The Adventures in Russell-Land Part V – Wandering Dartmoor
The continuing exploits of two Americans, lost in the moors of south-western England, expecting at any moment to come across a ghostly Hound… (Click on the photos to enlarge.)
The next morning we were treated to a wonderful breakfast in Baring-Gould’s study, a narrow room with a massive fireplace in the middle of one of the long wall, and parts of three walls lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves filled by some of the books left from Gould’s collection. The tall leaded windows at the end of the room gathered the light and made the long narrow space cozy, and pleasing in the morning sun.
The night before we had discussed with the young man who served as host, our desire to venture onto Dartmoor, and he had suggested we lunch at the Prince Hill Hotel, almost in the center of the moor. He booked the table for us, and printed out driving instructions. If anyone gives you driving instructions to Dartmoor, accept that you will probably become lost, as it seems there are few signs at streets and what signs there are don’t have actual street names on them. The side streets are totally unmarked, and the signposts at the larger intersections merely direct you to an area, or something that requires local knowledge to understand.
We pulled out of the lane from Lewtrenchard,and made the first turn with no problem, but then we could not find the next street listed on our directions. We had decided to try the “faster route” as we were given two, and the faster one looked on the map to be easier, but looks can be deceiving. In fact we did not find any of the streets listed in our directions. The next few hours were frustrating, and at times quite hilarious. We tried to use Phillida (our Nav system) and she kindly directed us down a farm track just wide enough for our car. Unfortunately the sides of the vehicle were being brushed by weeds, and this caused the proximity sensors to beep for a good twenty minutes while Merrily masterfully negotiated this too narrow pathway with its towering ten feet hedgerows and stone fences on both sides of the car, all the time eloquently telling the beepers to shut up. There were no more than a few inches to spare on each side of the car the entire time we were on that path. When we finally emerged, we both were exhausted from the strain, and laughing at the entire situation.
Note: If you are going to become lost on the moor, make sure your traveling companion has a good sense of humor, and nerves of steel.
We eventually stopped a pair of hikers, who looked cold and damp as it was now overcast and misty, and they showed us where we were on their map, at least they thought it was where we were, as they admitted later in the conversation that they were lost. This led us to speculate that even with Holmes’ large-scale maps most people would have trouble finding their way on the moor. Still determined to lunch at this hotel, we tried several roads, were welcomed – by signs – on to and off of the moor a few times, until we eventually found Tavistock, but it was market day in the town and the roads were clogged with visitors. Not a situation conducive to parking and asking for directions.
We pressed onward, and stopped at a pub in Merrivale (actually the pub was Merrivale) and asked if we were anywhere near the Prince Hill Hotel. They assured us if we kept on the same road we just couldn’t miss the turning for the place. They were wrong. We found ourselves in Two Bridges, and knew we had gone too far so we again asked for directions and were told to go back three miles and there would be a wooden sign on the road at the turning (there wasn’t anything).
Back and forth we went on this road, turning around at the t-intersection each time, as we had been told that was too far, until we finally stopped at a Dartmoor information station and asked a gentleman there, who actually knew where the Prince Hill Hotel was, and he directed us to backtrack, turn left at the t-intersection we had passed three times, and we found the Prince Hill Hotel within five minutes. Of course we were 45 minutes later for our luncheon reservations, but they fed us anyway.
By now the mist was turning into fog and Dartmoor was treating us to a cold, damp and desolate vision that would set anyone’s nerves on edge for fear of hearing the pounding footfalls and bone-chilling howl of a gigantic hound. It seemed Dartmoor was displaying exactly the atmosphere necessary to satisfy anyone who wants to “experience” the moor of Conan Doyle’s story.
As you drive the narrow two lane roads (there are actually very few roads that cross Dartmoor) you are struck by just how isolated and wild the moor truly is, even in summer. We saw few cars, fewer people, and just sheep and ponies, and these animals seemed to huddle in clumps by the side of the road. It took little imagination to speculate that the animals were pleading for someone to rescue them from this horrible place. It may have been just a fancy, but the manner in which they hunched forlornly by the road did gave one the impression they were begging for rescue – either that, or they were enjoying the heat from the road and it was pleasure I was seeing in their eyes – hard to tell with sheep, and ponies.
After our much delayed luncheon, we opted to not test the fates further, and go looking for the prison, but instead to take the more direct route (but longer on the map) home. That brought us back to the A 30 road we had traveled from Exeter the day before, and then went around the perimeter of the moor to Lewtrenchard. The further from the moor we travelled, the clearer the weather became. The mists slowly lifted, and the sun was bright and warm at the inviting manor house when we arrived. Being once again in the sunlight, it seemed our sojourn on the moor was somehow unreal, something imagined, and the fog and penetrating cold we experienced nothing but imagination. But it was not, and we were only too happy to take our Devon cream tea in the front parlor of Lewtrenchard later that afternoon. A strong cup of tea, and a stiff drink are advisable if you are go’n up on the moor, particularly if you have dodgy directions, and your vehicle has a quirky Nav system and side sensors.