Stepping over another gnarled and twisted tree root my foot reaches for the wet slate bedrock path beyond. I pause to watch streams of water gush down the muddy bank before disappearing underneath the path below my feet. Glancing across to where the bank drops away on my right I watch the water suddenly reappear before tumbling down the hillside and disappearing between the ivy consumed trees.
From the rumble of flowing water that emanates from the bottom of the gorge, through the moisture hanging thickly in the air, to the droplets which coating glistens on every surface, water is definitely the theme of this lusciously fertile environment.
Out of the three possible options I'm taking the three-mile 'long and easy' walk through Lydford Gorge in the west of Dartmoor National Park.
During the 17th Century Lydford Gorge was infamous for being the hideout of the Gubbins family of outlaws who violated the neighborhood. Its turbulent history now long gone the gorge serves as a haven for walkers, almost Tolkien-esque with its idyllic moss-covered rocks and fallen timbers.
I follow the path as it twists and winds its way between trees that seem to cling willingly to the steep sides of the deepest gorge in the southwest. As I descend from the hilltop I follow the River Lyd until reaching the hubble spectacle of the longest waterfall in Devon.
The water from the river tumbles almost vertically down the 90ft drop that constituents White Lady falls. After pausing for a few moments to stand in awed admiration I cross the river and continue my journey.
Occasional the water appears silken as it flows peacefully over the riverbed but mostly it courses, surges and crashes over the rocks with unbounded energy. At this point of my journey the reason for the warning about treacherous paths I received becomes irrelevant. As I cling to the metal handrail while carefully stepping over the water-soaked rock my feet remain only inches from the gushing waters edge. After some arduous climbing my efforts are rewarded by the sight of the second natural spectacle this gorge harbors, The Devil's Cauldron.
The cauldron is a whirlpool whose circular shape has been carved deep into the steep-sided cliffs by trapped rocks. The water sees to furious bubble as if boiling as it thunders between the rock faces frothing manically. I step out onto the metal walkway that permits an aerial view of the cauldron to appreciate the awesome noisy power of the torrential water flooding through the restricted passage. After a few minutes and a few photos I leave the cauldron behind and ascend the gentle stroll back up the gorge. The sudden change of environment as I step from the dark, damp gorge into the warm daylight makes it seem almost otherworldly.
I then enjoy a forty-minute drive through the heart of the Dartmoor National Park that offers the opportunity to really appreciate the spectacular dancing of light on the moorlands rustic color scheme. This large expanse of pristine moorland being the origin of Dartmoor's national park status
My next destination starts at the Bellever Forest. Upon arrival I decide to take the historic bridleway called The Lich Way to my destination. During medieval times The Lich Way was known as the 'Way of the Dead' due to it being the path along which coffins were transported on their way to the churchyard. My destination is the Bellever Tor. A Tor is simply an outcrop of rocks that rises abruptly from the surrounding gentle slopes. This particular Tor promises spectacular views across Dartmoor.
The path to the Tor is a fairly gentle walk presenting easy access for all abilities.
I am more than happy to enjoy the number of opportunities the route offers to pause and admire the views of the yellow and purple blanket of heather that races off towards the horizon.
As the Tor comes into view the striking forms of the rippled rocks jutting from the soil contrasts imposingly with the soft contours of the hillside. The rocks seem to stare out timelessly across the Dartmoor landscape like monuments or unfinished statues. Their hard weathered faces standing as silent witnesses to the ravaging wind and rain which often punishes this beautiful but barren part of the country.
As I embark upon the climb to the top of the Tor my hands grip tightly to the coarse surface of the lichen covered granite rocks. Upon reaching the top I witness the heart-stopping exhilaration as I stand up to be satisfied by the stunning rolling views across the rugged landscape. I look out over the autumnal shaded patchwork of rusted oranges, dusty browns, faded greens and the striking but delicate mauve of the heather. In the distance can be seen the massive lines of the nearby prehistoric houses.
After leaving the Bellever Tor I embark on the twenty-minute drive to the lovely village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Thankfully as I traverse the winding single-track road the only opposition traffic that greets me is a couple enjoying a leisurely trip in a horse trap.
The world-famous St Pancras Church, also known as the Cathedral of the moor, dominates the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. The elegant stone built cafés, craft shops, pubs and art galleries that make up the rest of the village center seem to gather around its imposing stature.
After exploring for a while I decide to stop at one of the cafés to enjoy the day's generous weather and relax with a cream tea. As the sun's rays beat lazily down in the fading afternoon I sit and watch the numerous other visitors as they explore the village. Cars patially crawl along the roads weaving between the many tourists crisscrossing the road. Since its compact size the village is busy with people out to enjoy it's delightful charm. Many join me at the café; many poke around the shops investigating the goods on offer while many sit on the park benches simply watching the world go by.
After soaking up the atmosphere it's time to depart for my next destination. Found only a few minutes up the road The Hound Tor is steeped in local history and mystery. The tor is so named due to the similarity of the rock formations to dogs' heads peering over the hillside. It is also supposedly the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Hound of the Baskervilles
I pause at the foot of one of the rocks as a petrified girl of about ten is patiently guided down by her father. The climb to the top is not demanding but it's certainly not for the faint hearted. But for those who do dare to rise to the challenge the reward is a view even more stunning than the Bellever Tor. Despite the wind it is certainly worth standing up and absorbing the 360-degree panoramic views.
To the southeast of the tor can be seen the remains of Hundatora, a deserted medieval village. After descending from the rock I decide to pay a visit to Hundatora.
Despite the busyness of the village it's interesting to look around, soak up the atmosphere and take a moment to imagine the history of the lives that once occupied the site. People stand in discussion of the villages' plan. Children play enthusiastically between the rocky outlines of the houses and run down the ancient streets. In one house sets a tie-dye wearing couple with a flask of tea relaxing in meditation on the thought of the long gone village.
After my walk around the village it's time to head back to the car and end my day in Dartmoor.