A January afternoon on the high moor

Just for a change I went up onto Dartmoor this afternoon!

I went in search of the herd of Highland cattle which inhabit the Commons between the Warren House Inn, Headland Warren and Hameldown, spent a lot of time searching but to no avail! Facebook tells me they are still there …. somewhere!

Nevertheless found plenty of other things to look at and photograph – here are a few of my pictures.

A Swaledale near Headland Warren

Scotties near Headland Warren

Down the Challacombe Valley

On the drove up to Great Mis Tor

South Devons at a ring-feeder on the in-bye near Postbridge

A new perspective on the Postbridge clapper bridge

Scotch Blackface sheep under a busy Haytor

Saddle Tor via a Lensball

Take 2

Sunset at Saddle Tor

The sheep i.e. the ewes are now back on the Commons having been tupped (mated) by the rams – the Dartmoor farming year keeps turning.

 

My 25 favourite Dartmoor photographs of 2018

As the year comes to an end I thought I would look back at my favourite photographs that I have taken in 2018 on Dartmoor – I think they capture the spirit of the place along with the people who work there and those who enjoy it.

The day the Commons turned green after some rain and the grass started growing – the sheep and cattle go to the Common

Beating the Bounds at Gidleigh Common – Penny Warren and Crispin Alford clean the boundary stone – even the horse is paying attention

A marsh fritillary at Challacombe – a special butterfly at a very special place

Russell Ashford ‘gathering’ his sheep from Buckfastleigh West Common

This quote from James Rebanks – the Lake District hill-farmer and author of the Shepherd’s Life is very appropriate to Dartmoor as well

“Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape. Taking my sheep down those lanes is what people have done here since the land was first settled. That is what these lanes are for, to let the little farmsteads access the mountain grazing. I am walking in the footsteps of my ancestors, and living a life they lived.”

The Reddaways ‘gathering’ their Galloways from South Tawton Common in Belstone

One man and his dog
John Jordan crossing the Teign on Gidleigh Common whilst herding his Galloways – hardcore

A little bit of soft wilding on Lydford Common

Our National Trust 10 Tors Team complete their challenge

Arms Tor across to Bray Tor

A cuckoo at Emsworthy

My friends from the Devon and Exeter Squash and Racketball Club at High Willhays

Sunset at Scorhill on the Solstice with my friend Steph

Kes Tor during the heatwave

The Tolman Stone on the Teign on Gidleigh Common with Dizzy, Nicolas and Annabelle – inappropriate footwear but all was well ….

A Highland cow near Headland Warren

A walk to Wistman’s Wood with friends

Leather Tor from Sheep’s Tor

Stand and Deliver
Widecombe Fair – The Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Ponies: the Dartmoor Hillies Warriors

Swaling on Haytor and Bagtor Common

Lunch during 10 Tors training in the rain in the Forest of Dartmoor

‘Iconic people looking after Iconic places’
Julia Aglionby Director of the Foundation for Common Land

The Gidleigh Commoners – proud people worried about their future and the condition of their Common – too much Western Gorse and Purple Moor Grass (Molinia)

Crispin Alford – a Dartmoor Commoner  who still tends his flocks and herds on horseback

Sheep gathering near Wotter – the quad bike boys

Black a Tor Copse

One of John Cooper’s Herdwicks on Okehampton Common

 

 

Gidleigh in the sunshine

Had a great 12 mile walk today  on Dartmoor today – Fernworthy Forest – Sittaford – Quinton’s Man, Watern Tor, Scorhill, Chagford Common and back to Fernworthy. By accident bumped into John Jordan herding his cattle. Love the tradition and culture of hill-farming – this time John is on a quad bike crossing the Teign at Scorhill on Gidleigh Common…. it’s a hard core life – riding quad bikes on Commons dominated by purple moor grass (Molinia) is simply dangerous… respect ..

Gathering cattle from South Tawton Common

I was out on Belstone Common today when I saw three hill-farmers gathering in their herd of Galloway Cattle. I first spotted them on  South Tawton Common on the slopes of Cosdon Hill, they then crossed the Taw at the ‘horseshoe’ ford and followed the track back to the village of Belstone.

Unfortunately only had my phone with me opposed to an SLR so the the pictures aren’t brilliant but nevertheless I like them and it was a great spectacle to watch.

Crossing the Taw

Back to the Moor Gate

Off the Common now for the winter

And home

Kivells livestock market

I haven’t been to a livestock market since I was a teenager when I used to go to Holsworthy market with my Uncle. Today I went to Kivells market in Exeter on the Marsh Barton Trading Estate. To the non farmer they can appear pretty intimidating.

Listen to the auctioneer

This short clip is of the auctioneer selling a single animal!

The selling of the sheep is much less frenetic

Sheep gathering – Buckfastleigh Common

By law each year all sheep have to be removed from the Commons of Dartmoor to help control ticks – this happens during November. The ewes are also put to the ram – known as tupping. This year on Buckfastleigh Common, Russell Ashford invited the public to come and watch him gather in his sheep. Here are my pictures from the day.

One man and his dog

BBC Spotlight were there to film the gathering

This quote from James Rebanks – the Lake District hill-farmer and author of the Shepherd’s Life is very appropriate to Dartmoor as well

“Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape. Taking my sheep down those lanes is what people have done here since the land was first settled. That is what these lanes are for, to let the little farmsteads access the mountain grazing. I am walking in the footsteps of my ancestors, and living a life they lived.”

Explaining to the public various intricacies of Scotch Blackfaced Sheep

We were also treated to a mini sheep dog trial run by Kenny Watson, a Dartmoor hill-farmer and highly respected shepherd from Postbridge

Hill-farming faces many challenges in the months and years to come – not least because as a result of Brexit the system for paying subsidies to farmers is going to change. Hill-farmers rely on the Basic Payment Scheme and agri-environmental payments as the moors are marginal land but without Commoners the Commons can’t be managed for their ‘public goods’ (wildlife, archaeology, water supply, carbon storage, access and recreation).

This event was a celebration of culture and tradition (tradition on a quad bike)

Thoroughly enjoyable – I suspect in the future we will see more of these types of event. I hope so.

Beating the Bounds of Gidleigh Common

Every 7 years the boundary of Gidleigh Common is walked and the marked boundary stones are re-found and cleaned. 150 people attended and had a pasty and a pint under Wild Tor. The traditional ‘races’ were then held before everyone continued on to Throwleigh. We started at 10am and finished at 6pm. A celebration of Commons at a time when they have never been under greater threat. Here are some of my photographs and thoughts from yesterday.

Apparently Gidleigh has one of the the smallest areas of in-bye on Dartmoor but has one of the largest Commons. Today there are just four active Commoning families left – the largest on the Common being the Jordans. Here are John and Robert Jordan at the Kes Tor moorgate.

Cleaning the boundary stone

An important social event for the Commoners and the Parish

Up to the Stone Rows – almost enveloped in Purple Moor Grass …. (Molinia)

Onto the Standing Stone – with Chagford Common beyond and Fernworthy Forest in the distance

Some cattle and Robert Jordan

Crispin Alford – to quote Julia Aglionby from the Foundation for Common Land ‘iconic people looking after iconic places’.

Crossing the North Teign

And up towards Watern Tor – note the two most common plants in the picture Purple Moor Grass and Western Gorse!

Robert Jordan cleaning a boundary stone

I’ve been to Watern Tor many times before but never seen it like this!

The gap in Watern Tor is called Thirlestone – to mark the bounds a pony is lead through

Crispin Alford at Watern

The Jordans

Coming down from Watern

The picnic under Wild Tor – the walkers being joined by 4 trailer loads of non walkers

After the pasty and the pint we were treated to dog racing – Emma Cunis and Marylou North

Various people racing events – not everybody made it!

2018 or 1960 or ……  Tradition runs deeps.

And a three-legged race

After lunch – onwards back to Throwleigh

Quite a scene!

Riding through the Western Gorse

The ‘key’ Gidleigh Commoners – proud people worried about their future and the condition of their Common – something we should all be worried about too – is it time we again trusted ‘local knowledge’ and facilitated the hill-farmers to help sort the Molinia and gorse mess out which the English Nature and Natural England prescriptions created?

John Jordan

Crispin Alford

Crispin Alford and Penny Warren cleaning a marker on Kennon Hill – history in the making. I love the fact that the horse paying attention too!

And back down to Throwleigh – look at all that gorse – oh my goodness.

A celebration of culture and tradition…..

The big question for me is when the Bounds of Gidleigh Common are walked in 7 years time what will the Common be like? It will have had to deal with Brexit, prescriptions and rules from Natural England, atmospheric pollution and more climate change … I worry. Will it still be dominated by Purple Moor Grass and extensive areas of gorse?  Will John, Robert, Crispin, Penny, Marylou, David and Steven still be there?

Think about it.

Without Commoners the Commons can’t be managed for their ‘public goods’.

It is time to get our collective act together – time is running out.

It is time for some real leadership but from who?

Natural England? Dartmoor Commoners Council? Dartmoor National Park Authority?

Why not all of you …..

Please …. someone…..