I set my alarm for 5.30am this morning so that I could be saddled up and riding out towards the moor by 6.15am. An early start means avoiding the twin pests of traffic and flies – and very likely enjoying the ride in complete solitude. A mid-summer morning means that as we clip clop down the lanes, the smell of honeysuckle pervades the air before the early cool gives way to the heat of another blazing hot day. The lane passes woods to the right and pasture to the left with a solitary red deer from the herd that lives in the wood grazing on grass that is meant for cows. An old farm track runs between the old and news A30s in this part of West Devon and I can hear the hum of traffic from the busy dual carriageway as we trot along the silent track, rabbits hopping out of our way as we pass.
We head up onto the moor at Sourton, past the tiny, 14th century church and through the gate to the moor, my cob obediently waiting for me to unlatch it then walking round it and pausing patiently for me to close it.
Normally we ride a loop around Sourton Tors, cantering up the grassy track to the top where we pause to gaze out at a still misty view that stretches from Devon to Bodmin Moor beyond. But today, I want to go somewhere new so we strike out east towards the wilderness of the high moorland passing a dog walker as we start to stride out. “Aren’t we lucky to have this,” he says as we pass within earshot. “Life is pretty good when a day starts like this,” I reply, smiling at the brief moment of shared joy in this wild landscape.
We ride through a punchbowl with Branscombe’s Loaf to our right, on to Shelstone Tor, with the West Okement River below. It’s beautiful and peaceful and we pause here to allow my horse to graze and for me to reflect on how lucky I am to be standing here at this exact moment that is absolutely perfect. Birdsong sounds around us as a few sheep munch away nonchalantly, my horse tears the long grass, grateful for the chance to snack while patches of common cotton grass wave in the gentle summer breeze.
We head back towards Sourton Tors, resuming our usual habit of cantering to the top before heading off towards Sourton again, enjoying the stunning views of Lake Down and the steep hill below us as we follow the well-worn path towards the moor gate.
Coming off the moor, the rush hour traffic on the A386, which we need to cross, is in full flow. It’s like a rude awakening- a reminder that while we’ve been enjoying the total immersion in nature on the moor, most other people have been busy getting on with their working day, rushing along to reach their destination. Fortunately, there’s soon a break in the traffic and we trot across the busy road, admiring the colour and character of the famous Highwayman Inn as we pass. We start the ride back home where a good breakfast is waiting for both of us – another reward for an early start.
“Liz Parks is a freelance writer and PR who lives on the edge of Dartmoor with her partner, toddler and horses. She has just started a travel blog www.mabeladventures.co.uk about travels in a Land Rover campervan and maintains her sanity by escaping to the moor on horseback whenever she can.”