There are places in our lives that are ‘heart places’ and this is one of mine. The rocks that define Ugborough beacon are not visible from the trail but we know that they are there. It was a hot, clear June day when I first encountered them. I was 23 and we had bought a small house on the edge of the moors. Our imaginations were ignited by the thought of living alongside such a wild place but we were paralysed by the weight of the decision to leave all that we knew behind. Dressed only in flip flops, we slowly meandered up onto the moorland as if gaining some lofty position would add clarity to our situation. At the summit of the beacon we stumbled across the huddled archipelago of rocks which is one of Dartmoor’s most southerly outcrops. On top of these rounded pillars, our future seemed as expansive as the landscape before us. We could see beautiful blue skies and happy times ahead; full of the hopes and dreams that occupy young hearts. And so it transpired: the wedding, the house and then two little boys and all the challenges of parent and adulthood. Normal life, just rolling by; our eyes focused too much on the future.
Now the future has arrived. These same boys are men, and today we three are retracing our steps; our memories slowly unfolding as we walk and talk. We recall this well-trodden trail: past an ancient chambered tomb and stone rows, through the gates and towards the stream that gurgles and burbles down through the rocks. We laugh at the dams we once built here and the countless hours spent looking wonderingly into these dark mountain pools that bubble up from springs. We stand and listen, silenced by the music of the small waterfalls.
From here, it is up past granite boulders decorated with yellow and green lichens and through bushes of heather and gorse. A flock of 200, or so, golden plover bank around us and descend to the black mirrored pools below, a lone curlew and a pair of ravens also make their presence felt. Haunting birdsong, the cleanest of crisp air and cold blue winter skies. From this Western approach, the rocks of the beacon look small and insignificant but as you get closer their shape takes effect and the moorland sweeps out beneath them as far as the eye can see.
Our clinging hands reconnect us with this special place, as we scramble up towards the summit. These rocks have comforted me in times of sadness and loss, supported the weight of my decision-making and entertained me when life is brimming with goodness. No matter what, they are always the same. The same little space to sit, the same gaps that remain just leapable, the same nooks and crannies in which to shelter. Time has aged and changed me, and my children, but up here, time exerts a different, much slower force leaving this protected landscape as it was, only the seasons touch it fleetingly.
As the amber winter light casts eerie shadows over the fields, we recollect our adventures here. These steadfast rocks have been mountains, trading posts, islands in a pirate sea, shelter from the winds, a picnic spot, a place to stargaze, a place to hide and a place to think. We sigh as we recall the people we once loved who are now gone and the inseparability of place and relationships; now just their ghosts remain.
Our brief melancholy is broken as Dartmoor ponies appear beneath us, their manes shimmering in the light breeze and the low sunlight colouring their coats pink. Full up with thoughts too difficult to process or explicate, we make our way down from the moor just in time for the moon to rise and the sun to fall.