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Matt Parkins visits Dartmoor

PUBLISHED: 13:00 28 April 2016

Jane Scott took this photograph at Ditsworthy, where scenes for War Horse were filmed

Jane Scott took this photograph at Ditsworthy, where scenes for War Horse were filmed


Matt Parkins ponders the future of Dartmoor

Feeling the warm sun soaking through to my bones, I’ve found the perfect vantage point to wait among the angular granite boulders of Leather Tor. I’m scanning one of the most picturesque but windswept panoramas of Dartmoor.

Over my right shoulder the sparkle of early morning sun reflects from the rippled surface of Burrator Reservoir and the steep bank of forest rising from the waterside is topped by the amber bracken of Sheeps Tor.

This is the landscape made world famous by the film War Horse. My eye follows the edge of the deep green tree line, now looking north; Princetown stands alone in the far distance. The security of the prison was probably enhanced by its remoteness, making a successful escape more challenging.

This imposing environment is the reason I’m here. I’m supervising a group of young people on their Duke of Edinburgh expedition.

They don’t know where I am, it’s remote supervision and they are navigating independently...and doing a great job too. Through binoculars I see four figures with large packs making headway on a moorland track perhaps two miles away. That’s them, on route and on time. I keep an eye on them as they drop down the forestry track into the valley.

Knowing they are safe and progressing well, I have time to take in the sunlit scene and wild life around me. Across the open moor I hear a familiar sound - clicking pebbles. I haven’t heard that since last year. Perched on a rock is a wheatear; the iconic Dartmoor bird has returned for the summer and, with a flash of white from its tail, it’s gone.

Spending this day watching and waiting gives me time to think.

Steven Spielberg saw the magic of this landscape and, more than just a location, he gave it a starring role in the War Horse movie. A century on from the Great War and the moor probably hasn’t changed all that much. Our predecessors would recognise its expansive character and I hope they would be pleased with the way it is being cared for now.

Two hours later I’ve taken up a new position where I catch the walkers for a quick chat after they have crossed the road to Princetown.

They’re enjoying their expedition; though a little weary on their third day. Last night’s sleep was disturbed by a fox searching their bags in vain for a snack.

I’m inspired by these young people. They put in a lot of effort and determination to achieve their silver award. They all have ambitions too; maybe for higher education, the Navy reserves or a career in music. As individual as they are, they formed a great team. I hope they continue to go for gold.

They are very busy though, and can be under pressure to fit it all in. During the expedition weekend I happened to meet one of their science teachers. She was concerned: “But she needs to be revising for her exams!”

I’m confident that she can do both if she puts this much effort into what she does. The Duke of Edinburgh experience will make her, and all young people who take part, confident and rounded people. I feel sure the future will be safe in the hands of these guardians of the moor. n


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