the moor, creates the illusion of closeness. I was not intending to cross by this direct route, but there was certainly a pull that made it appear easy, as all the small obstacles were hidden in the vastness. The plain offered an invitation, projecting all the glamour of a summertime meadow. This magical allure, described so well in the myths, entices unsuspecting travellers off course and into pending doom, usually of a sinking nature! I heeded to these warnings and headed back on course.
I rejoined the Abbot’s Way, missing the traversing path around Erme Pits and instead meeting the infant River Erme by its gulley. Whether it was the multiple channels of flowing water reflecting the splendour of the sun, or the long reeds and grasses swaying in the breeze, it was breathtaking. This hollow hid many treasures. The whole area felt secret and so alive. Before my senses had had chance to absorb the wonderment, there was movement to my left. I turned to see a heron, gliding gracefully by before disappearing around the corner of Dry Lake. To say I was dumbfounded would have been an understatement. I did not recognise it as a heron at the time, it was simply a huge bird, cruising through the air without causing disturbance. Everything seemed to still.
I walked on in astonishment towards Dry Lake, only to be met once again by the Heron. It took off from in the reeds, elegantly floating over the water, following the river downstream, leaving behind an extraordinary aura of peace. I do not know how long I stood in awe, the single thought that broke the spell was – Paradise! Followed by tears of joy, that I can only describe as being an influx and outpouring of love. It was like an emotional waterfall, with all the release of water escaping the compression of a gorge. In that moment my heart conceived something my mind can only hope one day to understand.
There was no doubting whatever was happening between my inner being and this space in time, it was paradise. Like meeting God, or finding consciousness perhaps, how can you label what you cannot describe, but a certainty of something unfathomable, powerful, trustworthy, and the source of all I could see. It knew my whole. Creating a perception of life as an elaborate symphony of never-ending motion, of which we are but notes, vibrating together among the many. To feel small in this way hints at freedom, with an invitation to let go of control and just be part of the hum.
Crossing Red Lake with only the climb around it’s mire to go before I would reach the Puffin’ Billy, I paused looking back at the dip in the land where I had been. For a long time, I have looked at this area on the map with curiosity. I had done it! But in the victory, there was also a leaving behind. I felt a love that rekindled faith down there, the nurturing kind that makes you feel safe. I wanted to be able to hold on to that. Such moments pass away and cannot be grasped. Yet here I stood knowing I was not on this journey alone.
There was still much walking to be done before I could celebrate, but I was passed the point where I could be forced to turn back. The Puffin’ Billy, is a long arduous track, you may meet cows, but you cannot get lost. This was my safety net in case of fatigue and brain fog. With that in mind, it was worth the additional kilometres to take lunch by the lake under the ‘volcano’, which in reality is a less romantic disused clay pit and tip. It has its charm, like so many things on the moor, a testament to our ancestry, now reclaimed by nature. As I reached the dismantled tram track, I found that this too had been overtaken by natural forces, namely the overflow from the mires. My attention turned to the sky and saw I had met the clouds from the morning, it would rain soon. At least I had not lugged all these waterproofs across the moor for nothing!
It had been good to rest, but it was a challenge to get moving again. My legs had started to cramp, I was beginning to feel cold, there was drizzle, and the daunting distance ahead did nothing to reassure my tired feet. This track tested my endurance. Aching feet turned to blisters and my stride shrank to wobbly fairy steps. Fatigue set in, to my humour, I was no longer able to calculate the remaining kilometres from my map, coming up with different nonsensical distances. My own judgement proved far more reliable than cognitive calculations. As discomfort turned to pain, I questioned my motives, had I taken on more than I could manage? It was no longer a choice, onward was the only option. It was around this low point that everyday things turned into luxuries. I thought of the clean sheets I put on the bed the previous morning, when stalling my departure. The cleansing sensation of a warm shower. A soft, cosy sofa to flop upon and reflect over all that has been. All these comforts gave the motivation to keep putting one ouchy foot in front of the other.
I came off the Puffin’ Billy to take a more direct route via Hangershell Rock. The short ascent over soft ground was favourable to spending any more time on the brutal gravel track. Following the stone row up the hill cheered my spirits. Hangershell Rock is very familiar to me, this is the last place I wild camped. But memories can be bittersweet, I was walking in this area when the catalytic converter was stolen from my car, causing more anxiety than I knew how to manage. I lost faith both in myself and the world. This walk was about empowerment. Facing fears and pushing limits. It was about finding realness away from all the distractions of general life. It had certainly shown me things beyond what I could have predicted. My heart realised what had been forgotten, even if my mind felt none the wiser. I sheltered from the wind in the arms of the rock, toasting my journey with the small amount of emergency coffee, saved in my flask. I looked to the sky and thought of the heron.
I made it off the moor using the power of jellybeans and water. By the time I reached the bus stop, I had walked just shy of 30km. I was totally spent, to the point I confused a sheep for a wild dog in a fleeting moment before leaving the moor.
Arriving in the town was a sensory overload. Noise, movement, cars, so many things to look out for, they all appeared to be rushing while my world still moved in slow-motion. It was all a little over whelming. The day presented a final gift, as I turned into my street to see the sun setting before me. In a similar way to how a cat lifts its head to meet your stroke, I turned my face to the sun, purring with gratitude. This was the perfect ending to an incredible adventure.