August 16th, 2013
Walking in Devon is, like life itself, much about weaving through the shadow and the light – bounding through sun scorched fields and ducking into the emerald dappled holloways. I arrived at dusk, and what struck me most is the intensity of the darkness. The absence of a moon made darker still by the high hedgerows, cradling you in your way, or hemming you in – whichever sentiment your perception gives way to. It is the antithesis of walking in Iceland, where the vistas are vast and trees are close to non-existent.
The hedgerows are so tall and present and full of life, that my first thought as I sat in the crackling black, was that non-human life in Devon took place more in the vertical than in the horizontal. There is a whole universe to be relearned in the leaves, the tendrils, the seed heads and the rosing hips. And in all the creatures that live on, under, through and between them. There are scurryings in the understorey, and flutterings in the upper levels. As I walked down a lane with my mother, I felt honoured to witness the moment when a leaf dried like an umbilical cord, then after weeks of photosynthesis, fell to its destiny.
The hedge is a many storeyed library of life, and it is impossible not to wish to read of its books. It feels an offence to the creativity and abundance of the hedge then, to begin to come across a majority which have been crudely subjected to a strimmer as the summer plods on. Apparently the farmers must keep their hedges in check to keep the car channels open, otherwise the council will do it for them and present them with a bill. The ancient, skilled and time consuming art of hedge laying seems to have largely been lost.
With my mother I passed old barns and derelict mills and followed a nide of pheasant hens up a hill into a wood where stood the ruined castle of Berry Pomeroy.
Down the hill again we passed an apple tree dripping with temptation. And, parked up beside a stream, a bow top wagon with a letter box – a suggestion of a rarity: that this traveller has been allowed to stay awhile, before wending its way again between the bright fields and the dark hedges.
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Sarah Thomas is Penguin's Wayfarer and she'll be walking and writing for us all summer. Follow her journey here!