One of the first areas of Dartmoor I ever walked was through Lustleigh Cleave, that deep valley of the River Bovey on eastern Dartmoor. Not long before we left Devon, we walked there again. It was a dry and frosty day, though the views were limited by low cloud.
It is a place full of memories for me. I first sought out the Cleave nearly fifty years ago. A pal and I caught the bus from Newton Abbot to Lustleigh village.
Mapless, we walked up and down paths but never quite seemed to get there. But in time I got to know the area really well.
It has changed in those forty years. The sides of the Cleave are now far more wooded – in my youth there were bare slopes falling down to the tumbling river. I was pleased to see that someone was making an effort to tackle the scrub and bracken.
We walked through the orchard at Lustleigh, the trees wrapped with the last of the mistletoe, then through those fields of great boulders that are such a feature of the district. At Sharpitor, we sought out the cave under a huge rock just below the summit. Many years ago, I used to sleep there, my camp fire sending seemingly prehistoric shadows around the surrounding granite.
The path along the edge of the Cleave is a really pleasant mile of walking, though the clouds denied us the grand views. Only as we passed the enclosure and fort near to Hunter’s Tor did the cloud give way, the cold breeze easing as we descended to Peck Farm. Then on to Foxworthy, along what is clearly a very ancient trackway. Though mid-morning we heard a tawny owl cry across the valley.
Foxworthy itself a hamlet far away from the world, I always think. It has changed somewhat since I first knew it. It all looked a bit more modern, though the yell of the swift-flowing river is just the same.
We returned along the path that climbs gradually above Foxes Yard, and then through the hamlet of Pethybridge and back to Lustleigh. We explored the church, with its 6th century memorial stone to a long-dead landholder, and seeing the memorial to the statesman Leo Amery who, amidst his other accomplishments, was a renowned hillwalker and climber.
We used to hold ramblers’ meetings in the old church hall, though few of those who participated are alive today. But the memories of old friends who once walked in ancient sunlight are still vivid.
If you would like to really get to know the area around Lustleigh Cleave, then please do seek out William Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor. First published in 1909, and still the best guide to the neighbourhood. Do all of the walks in it and you will get to know Dartmoor very well indeed!