With the ‘warning’ in a dream of being crushed by something, and the sounds of tall trees swaying in the wind, I decided that the omens were looking grim to remain where I was. So, I made the decision to up sticks and move location. This in itself was a bit of an episode, as it required finding somewhere to go and then move to all my ‘stuff’. I found an area of the forest, which had smaller trees and no tree fall evident which was only about half a mile from my water source, so set about making a new shelter and the move my equipment. This took all of the day, but I was much happier for it and know I could access the mysteries of nature and my psyche in relative safety. I had read that such seclusion would light up the ‘deep dungeons’ of the soul that we so rarely have the opportunity to do or indeed, take on. This would be a journey of discovery. However, at first you have to wait for the soul to speak to you, and it was recommended that this could take anything up to 2 weeks before ‘contact’ was made. That was fine as I had plenty of things to do, the first of which was to explore the moor more intimately than I had ever done before.
One thing I noticed after just 4 days, was that time itself began to lose its importance and everything seemed to take longer. Longer to walk any distance, longer to cook food and gather water, longer even to put on my clothes! The rain continued unabated but I had to walk to Postbridge to send my message through to home to say all was ok. I came across a DOE ladies team who were lost in the mist and asked me for help. I told them they could follow me to Postbridge, but at 100 metres behind as I was determined not to have verbal contact with anyone. I guess they thought I was a bit weird! On my return I saw two herons flying across the moor, which I thought was odd as there was no water for miles around. Following them only a short distance behind were 3 swans flying in a ‘V’ formation, all very odd. That night I had the first of what I can only describe as a massively weird dream that involved me crawling through tunnels underground which were all painted red! What meaning that portrayed I had no idea, but I awoke in the dark with my heart pumping like I had just run a mile. The rain and constant dampness in the forest was making drying out shoes and socks extremely hard as I was also determined not to light a fire. On day 7, I did a quick food check and noticed that I was getting low on tuna cans and carrots – I needed to start rationing until my prearranged food drop in 5 days time. There were some berries and mushrooms on the moor, but they did not look too appetising yet…
I was now beginning to question myself a lot about things I had done in the past and this is when I started to hear a female voice in my head. Was I going mad, I thought? Actually, I believe this was my soul talking to me, as a mediator of the ‘inner talk’ that I was having with myself. This seemed to revolve around a negative (the spirit of darkness I called it) and a positive response (the spirit of light). The soul was there to ensure an even balance of communication. What was this soul of mine? To me the soul could mean many different things, but ultimately for me it was the vital, mysterious and wild core of our individual selves. This is different and unique to each of us, and forms the qualities found in layers of the self much deeper than our personality. It defines our personhood, the true self, the real ‘me’. Although it was a bit spooky, it was primarily what I was here to do on Dartmoor – discover about ‘me’.
I also felt called to visit as many of the ancient sites that cover Dartmoor if one looks closely enough. This included the obvious stone circles and ancient stone dwellings that are well marked on the map, but also the less obvious burial sites and ‘marker’ stones that connected the sites to each other. These stones were mainly pyramid shaped and always pointing on a general East to West line showing the way between temples or settlements. They were the ancient road signs and very often there were stone pathways between them. I started to find them everywhere, evidence of booming communities that lived on the moor thousands of years ago. Interestingly enough, I had also started to just walk the moor, with no real reference as to where I was going or even looking at a map. I would go off for about 8 hours and strangely always found myself back at the forest where I needed to be! Again, this was a real departure from how I normally go about walks – I used to like to plan the trip down to the last degree knowing the route and even when I would stop for lunch. Now that didn't matter anymore. I just walked! The other thing I noticed about my physical body was that it felt very light and climbing some steep hillside was absolutely no effort. Perhaps I was just loosing weight and getting fit!
Into my second week alone and the dreams were coming in thick and fast, both in the daytime and at night. I could be walking and completely forget what I was doing during the past hour – it was like I had entered a different place. Some dreams were in graphic detail, some were amusing and a lot were scary. To find out more about this discovery time of mine, read the next blog which will be published shortly!
The second day dawned, although in the dark woods I was not entirely sure the sun had actually risen! My first task was to get breakfast (an apple, some hot oats and a cup of coffee) and then go and find somewhere that I could get a mobile telephone signal. As I walked out onto the moor from the forest edge, the horizontal rain hit me. So much for the English summer! I decided to walk to the village of Postbridge, which was some 2 hours hike away. I reckoned that there must be mobile coverage there, so this would be my best bet to be able to send a message to home indicating that I was ok.
It was wonderful walking in the rain and rediscovering my map reading skills. It took me nigh on exactly 2 hours to get to Postbridge via the wonderful prehistoric stone circles called the Grey Wethers. These are two circles here with stones up to 1.5 metres high and around 30 or so stones in each circle. They are beautiful to view in any weather, and if you are into talking to stones and general musing about yourself, this is the place to sit for a while meditate and connect to the ancestors and yourself! I had recently lost a very good friend of mine and here was my opportunity to chant his name and honour his life in my own way, rather than being ‘led’ by an officiator of services that we tend to do. I wanted to find out more about the ancient walkways and settlements that existed on Dartmoor, so the next few weeks would prove to be a real eye opening experience for me as I wandered about the moor, and as we will learn almost an obsession in finding and ‘clearing’ ancient paths occupied my waking and non waking moments.
The small village of Postbridge indeed had a weak telephone signal near the village hall, enough for me to send my ‘x’ (kiss) to home. That was it, short, sharp and sweet with no expectation of an answer back or a salutation of any kind. The temptation to open my emails was massive, but I had promised myself that I would not do that under any circumstance, so I just switch off the phone and walked back through the rain to ‘home’ in the woods.
Now I started in earnest to build my shelter. There was plenty of wood fall on the ground close to me, so the process of gathering stocks of suitable wood was relatively easy. I was so pleased I had brought some gardening gloves to protect my hands, and a fantastic collapsible saw that did all the hard work when fine-tuning the branches to fit my shelter frame. Within about 4 hours the job was done and just some side protection and covering with moss made my 5 star accommodation complete! I have to say I was very pleased with the result, as it was roomy enough for my equipment, well hidden from any likelihood of being discovered and thus a great ‘base’ to operate from. As the evening started to draw in I went up to the forest edge to view the moor at sunset. Sunset? I had no chance of seeing that through the clouds and rain, but at least I saw a massive red deer with antlers bolting up one of the firebreaks. Little did I know, but he and I would have some pretty amazing encounters in the days to come.
And so, with my shelter complete and some fine tuning around my campsite (I built a small table and a clothes line to dry my kit), I started to settle into my time alone. I started to be governed by the light of the day, so when it got light I got up, and when it got dark I went to sleep. It seemed the animals did pretty much the same except for the nocturnal ones. Most nights I would wake up to hear snuffling and shuffling close by – could it be a badger or a fox I thought? Sometimes I would hear the whooshing sound of a bird flying through the trees, perhaps an owl of a nightjar? One thing for sure was that I was very aware of the sounds at night and, to a certain extent, early on they made my heart go up a beat or two, as not knowing is often worse than knowing what was ‘out there’. As I ‘acclimatised’ into my time on the moor, I began to recognise the sight and sound of returning animals and even call them names. I was slowly but surely becoming more attuned to nature, and it to me.
In the next blog I will tell you about the first real problem I encountered and a general ‘shift’ away from what I describe as my ‘normal’ living to one of being totally happy with my lot despite hunger, cold and fear!
Day 1 – Wednesday
Buffy drove me down to Dartmoor, via Cotswold Camping and Sainsbury in Exeter to pick up some essential supplies. I began to think I was ‘making it up’ as I had not really prepared for this as I normal would have. Both my boys had approached me at home questioning my preparations and asking me why I was setting off on something that I had clearly not thought through. But then perhaps that was the way it was meant to be. All I knew was that I needed to get to the small car park at Fernworthy reservoir and get into those woods!
As we got closer to the drop off, the more apprehensive I became about what I was actually embarking on. What would I discover about myself, and more importantly, could I actually do this? It was all fine and good talking about going 21 days without proper human contact, but I knew this would be the longest that I had been truly on my own – how would I react?
My intent was to listen and engage my inner voice, if there was a possibility of doing such a thing and see what happened – a pretty ‘loose’ brief but that was what it was – sketchy, loose and unplanned. It felt to me that time on our own could be useful in processing our relationships and recalibrating our sense of self. Solitude confirms that we are more than the sum of our reactions and interactions to and with other people and the encounters we have with other humans. In solitude, we return to centre – our centre. Once there, it would be easier to engage in honest evaluation of what we have done/seen and felt in the past that might need reconciling, rejuvenating and reflecting on.
All I knew was that I needed to be in nature to do this, and Dartmoor seemed as good as a ‘wild place’ as anywhere else I could think of. I was drawn to the moor, and as I was to find out, for very good reasons.
The drop off happened and I will be the first to admit that I was irritable on that parting with Buffy. It seemed that I needed to rush off and get my base camp sorted as quickly as possible, when in reality I was going to have all the time I needed and time itself would become less and less important for me – a person who had considered time as mega important! As I walked away, I almost immediately went back in time to when I was a soldier – looking for a safe, secure and quiet place near water. Slowly, over the days my ‘ordered’ and rational past brain/memories started to desert me as being essentially non important. However, for the present time I was on old ‘military mode’.
I wandered off the track and started to move through plenty of tree fall seeking to get as far away from the track as possible. I was mindful that time was moving on towards evening and that I must get a shelter (even if it was a temporary one) sorted out and locate a source of water. I found somewhere that I liked the look of and marked a track from there back to a small stream I had crossed and filled my water bottles applying sterilising tablets.
I quickly put my poncho basha up and cooked myself some noodles and tuna on my new jetboil cooker. By 8pm the dark had crept up inside the woods and I suddenly felt very tired, so it was off to bed on a fairly uncomfortable forest floor. I had bought a mat to lie on but I didn't realise you had to blow it up to get a comfortable ‘mattress’ – it would take me 4 days until I discovered how to do that! So, with the sounds of the birds singing their last song of the day, I dozed off getting bitten by mosquitos and anything else that needed a meal for the night! I was content at that moment in time, knowing that tomorrow would bring a work day on my permanent structure that I would be living in for the next 3 weeks.
I woke at around midnight, listening to the sounds of trees swaying and ‘moaning’ in the wind as they rubbed and knocked against each other. Listening to this sound was quite soothing in a way and I had not yet clicked on that actually this was the sound of instability and decay in the woods. The mind started to play tricks with me. Was this actually a safe place to be?