Back in May this year I decided that I needed to hand make a second photobook. It had to be photographed, printed, written, cut, hand stitched and bound by yours truly. (We won’t talk about the first photobook because that was just me practising.) I was keen to make some of Dartmoor’s archaeological artefacts the subject, especially at sites such as Merrivale, which is why I arrived there a little later than planned on a particularly wet and misty evening toward the end of the month. I already have many images of the stones and rows, but what I really wanted was mist and lots of it (I don’t know why), so I couldn’t have been happier as I drove past the brow of the hill beyond Dartmoor prison at Rundlestone.
That lovely phone box in the mist was worth a photo all to itself, I thought:
The light was dropping almost as enthusiastically as the rain when I pulled into the nearest car park to the Merrivale site. I had the place to myself, unsurprisingly, but surprisingly – not for long.
Dense mist on walls and trees is a favourite thing of mine (I know), so I spent a few minutes splashing around the car park with my camera in some kind of mist-lover’s ecstasy, until a large motorhome made its way down the path and parked (too) close by for the evening. I didn’t photograph that, but here are some more trees and another wall:
Moments later the cows started to arrive, I assume to stay close to a wall so they could get their cow-bearings and stick together. I didn’t mind the cows at all, and they would still be here after I’d had my misty adventure.
I decided it was time to try and find the stone rows. (I knew very well what direction to take but just couldn’t see anything that was more than about thirty feet away from me.) The weather, however, decided I wasn’t going to go anywhere just yet; the heavens opened and I had to dive back into the car. There wasn’t much to do for the next 15 minutes but make a multiple exposure image of life inside a car in the middle of the moor, with the rain pounding outside in near-darkness, and nothing much else really visible. I quite like it:
Eventually I just decided to get out and start walking, before the light was gone. The best thing to do in the circumstances would have been to stay close to the leat, which leads almost directly to the stone rows; I knew this – which is why I ignored the leat, and trusted my OS phone map instead. All was well for a few minutes until I could see literally no features at all except the saturated ground in front of me, nor hear the trickle of the leat. It didn’t help when the app suddenly decided, having taken me in a straight line for some distance, that I was walking in entirely the wrong direction. It then changed again a few moments later, until there I was, just a short distance from the car, the stone row, the leat, but with no real idea exactly where I was at all! When I saw through the mist a single standing stone I realised I’d walked too far south west, rather than west, and was able to find my way back up until I could hear the leat again, and the beginning of the first stone row.
I’ve never known the OS app to let me down like this before, but it certainly added to the, er, thrill of my walk, and gave me a reminder I didn’t need: things can become a little disorientating quite quickly in the mist on the moor! At the row, all was mist, drizzle and soggy ground. It was wonderful.
I continued to the Cist, which has served as the foreground to several photographers’ images of the distant Great Mis Tor or Great Staple Tor. Not today, and the dark recesses beneath that I usually stare into for long periods were completely flooded.
At the kistvaen it was really starting to get dark and I made the decision to return to the car straight after photographing it, via the leat this time! I was able to record my favourite image of the evening, which looks quite extraordinary on a large screen at full resolution (and in the print I later made of it):
I did take a few more images but when I look at them now I see I’d clearly been very unsuccessful in keeping the lenses clear of water from the constant drizzle, and those images are not only blurred, but they almost seem to move on the screen! I won’t be uploading those. Instead here are the last three images of the cows that had now arrived in large numbers to take control of the parking area as darkness fell.
The motor home was clearly there for the night, but no-one seemed keen to come out of it, perhaps because of the bovine takeover, which was fine by me.
I do love stumbling around hopelessly in the mist on Dartmoor, and would recommend it to anyone with good boots, a good waterproof, and a liking for staying close to leats.
Finally, an image of the entrance to Dartmoor Prison, taken on my way home at around 10:10 pm. If anywhere can match a stone row for atmosphere on the moor, it has to be the prison. I didn’t hang around too long after this.
I’m not sure how many of these images will make it into my photobook; some certainly will. It may be some time before I complete it, but I’ll write a short piece about it, with illustrations, when the time comes. Thanks for reading.