At 334 metres high, Kit Hill is the highest point in the Tamar Valley. It sits just on the Cornish side of the Cornwall-Devon border and was previously ‘gifted’ back to the Cornish in 1985 by Prince Charles when William was born.
The hill’s name comes from the Old English word ‘kit’ meaning birds of prey and is due to the fact that various species roam the area including buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks. As I climbed Kit Hill on a grey afternoon passing the signs that warned dog walkers of adders, the rain fell fitfully, the clouds slightly obstructing the views over the surrounding landscape. Kit Hill is different to the surrounding area due to the fact the land is so rough. The surface peaks and troughs, water cuts through the soil, old mining ruins are heaped around in broken moss-covered clusters and much of the space has been devoured by gorse, heathers and bilbury. The ferns, which will be green and lush come summer, were brown and sodden with rain, the ends curled and crisp. The gorse bushes were in flower, however they are sparse compared to the bright yellow blooms on the West coast, which delicately waft coconut as you pass. Underneath the structure of Kit Hill, Neolithic long barrows have been found, reiterating the importance of the area.
Despite the wind, the air was mild. An occasional stonechat tapped from the bushes as I walked, but other than that it seemed I was alone. At regular intervals I looked into the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of a buzzard, on par with where I am stood hundreds of meters up, catching the thermals as they search for mammals below. But as I reached the summit, the sky was sparse. I walked around the stack erected at the peak of the hill during the height of the mining boom. Beneath it, a Bronze Age burial ground is hidden, the spot once considered almost holy, now reduced to bricks and aerials. On a clear day, the views stretch for miles and in the distance I could see the dark outlines of Brown Willy and Rough Tor, the peaks slightly clouded by fog.
To the East, I had views over Hingston Down, which sits around three and a half kilometres away. This area was made famous due to its historical significance and the fact that Kit Hill was gifted by the future King of England (and Britain) to the Cornish people makes the site all the more interesting. In 838, the Cornish, led by King Dungarth (also known as King Doniert), joined up with an army of Vikings to battle King Ecbert of Wessex. Very little is known of what really happened and is greatly debated by historians, but it is said after a lot of bloodshed, the West Saxons took the victory, ending nearly a century of warfare between the two sides. Hingston Down was the final battle to take place in Cornwall but also marked the last King of Cornwall. King Dungarth drowned later in the Fowey River and whilst there is very little information surrounding this, it was recorded in Ireland at the time as a Saxon punishment for combining forces with the Norsemen.
After some time enjoying the claggy views, I made my way back down the hill, stopping momentarily to take in the view from the upper car park. As I looked around me, a flock of birds in a field to the left caught my eye. I watched as the small group rose into the air and then landed again just meters away in the middle of the field. Seconds later, a large red bird followed, flying low before disappearing behind a bush. Another large bird of prey, lighter in colour, was hot on its heels. I stalked down the hill to get closer to the action, ducking low behind the bushes but peeking over the top to try and get a decent view. The field was awash with molehills. They were everywhere, little black mounds of freshly dug soil. These, mixed with the rain, must have bought earthworms and other grubs to the surface, the birds relishing at the opportunity. The red kite was over to the far right, its feet sunken into a small heap of earth. A buzzard was running across the grass, stooped over, legs outstretched, stopping every now and again to push its beak into the loam. In the middle of the field was a mixed flock of birds; fieldfares, redwings and a small dark species I could not identify from the distance. As the buzzard ran, the flock launched into the air and resettled down a few metres in a different direction, staying together to protect themselves, remaining at a constant distance even though the large birds had no interest in them. In a naked tree at the back of a field I spotted a second buzzard, its white ruffled neck giving it away against its camouflaged background, watching over the other birds below, surveying the scene as though a ruler watching its subjects.
As I watched, I realised how appropriate this scene was. The Scandinavian visitors working alongside the local birds for the same end; the chance of survival. A new battle of Hingston Down was taking place; but this time, both the Nordic and the Cornish would be the victors of the spoils, and the potential English threat left without a sound and made her way back to her car.