Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Wrong footed

Jeremy Clarke reports on his Low Life

On most days of the year there is a guide-led walk on Dartmoor. These walks, advertised in the Dartmoor Visitor, are ideal for a lazy person like me who enjoys tramping across the high moor from time to time but prefers someone else to do the map-reading and the worrying about not getting lost. Each walk listed in the Visitor is given a title, such as ‘Peaks and Pixies’ or ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, and an Ordinance Survey map reference. The map reference tells you where to meet and usually refers to a car park.

Whenever I go on one of these walks, I often get off on the wrong foot, as it were, because I’m improperly dressed. The other walkers gathered in the car park will be velcroed up to the neck in the latest lightweight hiking gear, toting silly little day packs containing emergency provisions, and wielding titanium walking poles. I usually turn up in a pair of trainers, and, if it’s particularly cold, an ancient, and not particularly waterproof, anorak. After identifying which member of this expensively equipped expedition is our guide, I’ll then step forward to say hello and pay my five-pound joining fee. And the guide, whose duty it is to ensure that everyone is appropriately dressed, or at least carrying a set of waterproofs, will look me up and down and express reservations.

These volunteer Dartmoor guides, many of them elderly, are an interesting crowd. Intellectuals, many of them, they love the moor with a passion that in some cases has tipped over into quiet, pantheistic worship. Most are amateur historians. There is a greater concentration of Bronze Age remains up on Dartmoor than anywhere else in Europe, and if you press them gently on the subject, some will surprise you with some ambitious, crackpot theory or other about the significance of the stone rows and standing stones.

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