June on the Moor
‘Blazing June’, it always seemed an odd description of the month. No month in England was ever really blazing – except, perhaps, August 1976. Nevertheless, there were some who reckoned it the best month of the year, the days were long and the sun frequently shone.
At our school on Dartmoor, it was undoubtedly the finest time of the year. It seemed that an easing of the weather, after the severity of the winter, brought an easing of the regime to which we were subject. By June the school year was drawing to a close, term ended at the beginning of July, and the staff were almost relaxed, (or as relaxed as fundamentalist Christians living in fear of the final judgement might be). It wasn’t that there was an easing of the rules, which were frequently absurd and arbitrary, but there was occasionally a stretching of time and, once, even the cancellation of the Sunday evening service – which could last an hour and a half – to allow time for a long cross country walk.
In June, the school could become a detail in a bigger picture that was the Moor. Much that would have marked teenage life in the world outside was almost entirely absent from our daily routine, but what we had, that would transform the memories of many, was some of the most rugged and beautiful country in England, and in June it would be at its best.
The moorland roads were hardly more than single vehicle tracks, rough stone walls on either side waiting to punish the paintwork of cars where drivers misjudged the width. An encounter with a tractor and trailer might mean a long reverse before a gateway or entrance provided the passing space required. Traffic was no concern of ours; roads were only walked on when no alternative bridle way, footpath, or, sometimes, just open country offered themselves.
The moor was filled with treasures entirely inaccessible to motor vehicles – the granite tors, the ‘postboxes’, the bronze age hut circles and standing stones, the industrial archaeology of places like the Haytor granite tramway. Of course, they were there all year round, but in June they provided reason for trudging over hillsides of heather, gorse and bracken, and through dark wooded valleys where black bog water would run in streams and where sturdy slate roofed houses testified to human tenacity in the face of the elements.
Perhaps places do not have personalities, perhaps that is a fanciful notion of someone with an overly suggestible mind, but the Moor seemed to have. It seemed moody, bad tempered at one moment, and buoyant the next. It seemed to treat some people badly and others as friends. It seemed to like the boys of our school, as it knew what it felt like to be isolated, to be out on one’s own; rarely was it unkind to us.
Once, when retirement seemed not a distant prospect as it does now, a thought occurred that to live in such a place would be heaven on Earth, but the prices were far beyond anything a clergyman might ever manage, and there was the sobering thought that June lasted for but one month of the year.
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