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Outside though it is fine weather for baying hounds for the outlook is bleak and a cutting wind drives the flint hard rain. Oh such a cold and lonely place. After absorbing the ambience of the inn and enjoying our drink we take up the path again skirting the edge of Bodmin Moor not wishing to meet its mystery in bad weather. Somewhere out there is Dozmary Pool where Sir Bedivere threw Excalibur after King Arthur was mortally wounded. In that bottomless mere, perhaps in the tunnel connecting it to the sea, lurks the Lady of the Lake who has reclaimed Excalibur and guards it for all time.
We struggle on heads bent to the wind. The wind plays tag with my hair as we follow the high open lanes giving wide views of Rough Tor and we reach Davidstowe Woods and an abandoned airfield at about 7.00pm.
In 1844, 18-year-old Charlotte Dymond worked as a milkmaid at Lower Penhale Farm on Bodmin Moor. She enjoyed the attentions of the young men in the village. This angered a young man named Matthew Weeks, who worked as a labourer on the same farm as Charlotte.
On Sunday, April 14th 1844 Matthew asked Charlotte to go for a walk with him, and she accepted. Matthew decided to take Charlotte to Lanlavery Rock, on the far slopes of Rough Tor. As they ambled along together Charlotte teased Matthew about another boy she liked. Unbeknown to Charlotte, Matthew’s rage was building and he was carrying a knife.
Matthew led Charlotte to a gate leading into a farm field. What happened next was later described by Matthew: "I told her I had seen her in a situation with some young man that was disgraceful to her. She then said;
'I shall do as I like. I shall have nothing more to do with you.' I took out my knife and then replaced it. But on her repeating the phrase, I made a cut at her throat from behind. She immediately fell backwards, the blood gushing out in a large stream, and exclaimed while falling, 'Lord have mercy on me.' While she was on the ground I made a second but much larger cut though she was almost dead at the time. After standing over her body about four or five minutes, I lifted up one of her arms and it fell to the ground as if she was dead. I then pushed her body a little further down the bank. I afterwards took her bonnet, shawl, shoes and pattens and covered them up in a turf pit. Her gloves and bag I put into my pocket. In the road I threw away the knife."
At the end of April, Charlotte's body was discovered. Matthew Weeks was tried for her murder, sentenced to death, and hanged, on August 9th 1844. Shortly afterwards, local people paid for a monument to be erected on the spot where Charlotte's body had lain, with this inscription: "Monument erected by private subscription in memory of Charlotte Dymond who was murdered by Matthew Weeks Sunday April 14th 1844".
Charlotte haunts the cold and windswept place where she died, and the area around her grave in Davidstowe Churchyard. She has also often been seen at Lower Penhale Farm.
From our hill top vantage point we look out and around over the dismal countryside its colours dimmed and muted beneath a glowering sky. We can see that here there is no hope of accommodation. Oh it is so so cold. My hands are red and swollen and still my leg aches. The rather terse sign reads “Agricultural common - private land. No camping, fires, motorbikes, racing, testing, flytipping, trading, dogs” - that covers just about everything. So where are we to go, night is drawing in? The woods offer some shelter and
We awake to the coldest morning I have ever known, the tent is crisp with ice and the world outside is blanketed with a thick freezing fog. We pack up our kit and I struggle to move my hands to cook scrambled eggs. “Oh I wish I had some gloves, nobody told me it would be this cold in Spring in England” I say. “It’s bloody cold enough to freeze the nuts off a brass monkey, but look at this, it’s great” Philip replies. His eyes scan the cracked tarmac of the old airfield and he strides off in search of war relics. His excited exclamations come back muffled through the mist as his mind recreates the past. “I’d love to know what happened here” he says “I bet there are some stories”. The sun filters weakly through the hanging mist drawing long filmy shadows from the trees and Philip’s approaching form. I shiver. Why are men so entranced with war? Surely it is not exciting but a depressing waste of life and agonisingly sad. “Eggs are ready” I call.
RAF Davidstow Moor opened on the 1 October 1942. Situated on Bodmin Moor at an altitude of 970ft. The wind swept base was home to 19 Grp. Coastal Command.
In 1943 612 Squadron flew Wellingtons from the base.
Davidstow Moor was breifly home to RCAF 404 (Buffalo) Squadron who flew Beaufighters from there from the 8th May until the 1st July 1944.
No 524 Squadron reformed at Davidstow Moor on 7 April 1944, undertaking the maritime reconnaissance role.
Equipped with Wellingtons 524 undertook patrols to locate E-boats, which were then attacked by other squadrons.
The squadron relocated to the East Coast in July 1944.
The air base was used by the Americans and Canadians for training in the run up to D-Day and was visited by General Eisenhower during 1944 In 1952 a 2.6 mile Motor Racing track was opened on the site. Meetings were badly affected by the weather and attracted low crowd numbers.The track hosted a Formula One race in May 1955, at the last race meeting to be held there. Today the site is derelict, the runways are used by light aircraft.
Our coats are dusted with ice and our faces and hands frozen. It is an effort to move your mouth to talk, so tight and cold are the muscles. 12 miles to Launceston. Quick steps soon warm our bodies and Philip jokes as we laugh and bounce our way through the cold morning. Philip has an uncanny knack of turning a difficult situation into fun. I smile at him to let him know I appreciate his wit and humour.
Launceston dates back to Celtic times and is the Ancient Capital of Cornwall. The town is dominated by a castle built by Brian de Bretagne, the first Normal Earl of Cornwall, in the 11th Century. It is the only walled town in Cornwall and was once the site of the Royal Mint.
Our room in the White Horse Inn is basic but warm and although it is only 3pm we get straight into bed to warm our bones. My leg has improved markedly. I am developing a new theory that if you have an ache or pain, you “walk it away”. It seems to work for everything so far.
Philip can hardly bear to wriggle his feet so he doesn’t want to move. I seek out a supermarket and replenish our supplies adding some treats to cheer him. Today was a test. I feel we have reached the pain barrier and from here our strength will grow and our stride lengthen.
Clean hair, clean clothes and revived spirits to take on the road today but not much company for us other than a few pheasants and a multitude of rabbits. Still very very cold and a wind that cuts like a razor. Unseasonable they say but to us, just plain cold.
We chat along the way, happy and laughing, our feet eating up the miles along the quiet country lanes and our hearts happy.
Philip’s feet have recovered this morning and it seems that reorganising my pack has done the trick with my leg, it is improving. The bruise is beginning to fade and the pain is easing. This alone accounts for a great improvement of attitude. “There are no problems, only solutions” Philip says. The way is forward.
We stop to make a hot chocolate near a thatched cottage by a stone bridge, its arches curving over a small, fast flowing river. Perched on the old stones, possibly placed there by the Romans, we smile at each other feeling very satisfied with life.
Soon we cross the Tamar River and stop to take photos on the old, stone, Druxton Bridge.
The Tamar River has formed a natural boundary between Devon and Cornwall since the 14 8th Century when it divided the Cornish Celts from the Saxons of Wessex. The true border, however, does deviate from the River’s course. The crossing of Druxton Bridge brings our feet onto a Devonshire lane. We have now walked one county, this is an achievement, now we feel we are going places. Yahoo!! It may not be good to look at the map to see how far we have yet to go but we do and it is exciting to think of all the places ahead that will become real and hold adventures for us. No longer names on a map but earth underfoot and sunshine to the senses. This is the challenge, it is what lies ahead.
We walk mostly on winding, up and down metalled lanes today except for a long stint through a forest and over a river up through a farm. Our toil is relieved by a stop at the Visitor’s Centre at Roadford Reservoir where we have a big pot of tea and some respite from the cold wind outside. Sitting at the table next to us are a husband and wife and their young son. They speak not a word to each other throughout their rather lavish tea. The air between them is colder than the wind outside. The boy fingers his food, his eyes downcast.
Then they leave. I reflect on their situation feeling sad for the boy. He deserves better I think. Life’s stories, they are everywhere, even in a teashop by a reservoir.
The deep valleys and tall hills of Devon, the misshapen whitewashed thatched cottages and the richness of the countryside bring change to our days. Not a B & B in sight and no camping anywhere. Villages are few and far between and those we meet have few facilities.
Everything changes. We move into a new county and the countryside, the stone and style of the cottages changes, the people change, the accent changes and even the light and colour are different. It is a richer landscape in every sense.
Around 6pm we take a bridle trail up a hill by a very large farm. Huge trees line the way and everything is well cared for and has the look of the wealthy. We knock on the farmhouse door and ask the landowner if we can put a tent up. “No, no, it is much too cold, you can sleep in the barn,” he beams. The barn turns out to be a converted barn, now a games room and bliss and blessed luck, it is heated. We cook some soup and then roll out our mats and prepare for sleep. The farmer comes and says he will leave his back door open so we can use the toilet and shower. There are such nice people in the world, aren’t there? Trust and faith. To Philip this is a rediscovery of a goodness that he knows is there somewhere but he has not seen for a while. Philip has his own business and it is all ‘cut and thrust’ as they say. As for me, I have changed my mind about the landowners. I give myself the firm advice not to listen to others but judge by experience.
Here it is wonderful to be in from the cold and outside it is snowing. Yes it really is snowing!! During the night we wake to the screams of cows calving. The lights are on in the big barn and the farmer is busy.
Still snowing!! We wake to feathery flakes falling out of a heavy grey-white sky. My, it is going to be cold outside. England is wearing its ancient fickleness for uncertainty of season with pride.
We munch through our bowl of bran (got to keep healthy on the inside too) and sip our steaming tea. A big thank you, most well thought, we say to the kind farmer and we pick up the trail on the bridleway once more. Philip mumbles and grumbles as he skirts a wide icy pool of secret muddy depth. “That pool is a mini skating rink” he says.
Sky above me is not so far above, but leaden and low. I feel I could reach into it for a handful of snow. Today we have decided to make a half-day and have only 10 miles to walk to Hatherleigh. The hedges are changing. More flowers are opening to Spring each day. The daffodils’ bright heads are now drooping and tinged with brown like a worn out ball gown. We see masses of softly sun coloured primroses peeping out all over, airy drifts of unscented mayweed, petite bright spots of yellow celendines, tiny nodding blue and white violets and the odd bluebell showing its bright sapphire bells.
Hedges are intriguing, massed strings of woodland, stretched around green patches of land offering a habitat to wildlife and flowers amid the commerce of farming. There is no symmetry – all is ad hoc and this gives such charm to the landscape. Higgle de piggledy they spread, over the hills and far away. In the Bronze Age strips of woodland were left after land clearing to mark boundaries but historians claim that new hedgerows were first planted in the 1300’s. You can calculate the age of a hedge by the number of species since the first planting - one for every hundred years.
We feel so much stronger now and the aches and pains of the first week have disappeared.
Today’s walking is extremely hilly with some appealing villages, Devon villages of malformed, age warped thatched cottages and winding narrow streets. The soft hills of Devon, surreal in their perfection, roll away around us as we climb the green. Philip wonders aloud, “I believe Devonian people have genetically stronger legs, they must have.” Our spirits are high, the sun has emerged to shine away the snowy clouds and we love the land around us. We feel as chatty and bright as the bubbling noisy streams we cross.
We are staying in the yellow Bridge Inn by the River Lew in Hatherleigh. Such a pleasant town with lovely pubs. Hatherleigh has been a market town for over one thousand years and still holds a market every Tuesday.
“Let’s go for a pint”, Philip says and we stroll the streets in the blue shifting shadows of the afternoon discovering a lovely town with stylish pubs and a good local brew. No-one speaks to us and we ourselves are pensive in our weariness.