‘Winter’s coming early this year.’
Those were the words that I was greeted with on my first morning in Dartmoor. I’d slept soundly the night before, my belly full of comfort food and my mind brimming with the possibilities of all the wildlife that I was yet to discover. I understand that some people find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep in a new bed, but I’m not one of those people. My time on the road, hefty hangover and large meal was enough to send me off to sleep, but it was the cold that woke me up. Ice misted covered the windows of my room and my yawn emitted a huge plume of steam which hung in the air before my eyes. Looking out the window the moor awaited me, but it had changed over night.
“Frost don’t usually fall so early, sign of the beast I tell you.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond to this. The man was dressed head to toe in weather proof materials, with a wide-brimmed hat gently wavering in the breeze. He was perched on a mossy wall, looking out over the moor with a kind of grim determination that I could not decipher. The man looked serious enough, his eyes firmly set on the horizon and his mouth gently chewing on something. I pulled my coat closer and elected for a curt silent nod in his direction, pulled the gate open and stepped out into the frosty moor.
It was late-September, a time of year that was more associated with Indian Summers than early frosts, but the frost was there nonetheless, defying seasonal expectation and somewhat dampening my spirits. The chances of spotting some of the rare wildlife that I’d got excited for the night before had dropped with the temperature and I hadn’t packed expecting this kind of climate. To make up for this oversight I’d taken the sensible option of putting on all the clothes in my possession. Luckily the shops had not been affected by the cold weather so I was able to stock up on enough food to last me the day. In my rucksack I had packed sandwiches, Kendal mint cake (a firm hiking staple) and plenty of cereal bars to last me a day out on the moor, I’d left at first light and was determined to see something spectacular.
Although I’d read plenty about the creatures and plants that inhabited Dartmoor, I hadn’t expected the moor itself to be the most memorable aspect of my time there. The weather was cold, but it was by no means inhospitable and it had transformed the already rugged landscape into a pearly white sea of crystal shards and granite peaks. I passed a small river that had transformed into a makeshift ice luge, the peat bogs had become sturdier and shifted with a disarming slowness that made them all the more treacherous, whilst Shetland ponies nervously trampled through the thicket.
I might have been initially underwhelmed by the cold weather, but I left Dartmoor that day safe in the knowledge that I’d witnessed something truly special.