As a cartophile, I love what maps tell us about our past and present worlds: trace a finger along a contour and you can almost feel the shape of the land; follow the disused railways snaking their way across the grid and the ghost trains steam back to life. But maps will never tell the full story. And part of that is because of how we define our personal landscapes from a young age, using what rural historian Jeremy Burchardt calls private names.
“When I suggest they park around the corner instead, they complain that their kids can’t walk that far,” says Mrs M, the crossing supervisor at my son’s school, reporting on what happens when she challenges parents who park illegally outside the gates.
There’s something different about the way my bike handles. It alternates between dragging me back on the hills and pushing me forward as we crest them. When we round a bend, I glance back to check the line I’m taking on the corner. There, behind me, is the reason for my caution: a bike trailer carrying our new Golden Retriever puppy, Lula. She's looking out contentedly.
The outcome last week of a wealthy landowner’s high court case was sadly predictable: he’s used his money to strip people of their legal right to camp on Dartmoor. As the fight to win back this right goes on, I’ll look back fondly on nights I’ve spent on the moor.
I’m no lover of cities, yet I'm drawn to edgelands – those transitional spaces that are neither urban nor rural. Seek them out and you’ll find, laid bare, the threads connecting our built and natural worlds.
We drove through thick fog for an hour before turning onto the mountain road. As I steered the car through the gloom, my eyes were fixed on the narrow lane – but Tom was looking skywards, excited. He’d spotted a patch of blue. To our surprise, by the time we reached the parking place at the start of the walk, we were above the cloud and in the most beautiful of winter days.
We pass through an avenue of horse chestnut trees on our walk to my parents’ house. In autumn, G is compelled to investigate every promising-looking conker. In winter, we crunch the icy mud or kick our way through snow. In spring we might shelter from a passing shower. In summer, we welcome the shade. Whatever the season, we never tire of this walk. Yet choosing to travel a few miles in this way, immersed in our environment instead of cooped up in a car, is now seen by many people as strange and unusual.
It was a late August morning, the first of our holiday, and we were keen to get going. We retrieved our bikes from the cottage porch and set off on trails which – over the next few days – would take us to a street market, a neolithic tomb and the largest stone circle in the world.
This had to be the one. No. Maybe that one over there? Wrong again. Each time I decided a towering hill was the one guarding the head of the glen, signifying I was nearly home, my hopes were dashed. Eventually, I stopped torturing myself and just let the climbs come. The glen would appear in its own time, it couldn’t be rushed.