Moors dominate the landscape of so many English novels. But it seemed like the only words ever used to convey this foreign setting were “desolate” and “windswept”. As a Canadian, this didn’t give me a lot to go on. So when Tim suggested that we head out to the Bodmin Moor (featured in Daphne Du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn”), I hoped I could add few more adjectives to the description and be better able to understand this mythic setting.
Because we are travelling without a car, our choices are dictated by the schedules and routes of trains and coaches. The town of Minions is a little over a half hour away by local bus and as it is right on the edge of Bodmin Moor it was a good place to start our moor adventure.
Minons sits 1000 feet up from the sea level, so the bus ride from Looe was steep and twisty. The town was prosperous in 1863 when Captain Jack Clymo discovered a vein of copper ore. Over 4000 people were employed in the mines. But todayall that remains of the industry are over 20 derelict mines, dotting the moors. The town consists of two shops and small group of cottage homes.
The bus driver let us off with the reminder that there is only one bus out of Minions, coming through 4 hours later. And not to miss it, unless we wanted to spend the night in the moors.
The minute that we walked into Bodmin Moor, I realized that the first and best word to describe a moor was no other than “desolate”. And with the wind whipping our faces so hard that our words were snatched before they were heard, it was definitely “windswept”. Startlingly cold, spongy underfoot, with small tufts of gorse, it is the first place I have been in England that is totally open and flat. Your eyes play tricks on you. It is impossible to tell how far away or large the landmarks are. A 2-foot high marker can look like a distant tower. A slight roll in the foreground persuades you it is the edge of a non-existent river valley. I felt a slight panic at the idea of getting lost, and watched constantly for any markers I could see.
The Bodmin Moor has been a huge source of granite throughout human history. These days, it is primarily used for grazing ponies, sheep and cattle. The high area where we were hiking is dominated by “tors” (rocky peaks) and “clitter” (granite strewn slopes) and an exciting layering of history, both geological and human.
As we walked into the moor, the first thing we saw were the “Hurlers”, 3 Bronze Age stone circles, with 35 m diameters, grouped together.
Legend has it that men were turned to stone for playing “hurlers”, a Cornish game, on the Sabbath. A ghastly fate – I am not sure that even as a rock I would want to have to stand out on the Moor for eternity.
From the Hurlers, we walked up to the Cheesewring atop Stowe’s Hill. This precarious looking pile of rocks is a natural formation from erosion during the ice age. They are astonishing natural “sculptures” of the granite. They are an unnerving presence in the landscape.
“If a man dreams of a great pile of stones in a nightmare, he would dream of such a pile as the Cheesewring.” Wilkie Collins.
We decided that it was time to find somewhere a bit out of the wind to eat our picnic lunch, so we headed to one of the derelict 19thcentury mines, and managed to find a corner in which to eat.
Of course there wasn’t much protection when the rain started. Although it was really just a light misting, we decided that we wanted nothing more than a cup of tea and headed back to Minions to warm up.
We had a little over an hour before the bus, so we wanted to try to see Trethevy Quoit, about a mile away. We have a good ordinanace map, but not everything is marked so we followed directions from the proprietor at the tea shop at Minions. We left Minions at a brisk clip, passing “Long Tom” or Longstone, a medieval wayside cross by the side of the road, and headed along the country lanes.
We were determined to get to Trethevy Quoit, but knew that we had to get back to “Commonmoor”, just outside of Minions, to catch the bus. But we weren’t entirely sure where either Trethevy Quoit or Commonmoor were, and it was starting to rain. Panic began to set in as we ran. “Just one more corner. Just around this bend?” And suddenly, behind a couple of quite ordinary houses, was this huge 9-foot high stone structure.
Trethevy Quoit is a Neolithic portal burial chamber. Originally covered by a mound, it consists of 5 standing stones, topped by a massive (20 ton) capstone. One of the supporting stones has fallen into the chamber, and the capstone has since slide onto an angle, but it is remarkably in tact. It is thought that the Quoit was used as a burial mound or portal to the other world.
It was worth the run and the panic. And clearly the luck of the ancients was with us because we were late for the bus, but the bus was also, unusually, late and we caught it with 2 minutes to spare.
Back in Looe, we capped our day of Neolithic adventures by a night at the Jolly Sailor pub, just down the street from our cottage. The Jolly Sailor is Looe’s oldest pub and has been going since 1516. A group of locals assembled with guitars, penny whistles, accordions and mandolins to sing songs of love, protest, sea faring and adventure. Singing along, pint in hand, we felt a bit of Cornwall had definitely entered into our souls.