Winter on Dartmoor can easily evoke images of a barren and soggy country-side. Walking across what best matches a lunar landscape this time of year is to lean into the gusty winds that shoot up the valleys. The sheep, cattle and ponies all know the sheltered bits of terrain, and if you look through the gorse and rushes, it’s easy to spot the drier paths as the grazing livestock have laced their way across the land. On many winter days, fogs as thick as cotton can descend without warning. It’s easy to get lost and every year, some walkers do.
But I don’t mind the weather here. I like how changeable it is. Nothing beats coming in from a long walk, to cosy up next to the wood burner and contemplate my next move. Somehow, this year it has been different. The weather hasn’t been changeable. It has been grey, rainy, and windy without relief. The damp, moist atmosphere has been endless and so too has the mud.
For weeks the clouds have continued to gather, promising rain, rain, rain with seemingly no end in sight. I don’t know if this has been the wettest winter on Dartmoor, but it certainly has felt like it. For most of 2018, weather reports predicted more rain, mist, or fog, but nothing to indicate cold, dry or frosty. Meanwhile, the potholes on the track grew deeper, wider and more plentiful. Our newly planted hedgerow often looked as if it could be washed away any moment. And, my mud caked boots felt slightly damp when I put them on to set out for another soggy walk with Millie. As this wet winter raged on, I felt I had reached my saturation point.
Squelch. Splatter. Slip. Slide. Mud, mud, mud.
What’s happened? As a child, I was drawn to the stuff. Some of my fondest childhood memories saw me covered head to toe in mud. I was busy making mud pies, jumping in puddles, or digging in the local creek to find “clay” to make some naïve pottery. Playing in mud was just good, dirty fun. I was indifferent to this grubby, gooey and sticky substance. All grown up, I don’t mind getting dirty when Roger and I are building, digging, gardening, or most recently, filling potholes. There is something satisfying to working hard and having the filth to prove it.
But after weeks and weeks of relentless mud and wet, it’s safe to say I’m fed up. I don’t want to go slip sliding away. One recent morning, as the coffee was brewing, I headed outside to let the chickens out for the day. Still in my pyjamas, I carefully made my way down the hill to the chicken coop when both feet slipped out from underneath me, and I landed on the ground sliding a few feet further. Covered in mud, this was not the way to start my day.
Squelch. Splatter. Slip. Slide. Mud, mud, mud.
As I righted myself from this soggy patch of ground, I considered the many places in the world devastated by mud, so who am I to complain? However, days and days of wind and rain, without relief, were making me feel curMUDgeonly. Struggling to find the glass half full approach, I reflect that there are spas where people pay good money for a mud bath and I’ve just taken one for free in my own back yard. Mud-runs are all the rage, too. With a bounty of websites extolling the curative effects of bathing, eating, standing, and sleeping in glorious mud, perhaps I should be more open minded. As they say, there’s nothing quite like it for cooling the blood. Hmmmm.
Squelch. Splatter. Slip. Slide. Mud, mud, mud. Enough!
Mercifully, we’re now having a few consecutive days of dry and cold weather and with it blazing sunshine and a hard ground underfoot. These few crisp and cold winter days are welcome by all. With a break from the relentless rain and wet, the snowdrops and daffodils are all bursting from the ground showing signs of spring to come. The chickens are happily scratching all about the yard hunting bugs and worms before settling down to spread their wings in the warming rays of the sun.
Walks are becoming less treacherous and the river has returned to a fordable body of water. At night, the moon glow casts a silvery light across the landscape. One of the fabulous things about living in the country-side is there is almost no light pollution. On a foggy, overcast night, it can be pitch black outside. But when the moon peaks out, or the stars are in full splendour, it is eerie how far the eye can see. I imagine if all the rain we’ve had were instead a blanket of snow, the moon glow would provide dramatic scene lighting on the stage set of our surroundings.
Our wet winter has left our track in horrible condition. Roger and I have spent the past few days working to fill the potholes which have grown large in the past months. Our bodies ache, but we feel satisfied with our progress. As the day draws to a close, there’s not a cloud above and the sun set is casting a rosy glow in the western sky. While I am watching the light change, Roger is mixing us gin and tonics to put a close to a hard day’s work. “Here’s mud in your eye!”