A few Sundays ago, I was woken by a sound familiar to every dog owner; Laika, my blue staffy was being sick. It was 3am when I had to get up, calm her down and clear up the mess and by the time I had finished, I knew sleep would not return to me. Thus it was, I found myself packing my back pack and heading up to Bodmin Moor at 5am. The drive itself was pleasant, I saw few cars on the road and was guided for the full hour by my headlamps. Arriving in Bodmin a little after 6, I still had over an hour before the sun would be in the sky, giving me the perfect opportunity to find a place to enjoy its rise – easier said than done. I have been given many instructions over time about great places to visit in Bodmin, but attempting to locate anywhere in pitch black without having my bearings proved extremely difficult and on multiple occasions I found myself turning down road after road to discover it led to nothing more than a dirt track.
Slowly, as time passed, the earth came to life. The sky was painted in an inky blue, the watercolour effect of the light seeping in starting from the horizon and despite the cold, I lowered my windows to listen to the first calls of the birds; blackbirds and robins up and singing early, despite the fact the sun had not yet risen. I found myself driving through a field which was flanked by a mixture of wild horses and ponies. Bodmin has lots of wild ponies; they have roamed the area for thousands of years. Many are owned by locals who allow them to live a free life, the moors providing the right habitat and enough food to keep them going. One white animal however was covered in mud, its hooves covered in thick brown dirt. It appeared to have a slight limp but was nervous, moving away from my car as I passed. There have been issues with the Bodmin ponies before; in fact, back in 2011, several ponies were found emaciated and later dead due to lack of care. The council stepped in and along with the support of horse charities in the area, the ponies were all looked after. Still, after I got home I contacted the South West Equine Protection group to let them know of the animal in the hope that someone might be able to head out and check on it to ensure that everything was okay.
As well as the ponies, there are a lot of cows and sheep that also roam free across the moors. Many of these animals have become used to human interaction, and whilst they won’t approach you, nor do they run from humans. I was particularly enamoured with the Highland cattle, theirs eyes hidden beneath their thick fringes, their sharp horns at odds with their otherwise soft and slightly dopey appearance. These cows have beautiful faces and are difficult not to fall in love with.
As the sun began to rose, I came across Delford Bridge, a small concrete bridge which crosses a shallow river. As I drove slowly over it, the sun began to finally rise over the moors, bathing the fields in a stunning light and revealing the true beauty of the area. All around me I could see nothing but the blue of the sky and the patchwork of the craggy pastures, knitted together by expertly made Cornish walls and patches of wild gorse.
I carried on my journey, getting increasingly lost. Pulling over, I scrabbled in my bag for a scrap of paper I had written a postcode down on. It was a post code for a mini car park so that I could stop and climb some of the local hills. The direction took my back onto the A30 for a time, before suddenly turning off to the left and onto a dirt track. The feeling that something wasn’t right started to niggle in my stomach, but I carried on, before getting to a thin road. Half way down, the pot holes started, but with marsh land on each side, there wasn’t really the space to turn around; I had to continue till the end. As I drove, increasingly slower, a sudden movement in front of me made me touch my breaks. Something large had jumped across the road, from one patch of gorse to another. Then another figure leapt from one side to the other, then another, and another. I sat for some minutes, waiting before driving in case there were other creatures hiding in the bushes waiting for their moment. When I was sure this wasn’t the case, I drove slowly again along the track and over a tiny bridge, leading to a solitary farm. Following the path that the animals were likely to have taken, led me to a few fields and sure enough a herd of roe deer stood, huddled together, staring directly at me. I didn’t take the chance to get any closer, fearing I would frighten them off. Roe deer are a fairly small deer species, with large ears, large black eyes and a large black muzzle. They are native to Britain and have been year for over 10,000 years. Once extinct in England due to hunting and habitat destruction, roe deer made a comeback, breeding from those which remained in Scotland, after work on woodland habitats meant that the right conditions have been re-established so the species can flurry once more. They are usually solitary, but in winter the animals will come together in small groups and it was amazing for me to get the opportunity to see them. They seemed completely at ease where they were, clearly spending time tearing through the countryside and across farmers land, where it is quiet enough that they likely get the peace they so desire. I watched them for a while. Some of them disregarded me, continuing to eat and go about their own business. Others watched me cautiously, whilst one large individual did not take its eyes off me. Roe deer mate during the winter months but are able to perform embryonic diapause; when the egg does not implant and the baby begin to develop till January. There are a few species that can do this; wallaby’s and polecats to name but two. It is thought that this is to birth the animals during a more appropriate time. For roe deer, it is thought that harsh winters are the reason why the deer’s go through this delay, meaning that the babies will be born as the spring arrives. I did not stay too long, not wishing to interrupt their solitude and as I had hit a dead end, begrudgingly started back along the dirt path, crossing my fingers that my little car would make it out okay.
Back at the main road, I headed in the direction of home but stopped off at Colliford Lake. There was no one else around, the air deathly quiet except for the occasional bleat of a sheep. I walked through the fields to reach the lake side. By the clear water, there was a lot of evidence of waterfowl, but not a single one was in sight. Behind me, separated by fencing, rooks, magpies and jackdaws walked between the sheep, picking at the earth for their breakfasts. A sudden commotion broke out, and at first I thought the birds were arguing amongst themselves. I walked a little closer, watching the birds fly up, surrounding something. Through the entanglement of angry wings, a large buzzard was attempting to make its way out of the fray, not doubt simply looking for its own sustenance amongst the grass. The corvids worked together to push it out of the field and it rose higher, circling the area before heading off towards the horizon.
I walked around the lake a little more, the landscape appearing bleaker with every step. I stood for a while, staring across the flat, crystal water. There was no life in the water that I could see, but beneath that translucent still surface, there would have been a myriad of excitement going on, a whole other world that I wasn’t able to explore. I headed back to the car to continue the journey home, taking the back roads past fields and through woodlands, admiring the scenery and dreaming of the day when I would be able to buy my own house up here, surrounded by nothing but nature, hearing nothing but wildlife. By the time I was forced out on to the A30, the sun was high in the sky and even though it was still not yet midday, it felt as though I had been out for ages.
I STILL haven’t climbed Brown Willy, the crown of Bodmin and the highest point in the county, but I will be heading back to Bodmin as soon as I can. There is something so alluring about this area of Cornwall; the raw, rugged landscape has an air of mystery to it, as though you can never be sure what is around the corner. Steeped in history and tales of beasts and ghostly sightings, the moors have long been a source of fear-tinged obsession for many. In fact, the term ‘going Bodmin’ even means to be going a little crazy, thought to be from spending too much time alone here in the wilderness, the locals here were once described as being a little different due to their stark surroundings.
As soon when the weather warms up, I will be packing up the trail cam, jumping in the van and spending the weekend in the area; wildlife and tales of ghostly apparitions, what more could you ask for?!