Despite arriving at Bovey Castle soggy, windswept and with trailers splashed with mud, the concierge (more used to parking the guests ferraris, range rovers or even helicopters) kindly showed us a place to put our bikes. I had hoped he would offer hop on and park them for us, but I wasn’t going to push it..
We checked in and were shown to our gorgeous rooms – each one with cracking views of the estate, and were shown around the hotel grounds. We were spoilt for choice when deciding where to put the camera, the grounds have great views at all angles. We chose a spot that looked towards the lake at the bottom, and also included statues on the lawn for some foreground interest. That done, hunger from the days ride set in and we headed for a fantastic meal in the restaurant. I wanted to see more of the hotel and soak it all up but was starting to flag and so went to relax in one of the lounges beside the fire. Pretty soon I was sleepy.. Next morning I rose early and went for a dip in the pool, followed by a session in the sauna… a perfect way to wake up! Breakfast finished we installed the camera on the lawn, and started to capture all we could see. Although it was quiet, a number of the guests were intrigued and came to explore the camera after a round of golf or during a stroll in the grounds. The reactions of the guests were quite different to most we had had before and it was good to hear new points of view. One couple particularly enjoyed the camera, and we helped the lady understand the different functions of her borrowed camera. She went for a walk with our workshop sheet in hand and came back with strong images of the estates flowers and grounds, using aperture well to control the depth of field. It is easier to explain how even the most modern, technical cameras work when you can illustrate it with the very simple, elemental design of the obscura.
That afternoon we packed up and headed to another Castle – the National Trust’s Castle Drogo, ’The last castle to be built in England’. We rolled the bikes down the long drive, and stopped them in front of the Castle. It looked particularly impressive against the background of Dartmoor and the very dramatic sky we were treated to that evening.
We pitched our tent and then were warmly welcomed into the castle by the lovely volunteers that help conserve the castle. We were treated to absolutely breath taking views from the castle roof – and I was pleased to hear that the public can also view them on their guided roof top tours. It crossed my mind that it would be an amazing spot to install the camera.. but then realised that it would easily blow away – not ideal. We slept on the grounds, and through the night I could hear deer moving around the tent – I am always so amazed at how brazen they get during nightfall. I had heard about the estate’s White Deer, and kept my eyes peeled for it, but it wasn’t my day.. We should have heeded some warning from the clouds of the night before – we woke up to a persistent drizzle and packed the tent away still damp. Not to be put off by a little drizzle, we moved to what was planned as our first location – a great view from the drive over looking the nearby valley and over to Haytor beyond. We couldn’t see Haytor because of the clouds, but began to build the camera beginning with the gazebo frame and cover. Just as we pulled the cover over it really started raining and we quickly pulled the trailers underneath to keep it all dry. Soon the cover started to fail and, despite our best efforts at shooing the rain off, we had to admit defeat and make a tactical retreat to the gardener’s store area to drip dry. We were then invited back into the castle to wait for it to clear and have a cup of tea (clearly the thing to do in such situations). Sadly, the rain never did clear until we started to lose light and all the visitors had gone. All was not lost however, as we put the time to good use having been kindly allowed to take over an office to update our blogs & respond to emails before we went to see what else was going in the Castle.We saw a great project as part of the Save Castle Drogo campaign – they were inviting visitors and volunteers to help produce bunting to show their support. We arrived just in time to see it being hung – they had done a great job and it looked fantastic. Castle Drogo is in real trouble because the flat roof (with the great views) is sadly leaking and is in desperate need of repair. Without this essential work there is a real danger that the castle will have to be shut, so click the link above and see how you can help.
We had an early night ahead of our ride the next day. Dartmoor had been an ideal place for the Pinhole Pedallers – beautiful landscapes, great people and fantastic cycling fuelled by very tasty food. Personally I realised I did not know Dartmoor nearly as well as I had thought.
We made it to Dartmoor! The weighty trailers and steep hills did their best to slow our progress but the Plym valley cycle route was not only scenic but a great, manageable way to climb up to the moors from sea level at Plymouth. A group of Dartmoor ponies (what IS the collective term for Dartmoor Ponies!?) welcomed us, and our tyres rumbled over cattlegrids. We’d climbed Dartmoor! Looking back on the way to our campsite in Princetown we could trace the route back to Plymouth and where we had been in the Tamar Valley.
We got in to Princetown and set up camp, happy with progress. I went for a dusk walk and climbed a nearby tor, watching lone headlights trace the shape of some of the surrouding hills as the first stars came out. I sat a while longer, and watched a nearby tower be smothered by low lying cloud – the red of its lights made it glow from within for a while. All this relaxed enjoyment was briefly jolted when I realised I had climbed the tor with light, and it was now dark – where was it I climbed up!? Luckily I found an easier way down, and walked back to my tent. I slept well that night.
Next morning we had a short ride to Bellever, within Dartmoor Forest and very central to Dartmoor. On the way we passed through Two Bridges. Thank you to the driver of the lorry who gave us an encouraging toot and wave as we climbed out and over the valley. I wish I had time to stop at Wistmans wood – a beautful, mystical and rare spot of ancient woodland a short walk from Two Bridges, a favourite spot of mine for photographs. On the last road to Bellever we were pulling our way up the last hill of the day when I heard a birds call, but not one I knew at all. I looked about and saw what made it – a parrot! It was grey with a lighter head and vibrant red tail perched on the edge of a pine branch.
I stopped and had a closer look – yup that’s definitely a parrot! It seemed to be enjoying the pine nuts. A passing motorist also stopped to see what we were looking at, and we guessed how it had got here – an escaped pet, we thought. It seemed to look more at home here than in a cage, despite the unlikely mix! I checked if it was there still later but it had moved on, so I hope it makes the tough Dartmoor winters as it is a long way from home! We are staying at the Bellever YHA, a great little hostel in a stunning location. It would be a great base camp to explore Dartmoor on foot or by bike, I will be back I’m sure. We arrived a little early and I took the time to do some much needed bike maintenance (trailers can be tough on brake pads!) and to explore Bellever wood through which the Dart river flows.
After a good substantial breakfast we took the camera to Postbridge, where Dartmoor National Park have an information centre right by the very picturesque Clapper Bridge. Our first view that we set the camera up looked across the fields nearby where a farmer and his dog was gathering his flock of sheep expertly. The small hedgerow in the foreground was great to show people how cameras are able to shift focus, and how changing the aperture can bring detail to the blurred landscape behind.
We had a great mix of people out enjoying the moors, and lots of intially bewildered German tourists, one of whom (I think) explained he had once cycled from Prague to Scotland. Although my German is very limited ‘einen gros camera!’ seemed to work when combined with some enthusiastic pointing, once inside the light still amazed and excited, and I was able to mime how it worked. We were also joined by some Duke of Edinburgh hikers, families, locals and the lovely Dartmoor staff. Click for information about the visitor centre and view their webcam here.
We then packed up and crossed the road (stopping for a quick ice cream from the Post Office Stores) and set up with a view of the very scenic Clapper Bridge. Apparantly, the name comes from the word cleaca, which means ‘bridging the stepping stones’.
It was great watching the movement of the visitors on the bridge – it is always striking seeing the image move from within the camera as it can be easy to forget that the projection is live, rather than a captured, still image. Watching people photograph the very photogenic setting was also strange from within a camera – it was funny how covert you feel inside the camera, being able to see out but others can’t see in! Despite the size, not many people suspect that it is a camera obscura. I spent some time photographing just the bridge and its visitors before inviting them inside. The children particularly liked this, especially when they could see people they know outside. It was good to hear people notice different things within the camera that they don’t outside – the different colours and shapes of the trees for instance, or a bird flying across the sky.
We had a good mix of visitors enjoying a holiday both from within the UK and further afield, and a number took our worksheets away to take pictures of their own – we are excited to see how they come out.
When we explained that we were carrying all of our equipment by bicycle it was funny gauging peoples reactions – many thought Dartmoor was too hilly or dangerous to be explored by bike. Although the hills are certainly a challenge, I have always found cycling on Dartmoor very rewarding – you can better appreiciate the scale and beauty of the place when you have pedalled your way across it. You can better appreciate the pubs and cafes, also!
We headed back to Bellever for the night, writing postcards and drinking hot chocolate. Early the next day we headed to Haytor.
If you are reading this and have photographs or the land to submit prompted by our visit please send them to email@example.com and we will put them online for all to see.