After three nights near the Pembrokeshire Coast in Wales, which was breathtaking, we’re back in Tavistock, Devon, just a gray stone’s throw away from the moors — specifically to Dartmoor National Park. There, on 368 square miles of wild, brooding land, free-roaming ponies, cattle and sheep cause roadblocks on lanes that restrict cars to a 40 mph speed limit; that’s pushing it when you’re an American tallying up horn honks from English drivers so used to these kinds of roads.
Tourists, and locals alike on the moors, pull their vehicles over into parking areas where ice cream trucks serve “iced lollies,” vanilla cones and other cold treats. Lots of folks were out on Sunday, a sunny, 70-ish afternoon perfect for hiking the hills. Their mission, once they reach the top of the grassy areas, is to scale the tors, immense outcroppings of rock piled up here and there as far as the eye can see.
Many of the huge boulders look as if some giant tyke from prehistoric times neatly stacked them in rows. Then becoming bored with his play, he scattered his granite toys like a 2-year-old flings his blocks, sending smaller rocks flying every which way, embedding their sharp edges in the spongy soil.
When you walk the thick grass around them it feels as if you’re treading on a bed of marshmallows.
When night approaches, fog descends on the moors — something I haven’t seen, but heard about on our last trip here, information offered from a volunteer rescue worker who helps find those reported missing on a landscape made famous by Sherlock Holmes and Jane Eyre.
We scaled the Cox Tor on Sunday, a tumble of boulders not far from Tavistock, pulling into a parking lot next to Willie’s ice cream truck. We didn’t succumb to the temptation. That was a first. The tor didn’t look too far away, and the hill to reach it appeared to be a gentle slope, not the least bit daunting.
Halfway up the long climb, puffing like old warhorses, we realized the distance had been deceiving, as had the incline. But we plodded on, the view beckoning to us on when we turned to look back, a river or lake in the distance and miles of patchwork farmland, crops giving it varied colors and hedges marking the field boundaries.
Scaling the Cox Tor was worth the trouble. We were rewarded with unforgettable scenery in all directions. As we looked around, we spotted model gliders zipping along on the stiff wind, a breeze that had turned brisk with the climb. Three men were operating the gliders on the hill-face, making use of the updraft to launch their crafts.
“It’s called hill gliding. You have it in America too,” one of the men said, when his glider came to rest not far from where we were standing. We never learned his name but had a pleasant time talking with him about an avocation he’s enjoyed since he was a boy using glue and light wood to build his models.
The one he was flying that day had a wingspan of 16-plus feet and was made of fiberglass. He’d crashed a few gliders in the past, but had been using this particular model for 12 years.
“Perhaps your good luck is coming from the pilot’s expertise,” I said. “He has to have a name, right?”
“Of course. It’s George, English you know,” the man said. “But he has no feet,” he added, pulling the smartly uniformed pilot out of the glider to show us, and pointing out the wires under George’s seat, wires that take their direction from a battery pack and control box the man operates.
From the ground he steers the glider and raises and lowers flaps on the wings and tail. It takes quite a lot of skill, Spark said later, but the English gent wasn’t the least bit full of himself. He was informative and interested in what had brought us to Great Britain.
While we were talking, another Englishman came panting up the hill, his Border collie on a leash, loping ahead of him and not looking the least done out. The two men knew each other. After we’d been introduced to Mickey the pooch, and talked a bit about dogs and more about planes, we bid them goodbye, happy we hadn’t been too shy to strike up a conversation.
It’s these kinds of interactions, these people stories that make traveling every bit as rewarding as seeing world famous sites. That conversation on the tor won’t soon be forgotten.