Friday, 19 April 2013


As you all know, it is some time since Marcia set a book on Dartmoor. There were, I think, three reasons for this. When she started to have the ideas that were to result in The Children's Hour, she had a specific feel for the book's landscape. This is not unusual but there was nowhere on the south coast, the coast we both knew very well, that fitted – nor did the small part of the north Cornwall coast that had been home.

Beaches and cliffs: typical of the north Cornwall coast.

We lived for a while at a place called Polrunny just to the south of Boscastle. The house was a thousand feet above sea level and my study was high up on the second floor (for the sake of readers outside the UK, I should explain that here we have a ground floor, at ground level, and go upstairs to a first floor and up again to the second floor). The window faced north and from my desk I had a wonderful view of Lundy Island, but only when the weather was clear. It rains lot in that area and, as was explained to us when we moved in, "If you can't see Lundy, 'tis rainin'. If you can see Lundy, 'twill be rainin' soon." They were, of course, quite right.
Not Lundy but Gull Rock near Padstow but you get the idea.

It is the only study in which I have felt sea sick. Since I am rarely sick when at sea this was unexpected. There had to be an explanation but it was some time before the penny dropped. The carpet was a dark brown on fawn dog tooth design. When the wind blew hard, this would lift slightly with each gust and it was this pattern lifting and falling against the unmoving hard edge of my desk that was making me feel odd. A few carpet tacks provided a complete – if inelegant – cure to the problem thus proving the hypothesis.

The Bristol Channel near Trentishoe

I digress: we were looking for a home for those children living in Marcia’s head at that time. After trekking down further into Cornwall without success we set off to explore the north coast of Devon where the Bristol Channel meets the Irish Sea. After a few false starts we found what she was looking for. We were to the west of the hamlet of Trentishoe, just inside the Exmoor National Park, in an area completely new to both of us. Marcia had visited the eastern parts of the moor as a child – I knew nothing about it at all. The next few years were devoted to exploring it, photographing it, loving it and writing about it. This was the first reason – pastures new.

Heddon's Mouth was the inspiration for the cove in The Children's Hour

The second was that Marcia felt she had written so much about Dartmoor that she was getting stale. It is impossible to know whether or not that fear was justified as the next few books were to be set elsewhere.

Then we moved – the third reason. The Hermitage is a lovely house set in the middle of what the government described as, "one of the two remaining truly rural sinks of tranquillity in the country." I would not argue with that. 

We were in the largest postal area in England – and the one with the lowest population. If three vehicles passed us before lunch time it was surprising. At night we could see only one light: shining onto the yard of a farm some miles up the valley. Surrounded by a multitude of nesting habitats for birds in an area which was short of suitable food for them, we built up the most amazing local populations and became a regular restaurant for sparrow hawks. This delighted us: the presence of a top predator indicates a thriving ecosystem.

There were, of course, downsides. It was round trip of twenty-four miles to the nearest sensible shopping centre and fourteen to the village with a post office store, a farm shop and the doctor. And it was a long way from Dartmoor.

Having said that, access to Bodmin moor was quite easy. So it was that the books written in the next few years were to be set on either Exmoor or Bodmin.

Then, one day last summer, we decided the time had come to return home and so we did. Despite our passion for Exmoor and despite our flirtation with Bodmin, Dartmoor is home. It is as if we have had a mid-life crisis and have spent a few years fooling about with a couple of wonderful mistresses and now we have returned to an adored, patient, understanding and totally fulfilling wife.

This week's blog dog is Billy, waiting patiently outside the newsagent.

You were all pretty close with your answers to last week's silly photo but it took an email from a reader to get the answer spot on: A Balwen Welsh mountain sheep. These used to live in the small Tywi Valley and they were very nearly all killed by the severe winter of 1947 (so was I - I was at a freezing prep school at the time - we built a snowman the remains of which were still there at the start of the Easter holidays). Some say that there was only one ram left alive. So it is hardly surprising that the reader who emailed Marcia lives on a farm in Wales, is it? Please don't ask me what this one is doing on a Dartmoor farm with a Whiteface as a friend.