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Running wild

Posted: Monday 20th June 2016 by HarryBarton

Harry  Barton, Devon Wildlife CEOOn the run for 30 Days Wild - Harry Barton, Devon Wildlife Trust CEO

Faced with the prospect of another day in the office Devon Wildlife Trust CEO Harry Barton takes to the hills for his 30 Days Wild

It’s 6 am and thanks to a melodious dawn chorus I’m awake well before the alarm clock goes off. I’m ready to leave the house, but then realise my morning meeting has been cancelled. What to do? An early start at the office catching up with admin?

On the other hand…the verges are brimming with wild flowers and there is a warm mist that smells of mystery and the lushness of spring. I feel Dartmoor beckoning. So I spurn desk, mobile phone and laptop, don my running gear and head for the hills.

'A watery sun greets me as I boulder hop down to the river'

I wind my way through a warren of narrow lanes, to where the flower-packed meadows give way to a looming procession of open, gorse-studded tors. A watery sun greets me as I boulder hop down to the river Avon. Skylarks sing above and meadow pipits erupt in startled groups just in front of me. I follow the river up its snaking valley, watching it becoming less and less river-like as it fragments into a multitude of interconnected streams. The ground becomes wet and boggy, with huge tussocks. Very soon it’s too hard to run and I’m falling over in the muddy peat every few paces.

This soggy fastness is the birth places of half of Dartmoor’s rivers. It is great moment to be still and silent. It’s warm, and the ground is peppered with tormentil and bedstraw. But the steaming hills hide everything beyond. No people, no lights, no distant roar of traffic. It’s just me, the birdsong and the sound of the light breeze through the long grass.

'Dartmoor doesn't suffer fools gladly'

Not wishing to turn an ankle in quite such a lonely spot, I stumble and splash my way through the bog. After a while I try running but then the cloud comes down and I soon find myself horizontal, wet and perforated by gorse prickles. When I stand up and finishing cursing, I realise I haven’t a clue where I’m heading. Dartmoor may be beautiful, but it doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Fortunately I’m not in a hurry. So I have a few moments to try and make sense of this suddenly forbidding landscape with no points of reference. I head for what looks like a granite waymarker. But as I approach it gradually transforms into the back of a cow – one of a small herd - silent, dead still and eyeing me suspiciously. I can’t help imagining these bulky beasts as formidable wild aurocs in a primeval landscape. What would it feel like if we were brave enough to truly re-wild a place like Dartmoor?

'This is why I live in Devon'

Suddenly the cloud rolls away and I can see all the way to the sea 20 miles to the east and 1,000 feet below. A bubbling emerald landscape, straight out of a Narnia story and still half asleep.

I reflect on how alive I feel at this moment. I’ve been up two hours but I should just about get to the office on time. This is why I live in Devon!

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