After a week spent running around Manchester and London like a blue-lipsticked fly, it was nice to get back to Dartmoor. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the main reason I started illustrating and writing books was so that I could live here…
Back in the early ’90s when Sarah and I still lived in Brighton, we only used to get one week per year on the moor. It was usually the third or fourth week in September, and we always used to stay in the same place, at Wooder Manor, just outside Widecombe, where farmers William and Angela Bell have converted some of their outbuildings into cosy holiday lets. (If you ever think of exploring Dartmoor for yourself, Wooder is an excellent base.)
We were staying there when I started writing Mortal Engines, and when I needed a family name for my hero I just looked out of the window, and called him after nearby Natsworthy*, where a line of grand old beech trees comes down to the road.
But eventually we got tired of going home after our holidays, so I started illustrating full-time so that we could move here (I can’t drive, so if I was going to live in the country, I had to have a job that I could do from home)**. We’ve lived on the moor for almost sixteen years now, and for the past seven we’ve been William and Angela’s neighbours, just across the valley from Wooder.
Last night Sam was on a sleepover with some friends, so Sarah and I had the rare chance to go for an evening walk together. We left the car at Natsworthy and walked up over Hameldown to the ancient settlement at Grimspound. Here are a few pictures which I snapped on my phone…
Someone had pitched a tent in the circle of the old wall at Grimpsound, which must be a wonderful place to camp, but in this picture I’ve carefully positioned Sarah to block it out.
Hookney Tor catching some low evening sunbeams.
Not a menhir, I think, just an old gatepost in a fallen wall.
…and here’s a rather better one which Sarah took with her camera (she’s a proper photographer).
Photo: Sarah Reeve
*Actually, now I know the lie of the land a bit better, I don’t think you can see Natsworthy from Wooder Manor – it must have been some other line of trees that I was looking at. But I thought it was Natsworthy.
** Or I could have LEARNED TO DRIVE, I suppose – for some reason I never thought of that.
Last week, in between downpours, I took the dog for a quick walk up the hill outside the village…
I hadn’t planned to go far, but when I reached the top it was so nice in the wind and the autumn sunshine that I kept going. I ended up walking right along the back of Hameldown hill, much to Frodo’s delight.
I always wonder about these old posts, which are dotted all over the top of Hameldown. I’ve read that they were erected in the war to stop German gliders landing and were originally much bigger, with barbed wire strung between – but why would you land a glider on top of Hameldown? It’s a big old boggy hill in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, they look very good, standing there in the wind and weather.
Looking north west from the summit. In the sunlight over there are Kes Tor and Batworthy, one of my favourite parts of the moor.
Coming down off the northern end of Hameldown, I passed this monument to the crew of an RAF bomber which crashed there during the war.
At Natsworthy, the storms hadn’t quite stripped the last of the autumn leaves off the beech trees. Sarah and I were staying at Wooder Manor, a bit further down the valley, when I started writing Mortal Engines, and this is where Tom Natsworthy’s name came from.)
And from Natsworthy it was a pretty easy stroll back down the lanes in the evening sunlight.