Our weeks have now settled into a pattern which involves a lot of driving up and down the country in order to spend time with my father. Normally we make a flying visit to Devon but this week we stayed longer and took a day in the middle of the visit to walk, in the morning, and to visit younger son and his family in the afternoon and overnight.
It was a cold bright morning with an edge to the breeze and a milky light.
We parked high on the edge of Dartmoor and walked immediately out onto the moor, heading for Cox Tor. The grass was bleached to straw by winter and everywhere stones were piled on either side, crusted with lichen. Underfoot the grass was springy to walk on. Blackfaced sheep grazed, their rumps marked red by the ram, not yet ready to lamb. They are a hardy breed to lamb up here.
The tors rise up in piles of stone. They look man made but they are not, although the stone is piled like liquorice cakes.
It is extraordinary to think that Dartmoor, like the Clwydian hills where we live, is a place of ancient habitation. People have lived on Dartmoor for five thousand years or more, since the Bronze Age at around 2300 BC to 700 BC. All over Dartmoor are standing stones or menhirs, stone circles and stone hut circles. The Iron Age which followed, running from 700 BC to the arrival of the Romans in the first century AD, has left the remains of hillforts. Dartmoor and our own high hills are empty today and they can feel desolate and inhospitable. To the twenty first century mind it is hard to see why people would have chosen to live in these high places when there is softer, gentler land close by. It is hard to imagine that when the country was heavily forested it was the lower lands that were hunting grounds and places of darkness and danger and the higher places which provided refuge and safety, the chance to build settlements which could be defended against your enemies and the chance to see your enemies coming!
There are tarns and streams in these high places and more life than you would expect. All morning we walked under lark song.
The moors are dotted with Dartmoor ponies, stocky and shaggy in their winter coats. In the village on the edge of the moor where my sister lives the ponies move into the village in winter, crowding the lanes, grazing on the green, invading gardens if the gates are left open. This pony was surprisingly friendly and unphased by close human contact. Dartmoor feels like undiscovered country to me. I hope we get to explore a bit more.
And at home again today I have been splitting snowdrops. This is such an easy thing to do and makes a real difference to how quickly snowdrops spread. For the last five years I have been counting my snowdrops every year (I know, I know, I need to get a life) and I have seen them steadily increase. The first year in which I counted was 2009. It is not the most scientific process in the world and I am pretty sure that I miss things and miscount from time to time but I use the same approach every year. In 2009 there were 725 snowdrops in the garden. That year I split the larger clumps and spread them about and by 2010 there were 1094. When the flowers were going over but the foliage still green I split them again and by February 2011 when I counted towards the end of the season the numbers had jumped to 1480. Then I had a couple of years when I didn't do the splitting on the same scale and 2012 produced 1486, followed by 1580 in 2013. I decided to return to splitting them up and moving them around in 2013 and was rewarded in 2014 by a great rush of growth to 2693! Last year I didn't get round to it and this year's count was 2504. So this year I am lifting all the larger clumps and pulling them apart. The bulbs are then planted out in groups of seven to ten, still with their foliage and some of the last of the flowers.
So next year I hope there will be snowdrops all along the drive, washing out in a wave of foam from the base of the side garden wall and pushing up amongst the hellebores down by the native trees. And it is becoming clear that I need more crocuses...