“We can do Merrivale,” Larissa had announced after researching the sites of Dartmoor that were on our drive home. This time we were taking the scenic route to drive through a bit of the park. “We’ve got two hours, tops, so we have enough time for the crop circle.”
“I don’t like the name,” I kept announcing, without really knowing why. It just didn’t seem to fit. It still doesn’t, but sometimes we just have to go with what our more modern ancestors decided to call these sacred landscapes.
The day began with mist and ended with sunshine. I knew Larissa was a bit nervous, but truthfully I was in heaven as we drove through fog so think you could not see more than a few feet in front of us. My only regret was that I knew I was missing a lot, but the effect was all too perfect. Sometimes you have to accept the gifts of the elements, even when there are definite drawbacks to them.
It was a little bit of a challenge finding the spot to pull over. Thankfully the navigation did a good job leading us there, and it wasn’t really a surprise that no other cars were parked in the lot. The weather really was messy. I rather like the term Stuart and Sue use for the heavy mist on the moors that gathers over the ancient sites. “Dragon’s breath,” along the dragon lines…
We were drenched by the dew by the time we returned to the car, but it didn’t matter. We knew we had a heater. I also could have used the umbrella I was carrying, but as so often happens in these places, the right side of the brain takes over.
A rather notable stone juts out of the earth and marks the ascend into the ancient settlement. There was no visible signpost erected by a modern hand, and we later realized we were not likely parked at the main lot. Just as well, though, like the mist, it seemed intended for the necessary effect.
I knew nothing about Merrivale before our visit, aside from it being an ancient settlement among many notable sites in Dartmoor. I like it this way. There is much to be said about starting your journey into an ancient land without preconceptions, allowing the nonlogical mind to take over. Here is where the landscape of the senses thrive, and the land of Dartmoor provides the ideal place to open the inner eye.
Although there were no other people to be seen through the few feet of mist around us, it was not surprising to encounter sheep. They seem to own the landscape of Dartmoor, along with the famous ponies we, unfortunately, did not meet. The Bodmin Beast was also nowhere to be found, not that we were looking for it…
So we had only the sheep and rocks to guides our footsteps, along with a rather fortuituous crow that kept appearing at just the right moment when I questioned whether I should continue on. There were signposts of sorts, but one could easily get lost in such a thick fog. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have cared all that much, but I did have my friend’s welfare to consider, and we did have that date with the crop circle…
Even so, time seemed to step aside to accommodate, allowing us to walk through the veil of its passage and return to a past now long forgotten. The stones and the sheep watched but didn’t interfere with our footsteps and I succumbed to the glory of just being in the magical landscape.
These places are mysterious, but not completely elusive. The arrangement of stones signal sites of burial and also gathering places. Avenues line streams and circles encase sacred space.
Each footstep led to a place of wonderment, and I soon realized I would not be able to travel the full breadth of the settlement. The further I strayed, with the urgings of the crow that appeared through the mist atop the stones, the more nervous I knew I was making Larissa. She, though, was very obliging. We both knew what general direction the car lot was, and that we needed to descend into the midst to get there. At the very least, the avenues and stream would lead us back, once we found them again.
A stream divides two avenues of stones at Merrivale. One is longer than the other. I walked the length of the one near the road when I entered the settlement, and the other upon my return. To our surprise, another visitor had quietly entered the landscape while Larissa and I were wandering. An elderly gentleman, whom I surmised must have been a local as there was no sign of another car when we drove aways, was seated nearby the marker stone at the end of the avenues. He lifted his head in a slight acknowledgment of greeting, and I glanced at the easel before him, and the unopened umbrella beside his chair. Noting, as I did, how seemed to be more than happy to be present within the dragon’s breath, and perhaps would rather us not be there with him. There was a sense that he belonged there more than we, and we quietly left, leaving him covered in another time.
I climbed reluctantly into the car, noticing for the first time how soaked by the dragon’s breath we were. My jeans were an uncomfortable second skin thickly glued to my legs, and I turned the heater on full blast as I turned the car around. I would miss this landscape and its assortment of living stones.
As we drove away, through the winding hills of Dartmoor, the heavy mist started to clear. The transformation was quite dramatic, and I found myself wishing I could pull over to photograph the land unveiled to the light above. It did not escape me how lucky we were to be given the magical effect of the dragon’s breath, followed by the sun-kissed landscaped in its full, bare beauty. As we turned corners, wonders appeared, included a large stone circle tantalizingly close to the road but with no layby to pull over. And, we were now pressed a bit for time.
We did, though, stop at the bottom of the hills of Dartmoor to admire a river running with the light of the sun. There were much-appreciated bathrooms too, and just enough time to take a few photos.