The faint song of a skylark carries a hint of spring

The faint song of a skylark carries a hint of spring

High up on the western edge of Dartmoor, in the car park below Cox Tor, the regular ice-cream van awaits customers. Trodden ways diverge from this viewpoint across close-grazed mossy turf, shrivelled bracken and stunted gorse tangled in wisps of desiccated molinia.

Occasional shafts of sunlight race across the lower ground of Plaster and Whitchurch Downs but Brentor church, on its conical hill to the north-west, is a gloomy silhouette against the darkening sky.

Much lower and further away, beyond green fields close to Tavistock, dissected country in the Tamar Valley forms a succession of misty ridges; the familiar landmarks of Kit Hill, Morwell Down and Sentry Hill wood by St Mellion are just discernible, and wan light emanates from the estuary by Saltash. Down in that sheltered land daffodils are already flowering on hedge-banks along narrow lanes and among plots of fading snowdrops in overgrown market gardens. Here, on Dartmoor, the expanse of snow that defined our eastern horizon has disappeared and the faint song of a skylark carries a hint of spring through the wind.

_The way-mark cross by Grimstone/Sortridge leat, with Great Mis Tor in the background. Photograph: Jack Spiers

Horned sheep, with thick white fleeces marked in red, stand out from the prevailing brown and tawny colours of the moorland as they spread towards the clitter of Feather Tor. Close by is an old waymark cross and the fast-flowing Grimstone and Sortridge leat, constructed to supply water to farms off the moor after following a winding course from the River Walkham’s headstream beneath Great Mis Tor.

Other sheep wander through thickets of gorse covered in yellow flowers, heading to greener grass along the outer boundary of Moortown Farm. On a foundation of massive boulders, stones pack and infill this old wall, reinforced on top with a wire fence to separate the inbye land of tended fertile pastures from the rough common grazing outside. Past a blackened patch of burnt gorse sprouting prickly growth that will tempt grazing ponies, a jumble of moorstone, part submerged in moss, shows evidence of past working, when surface boulders were cut and carted away for use as building stone.

Up on Pew Tor, succulent pennywort remains green in crevices among the precariously balanced granite; far to the west, Bodmin Moor is hidden in advancing rain clouds.

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