No holiday to Devon would be complete without a trip to the wild beautiful landscape that is Dartmoor. Miles and miles of windswept moor, vast skies, towering granite tors, waterfalls and rivers. As far as the eye can see the landscape is untamed and yours to explore. Before I set foot on the moor let me take you back in time and explain how the concept of “Dave” came about.
For many years, since I was 16 in fact, I had explored hidden corners of England by motorbike, miles and miles of country lanes provided an almost endless picturesque landscape to enjoy; but as I got older I realised I hadn’t truly seen this landscape, I had only passed it by at 60 mph. I hadn’t felt the ground beneath my boots or stopped and listened to the ancient wind.
I had never watched the subtleties of a sunset, as bright yellow tuned to burnt orange; as blue sky turned to black space. I had merely skimmed across the surface of this wonderful country I call home and missed out on so much.
A brief couple of years living in Ireland near the Wicklow Mountains had ignited a desire to slow down a little and walk where a car couldn’t take you.
A few years later living in the South Down’s National Park further fuelled that passion to walk the hilltops and escape the mechanised rat race we have to call life. I didn’t have a desire to own a “pet” but I did have a yearning for a companion that would faithfully walk by my side for mile after mile.
Someone I could rely on and talk to as I wandered the landscape lost in my thoughts. Someone non judgmental about my choice of (muddy) route and happy to travel in the boot of the car. What better hiking buddy I thought than a border collie. Strong, intelligent, resilient to British weather and something I perhaps had overlooked; soulful in character.
This is how the idea of Dave had become lodged firmly in my thoughts. I wanted a faithful walking buddy that would rejoice at the great outdoors. I certainly gained that and then some. Onwards to the wilds of Dartmoor we go; where puppy and myself would have a steep (in all senses of the word) learning curve.
My parents had not long lived in Devon when I arrived in need of a roof over my head, so their geographical knowledge of Dartmoor was sketchy. “Oh it’s very bleak and brooding,” said my parents. Not keen on getting their car dirty down the Devon lanes, infamous for being an inch too narrow at every bend, they hadn’t ventured very far into the moor.
So armed with some online research and a brand new Ordnance Survey map of Dartmoor I set about educating myself and Dave with the joys of bog jumping, tor scrambling and self inflicted solitude.
Our first moorland venture off the beaten track was to Avon Dam on Southern Dartmoor, a popular walk alongside a cascading river from a small car park to an impressive lake and dam. A gentle introduction for Dave and a chance for me to see how he interacted with sheep and ponies roaming wild.
To be honest the first few miles of the hike were easy, a stroll along the tarmac access road to the dam structure. This presented very little by way of challenge; other than resisting stopping to take photos every 1/4 of a mile.
Back in the South Downs of Sussex I had introduced puppy to sheep by simply standing still with him on the lead and letting everyone go about their normal business. So by the time we had arrived in Dartmoor Dave was curious about these wooly “dogs” but not frightened.
With blue skies over our heads and wet moorland either side, it was a blissful walk with “Dartmoor Dave.” The sound of running water could be heard; from the fast flowing river cascades to the nonstop seep of spring water escaping the cracks and crevices of the granite.
At the lake head granite boulders were strewn along the shoreline, some placed my mankind others delivered by the mighty force of melting ice many thousands of years before.
Dave with instinctive caution stood at the water’s edge and looked out to “sea”. A long lake with steep moorland rising either side. Millpond smooth on this late summer afternoon. The breeze was barely noticeable and the only ripples were from the granite pebbles I casually tossed into the shallows.
I sat down on a weather rounded boulder and contemplated my new life in Devon. It could have been worse I thought as I gazed across the lake to the distant glimmer of English Channel, far far to the south. Birds of prey circled overhead and excusing the dam structure and lake itself, not a manmade object could be seen; The dam in fact added to the monolithic beauty of the scene.
I watched on proudly and with a degree of envy as Dave took his first tentative leap into the unknown; from dry shoreline boulder to part-submerged rock. My little puppy was growing up and showing me his years of highly refined DNA was essential in wild locations.
Fascinated I sat and watched, calmly calling out just once for Dave to “Be careful,” as he balanced on three, sometimes three and a half legs on his submarine perch. I knew from weeks earlier that puppy was a good swimmer and there was little point in me worrying. So I didn’t; well not too much.
Dave studied in intricate detail the angles and distances between submerged and part submerged natural stepping stones. He judged with almost perfect accuracy the distance needed to jump from shore to rock, rock to shore.
I say ‘almost perfect accuracy’ because of course Dave was young and learning; and when any of us are young and learning we fall over and fall in. The water was cold and my heart did melt a little when Dave climbed back onto a rocky perch and looked a bit bedraggled.
A quick shake of his head, that ended with a wiggle of his bum restored Dave to proud collie and not bedraggled water-rat! Collies are well protected with a double coat for work in all weathers and this included post-swimming exploration.
For at least an hour I sat and watched as my puppy, my boy, explored the shoreline. Perched at times like a lone heron on a rock of his choice. I didn’t have to warn or scold as Dave’s intelligence kept him safe. Where water looked deep or a rock was too far to safely jump, Dave made wise choices.
As the sun moved ever lower in the sky I whistled to puppy and we retraced our steps back from the lake to the dam and the access road back to the now deserted car park. Dave was in his element; dirty paws where once white fur had been.
A soggy underbelly from swimming in the reservoir and very happy memories of his first time on Dartmoor.