‘We find our rhythm and the land works its magic’

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Britain -

heather; a weasel dash­ing up a bank; dip­pers bob­bing be­side a tor­rent.

Day one (Meg Day) led us along the Teign Gorge to Fin­gle Bridge, with its 17th-cen­tury arches, then over a steep shoul­der of wood to the in­con­gru­ous Twen­ties gran­ite walls of Cas­tle Drogo. By the time we checked into the Ring O’ Bells at Chag­ford, it took all our strength to hob­ble to our rooms.

Next morn­ing, how­ever, the teenagers showed pow­ers of re­cov­ery greater than those of their creak­ing elders. They were get­ting into this. We hiked in sun­shine on to the high moor, ex­plor­ing the Bronze Age stone cir­cle of Grim­s­pound, be­fore fall­ing like wolves on our din­ner at Wide­combe’s snug Rug­gle­stone Inn.

To­day’s route takes us across Dart­moor to join the se­cond river. In this mist, writ­ten direc­tions prove cru­cial. “Af­ter 40m you will see an area of dis­turbed ground on the left-hand verge,” reads Flo, at one im­passe. “Look out for a red-painted spot on a stone.” We are soon back on track and, for­ti­fied by chicken soup from an ice cream van in an other­wise de­serted lay-by, make for the gran­ite con­tours of Bel Tor. The mist lifts at the top, re­veal­ing a thrilling sweep of the Dart Val­ley far be­low. And even more thrilling for the girls: 4G! I in­ter­rupt their In­sta­gram frenzy to point out a wheeling buz­zard.

“So what’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween a hawk and a buz­zard?” asks a voice be­hind me with a dis­tinct Aussie twang. We find our­selves chat­ting to an ex-pi­lot from Mel­bourne. He loves the dry­s­tone walls snaking across our view but ex­plains, as would some­one from a big­ger coun­try, that land pro­duces more when fields are larger.

Such brief en­coun­ters pep­per our jour­ney, and the girls fill the miles by in­vent­ing sto­ries about strangers we pass. A fam­ily also din­ing at the Rug­gle­stone in­spires a whole sce­nario in­volv­ing a dumped boyfriend, war­ring sis­ters and a dis­ap­prov­ing dad. Each day, the story is em­bel­lished.

For the adults, these un­guarded tracts of teen con­ver­sa­tion of­fer in­trigu­ing in­sights. “Ev­ery­one’s an Emo these days,” whis­pers Daisy, as two black-clad teens slope past on Fin­gle Bridge. “Yes,” agrees Flo, “but some are tran­si­tion­ing into In­die.”

We join the Dart at New­bridge, where a busy car park leaves us feel­ing smug about our hik­ing hero­ics. Then we cross the river and con­tinue – via Holne Com­mu­nity Tea Room, home of Devon’s scone-mak­ing cham­pion – to tiny Scor­ri­ton. It’s curry night at the Trades­mans Arms, so we sam­ple a tra­di­tional Devon biryani while Kevin, the land­lord, re­gales us with sto­ries of he­li­copter res­cues from Dart­moor.

By now, our aches have eased. That said, when day four of­fers a short­cut, we grab it. The day starts at Buck­fast Abbey, home to an en­tre­pre­neur­ial

Per­fect evening en­ter­tain­ment af­ter a long day; let them teach you their games.

Go through the al­pha­bet tak­ing turns to name some­thing from your day. Sounds wor­thy but can be a laugh, es­pe­cially if ir­rev­er­ent enough.

Al­low time in towns/vil­lages/ at­trac­tions to buy tat; let them go it alone while you find a cof­fee. e.

The ul­ti­mate mate mo­ti­va­tor for or a long, morn­ing ing walk – and a great mood lifter in bad weather. her.

Put them m in charge. Let them walk in front. nt.

Al­low low time to make use of it when en they find it.

They’re never too old. And nor r are you. com­mu­nity of Bene­dic­tine monks, where we wan­der man­i­cured grounds and sniff a few of the 100 va­ri­eties of laven­der. On a nearby crag, we ex­plore the burnt-out 13th-cen­tury ru­ins of Holy Trin­ity Church and find the mau­soleum of no­to­ri­ous lo­cal vil­lain Squire Richard Ca­bell, in­spi­ra­tion for Co­nan Doyle’s Hugo Baskerville. Fol­low­ing our guidebook’s ad­vice, we walk around it 13 times to sum­mon the devil. Anti-clock­wise, of course.

The short­cut comes at Buck­fastleigh Sta­tion, where we board a gleam­ing Thir­ties steam train and, with shriek­ing whis­tles and clouds of steam, ride the South Devon Rail­way to Staver­ton. This is, we all agree, an oblig­a­tory her­itage ex­pe­ri­ence and noth­ing to do with shav­ing four miles (7km) off the day’s day s hike. From Staver­ton sta­tion (which prom­ises 45 lo­cal brews at its forth­com­ing “Rail Ale” fes­ti­val), we hike along the river to Dart­ing­ton Hall. Mu­si­cal types stride across the lawns to the af­ter­noon’s re­hearsal of Peter Grimes while we en­joy a cuppa in the sun­shine.

Dart­ing­ton in­tro­duces us to an­other, bo­hemian Devon of cul­tural fes­ti­vals, sus­tain­able liv­ing and al­ter­na­tive pol­i­tics, and the next day takes us into Totnes, epi­cen­tre of all the above. We climb up to the cas­tle then down to the Guild­hall, ad­mir­ing the coun­cil cham­ber in which Cromwell – who doubt­less also saw him­self as al­ter­na­tive – once re­put­edly took a seat. An ex­hi­bi­tion tells how 165,000 con­victs were trans­ported to Aus­tralia from 1787 to 1868. In a life-size dio­rama, poor Liza – con­victed of steal­ing a pet­ti­coat – peers mis­er­ably from her tiny cell.

Be­yond Totnes, we con­tinue along­side the Dart. On a high track, chained to a sceni­cally sited bench, we find a tin box con­tain­ing a note­book which in­vites passers-by to de­scribe “feel­ings of land­scape”. We all con­tem­plate the view then con­tribute our scrib­bles. At nearby Sharpham Vine­yard, pens now sharp­ened, we try a mod­est tast­ing and fill in the feed­back form. “It has is­sues,” writes Daisy about her or­ganic ap­ple juice, per­haps in­spired by our “com­plex” pinot noir.

The next morn­ing we lace up our boots for the last time. The fi­nal leg takes us along the Har­bourne river, where a king­fisher flashes up­stream, to the nar­row lanes of well-to-do Dit­tisham, where we ring a bell to sum­mon a ferry across ac the Dart. On the other side we fi find the gor­geous grounds of Greenw Green­way, Agatha Christie’s for­mer h home and now stuffed by the Na­tional Nati Trust with her mem­o­ra­bilia. We W wan­der down to the boathouse where, w in Dead Man’s Folly, a mur­der mur vic­tim is found spraw sprawled across the deck­ing. I hope he at least got ti time to en­joy the view.

A fiv five-mile (8km) fi­nal tramp takes us along alon the Dart to Kingswear, throug through steep woods, over the rail­way an and down to the har­bour, where we gaze out on an ar­mada of sail­ing b boats. This, it turns out, is Dart­mouth’s an­nual re­gatta: I can only thin think it’s been ar­ranged to c cel­e­brate our ar­rival. Acros Across the wa­ter in Dart­mouth the th quay­side is thronged wit with ju­bi­lant crowds. There’s even a Red Ar­rows fly-past.

We grab d drinks from a water­front pub p and sit on the quay­side, weary we legs dan­gling over the wate wa­ter. Six days of hik­ing and w we’d all hap­pily do six more. Tw Two swans coast over like galleons galleons, hop­ing for a feed. “Don’t get att at­tached,” warns Flo.

Buck­fast Abbey is a great stop for con­nois­seurs of laven­der; Mike Un­win’s co-hik­ers take the road, above right; while Dart­moor ponies take it easy, main

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