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maanantai 22. lokakuuta 2012

Fucking It on Dartmoor et environs

Due to popular request (at least from Jill <3), this blog entry will be in English.

"Fucking It" refers to a funny book I got from Waterstone's, my favourite British book heaven. The book is called "f**k it - the ultimate spiritual way", written by John C. Parkin, and is about, well, saying Fuck It to all the things that give us pain or stress - to everything we have been clinging to and trying to control, and letting life come as it comes. Exactly what my life's been about for the past 2 years or so.

As there has been very little room in my head lately for anything that's not related to Sherlock, the natural consequence was to book a trip to Dartmoor. I love to travel to places of significance, whether they be mythical or symbolic or just featured in some book or movie that's caught my attention. And Dartmoor is, of course, the legendary place where Sherlock and John investigate the famous "The Hounds of Baskerville" case.

Now, where to stay when one is about to visit Dartmoor but doesn't want to drive a car herself? After a bit of detective work - thank goodness for the internet - I discovered a small town called Newton Abbot, a 4,5-hour coach drive from Heathrow, with a scheduled hoppa (hop on, hop off) bus service to Dartmoor. Then all I needed to do was book a hotel and flights and I was all set!

My first opportunity to practise Fuck It arrived during the National Express coach trip from Heathrow to Newton Abbot. Our driver kindly informed us right at the beginning of the journey that the coach toilet was blocked and out of order. Ouch. 4,5 hours without a toilet? That knowledge alone can be enough to make a person want to go badly, and right now. Breathe. Fuck It. There will be a comfort stop somewhere along the route. All is well.

We had just made a stop in the town of Taunton, when we heard weird whooshing and spluttering from the back of the coach. No, it wasn't the blocked toilet, because a lot of smoke was also coming from somewhere. The girls sitting in the last row panicked and started screaming. It took the elderly driver a little time to sort himself out, bless him, before he managed to open the front door and the emergency exit at the back. But once the door was open, we were promptly lifted down to safety by several strong Englishmen. I mean, how often does a girl get to experience that? Not often, I can tell you! There we then stood, all 30 of us, on the main road in the village of Taunton, with all our luggage and a smoking bus, surrounded by fire rescuers and curious locals. Eventually another coach arrived and we squeezed ourselves in and continued to Exeter, where our party, temporarily brought together by a shared scare, dissolved and only three of us continued to Newton Abbot. It is touching how a group of strangers suddenly comes together, starts to show genuine interest and care towards one another, help each other out, talk and make jokes. That alone transformed this experience into a gift.

On Saturday I took the Haytor Hoppa to Dartmoor. The first bus was scheduled to leave at 8.55 am. It was a cold, misty morning, but with a hint of sunshine. Perfect. If one is going to explore the mysterious Dartmoor, mist is the weather. After a 30-minute drive I hopped off at the Haytor Information Centre, which would open at 10, so I had time to climb to Haytor.


You can see Haytor Information Centre right in the middle of this photo:




Oh. My. God. Seriously. Only a handful of people were around this early and the vastness, age, beauty and silence of this place made me feel deeply grateful and joyous. It was a sacred place.

In the Information Centre I met a charming gentleman, originally from Oxford but nowadays a Dartmoor expert. We had a lovely chat and I bought a copy of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (the book). I had decided to do the Haytor to Houndtor walk, and the gentleman kindly showed me where to start. "There are no signposts on the moor", he said, which sounded just a little ominous, but there was no room for hesitation, this was what I'd come here for. Off I was!

It all went well in the beginning. The old quarry and the granite tramway were easy to find.




But after this things started to get a little complicated. It said in the directions: "turn left and walk a short way along the stone railway tracks, then turn right and follow the grassy path towards Smallacombe rocks, passing a pre-historic round house on the right". A short way? How short, exactly? There were two grassy paths to choose from; which one should I take? And what the hell are Smallacombe rocks? Is it the smaller rock formation at ten o'clock, or the bigger one at two o'clock? I chose the bigger one. After all, they must be rather impressive to get a name, right? Never saw a prehistoric round house, but in the distance I could see Houndtor - maybe I'll get there if my general direction is right, round houses or not.

The path got more and more difficult to follow. At times it almost disappeared and the whole terrain was just grass, with stones and cow poo here and there. And then I saw the cows. Holy cow, big, black cows between me and my destination! They did seem to pay very little attention to this small human walking towards them, though, so I kept walking. Passing two of them I said "hello, can I just pass here" and they graciously allowed me to. Man, those cows, they were shiny black and huge! They must be very happy and healthy, living their lives out here in this magnificent place and just eating grass day in, day out.


By this time none of the directions made sense any more. I had no idea where I was going, I just had to trust. The path turned downwards, became very steep and rocky and slippery, and I felt a little apprehensive. No one else was in sight and, obviously, mobile phones are useless on the moor. But then I heard the sound of water from down there somewhere. A brook, didn't the gentleman say there would be a brook to cross, in a vale? I still saw Houndtor (at least I thought that's what it was) towering high in the distance in front of me, which felt reassuring. Perhaps I'll get there even if this path I'm on isn't the one I was supposed to take. Let's say that again: Perhaps I'll get there even if this path I'm on isn't the one I was supposed to take. Quite the metaphor for life in general, don't you think?




I crossed the brook and the path turned upwards again. Up, up, up. I had to stop several times to catch my breath - my slightly asthmatic lungs were really getting a workout! By this time I had realised there was no way I was going to hop on the Hoppa again at the time I had intended, which meant that all remaining need to strive and accomplish had left me and I just was. Right there, alone on the moor, not knowing anything, but still having this enormous trust inside me that everything was going to be all right.

Suddenly I came to an area that looked like the remains of a historical settlement. Wait, Houndtor Medieval Village, that's what it said on the directions! I was back on the map!

Houndtor was right in front of me, and Haytor, my starting point, loomed in the distance.


Look at the horizon: the lower rocks on the left is were I lost my way. I passed them from the right (left in the photo). The highest rock is Haytor.

Relieved as I was about finding out I was back on the map, I could also feel the tiniest hint of "blah". It was sadness, if I'm being perfectly honest. The excitement of uncertainty was over. Uncertainty is scary but exciting, too much safety quickly becomes boring. But in order to be able to give up control and take risks, we must have an inner feeling of trust, of being safe, whatever happens.

Houndtor was incredible. These enormous stones, perched dangerously on top of each other. How on Earth did they get to be like that? I was filled with awe and humble respect in the presence of such giants. They seemed to hold ancient wisdom, quietly, but not threateningly. I felt I could trust them. Nobody come tell me that rocks aren't alive; these were.



Even in this ancient wilderness, sustenance is needed, and fortunately there was a "Hound in the Basket" meal van parked in the small car park right below Houndtor. After a fresh beef burger and a cup of tea I still had nearly two hours to spend before the Hoppa would arrive, so I decided to walk slowly along the narrow road and find a place to rest my weary body. After a few minutes I changed my mind. I was too tired to walk, so I crossed the road, stepped back onto the moor and started walking towards Houndtor again. At least there I could sit down. Suddenly, in the midst of grass, bushes and puddles, a circle of stones emerged right in front of me. I didn't know it would be there, and had I turned towards Houndtor in a slightly different angle, I would have missed it. Almost as if I had been invited. In the middle of the stone circle there was a long, low stone, onto which I laid myself down. The clouds went by, and I was at peace, right in the centre of the Universe.


When I was about to leave this holy place, three people appeared from behind the grass and I heard one of them describe to the others how this stone circle had once been used as a place for burial ceremonies. Lying on the stone I had felt it, in a very safe and natural sort of way.

The Hoppa arrived right on schedule and took me back to Newton Abbot. The driver seemed to be enjoying himself immensely, as if his was the best job on Earth. Which it probably was.

Ah, the joy of a hot bath and a cup of tea after a long day on the moor! Thank you, my body, for enabling me to have these life-changing experiences.

The next day I checked in to my flight at the hotel. In order to print out my boarding pass, I had to send it from the British Airways website to the hotel's email address. Two hours passed and it still hadn't popped up in their inbox. But then the ultimate Fuck It moment arrived: I told the lady at reception that never mind, I would get it at the airport - and ping, there it was! The Universe delivered what I wanted the moment I let go.

My journey back home was a smooth and easy one. When the coach turned away from Newton Abbot, I saw Haytor in the horizon, majestically waving me good-bye.




























PS. Well, well. When I started my trip I heard this song on the taxi radio; now I'm hearing it again as I type this. It is set in Lapland but speaks of wilderness and ancient wisdom.

 
 

 
PPS. I simply have to add this photo of Sherlock and John on Houndtor. Haytor is in the horizon! :)

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