The wind comes up sharply as we climb towards Hookney Tor on a deeply ravined path hidden by the lush man-height bracken that jumps up in midsummer, crowding out the grazing --and the view. Puffing a little with the incline, we reach this enormously impressive granite beacon, which looks either like a giant's building blocks or a giant pile of poop, depending on which way you look at it.
Dutifully climbing it to look across the valley, the county, and possibly the nation and the world (I think I can see Russia from here) and managing not to be blown off the highest rock, we trudge on to the next surmountable mound of stone, Hambledown Tor. Dartmoor pony foals cavort goofily across the hillside, annoying their mothers but pleased with themselves.
We can also see (and definitely hear) a long line of teen-aged walkers carrying very new full packs, headed our way. On closer inspection they are also wearing crackling new rain trousers and jackets. It's not raining. Bedrolls on their backs and plastic map covers dangling around their necks, they look moderately miserable.
Climbing down to make room for the first of their limber legion, we meet several pairs on our way up. They walk in a very loose interpretation of a school crocodile, two by two.
One of the crocodiles (girls) tell us they are on a school outing and are being forced to walk the whole (bleeping) Two Moors Way in four days. They are not happy with how Day 1 has thus far progressed. They ask us how far it is to the next (bleeping) Tor, and despite our encouraging, "Not far," they announce (colorfully) that they are not climbing another (bleeiping) Tor. They swing left and downhill from the main trail, ditching the group that stretches back along the path behind them. The kids already on top of the Tor hoot and holler, their voices echoing along the moor.
We've wandered the Two Moors Way (which connects inhospitable Dartmoor with inhospitable Exmoor) several times now, and not just because we can start (or end) at the ever-hospitable ever-burning log fire at the Warren House Inn. There's something incredibly inviting and ancient about this tract of moor. Once, on a bright spring day, we heard a cuckoo in the trees by the old mine and despite the Brits pronouncing it cuck--oo, the one we heard definitely said koo koo, no small trick.
The great rocky tors are of course what we all come to see in Dartmoor. Some hikers "bag" tors the way they do bens in Scotland, madly running up and down as many as they can in a 24 hour period. Tour busses pull up to the easy- looking access to Hay Tor on a regular basis, and walkers can visit the less accessible tors via a network of paths which intertwine with the Two Moors Way. The tors draw us to them; marking where we are, where we were-- affording us a chance to climb them so that we can see the far distance--and more tors.
Grimspound Bronze Age settlement sits neatly and forever just one side of the hill between Hambledown and Hookney Tors. A meadow-sized stone circle surrounds 24 stone huts which housed very short people here when the weather was warmer, about 1300 B.C. Tom wanders off to sit in one of the circular stone foundations and I plunk myself down higher up the hill in what I assume is the chief's house, admiring what was surely a chief's view and noting the ongoing arrival of sixteen year olds. Those who have already reached Hookney Tor are now doing what teenagers do when they climb a pile of rocks,and I wonder idly where their grownups are. The girl duo short- cutters are no longer visible when a teacher-type clad in neat cargo shorts whizzes by hauling his own heavy backpack, and sprints tor-wards in admirable leaps.
A few moments later his female counterpart pops up near me in my little hut and politely asks if I would like her to snap (my) photo. Caught off guard I say thanks but not really, I'm just hanging out here for a while. I like this house and its view and have come to appreciate its setting tucked in to the hill, away from the wind. I ask if she is with the school group and when she nods yes, I think I'd better, teacher-to-teacher, rat on the two escapees.
She very accurately describes them to me; one dark hair wearing the map, the other dark hair, wearing the attitude. When I say, Yes M'aam that's them, she sighs, thanks me and runs to head them off at the pass, telling me over her shoulder that she is keen not to lose any students on the first day out. Running impressively easily with a full pack on strong leg, she heads across the moor in hot pursuit of the scoundrels.
I rock back in my mysterious little round house and wonder what it was like to be
nearly grown around here 3000 years ago. After a while I get lonely and go join Tom in his little house where we both sit for awhile reflecting on life, the past, rocks, and teenagers. When you're sitting in what is left of a very small hut on a barren hillside, in a very small village which ceased to exist an incomprehensibly distant time in the past, even the non believers (Tom) can sense those other lives.
We watch companionably as the last of the stragglers catch up to the larger school group and disappear over the horizon. Taking a purposely different track than the school group, we head back to the log fire at Warren House. Climbing up the last long hill, we hear a lamb plaintively baaing from one of the bracken ravines, and hope it has the good sense to find its way out.