Every so often Dartmoor calls me. It whispers in my dreams and I cannot ignore the call. And so it was that we found ourselves, in these glorious days of an Indian summer, high up on the moor once more.
I learn so much each time I visit; about the land and about myself. I become so much more simply by breathing in the air, by planting my feet firmly upon the land, by raising my eyes to the skies and by feeling its heart beating in time with my own. Dartmoor, for me, is a deeply spiritual place.
But as much as I love the stillness and the wild, it is a place too for people. Some live in happy harmony with the moor as farmers or artisans, some make their living providing for the many visitors who come to be overwhelmed by its beauty. For others still, the moor must seem a very bleak place viewed from the confines of that dark and brooding institution that is Dartmoor Prison.
|H.M Prison Dartmoor|
Designed by Daniel Ashe Alexander, Dartmoor Prison was originally built to house French prisoners of war captured during the Napoleonic Wars. Work began in 1806 and took its first inmates in 1809 but by 1812 it was also home to American P.O.W's. When both wars ended in 1815, the prison had outlived its usefulness. It was re-opened as a men's prison in 1850 and is still in use today. During WW1 it was used to house conscientious objectors. It is now a category C prison housing non-violent inmates although for many years was a high security prison and looking at its foreboding walls it is easy to see why.
It is at Dartmoor the charity Storybook Dads is based. Their aim is to 'help imprisoned parents maintain meaningful contact with their children'. By enabling inmate parents to record a story onto C.D it helps to improve literacy and be involved in their child's development. For children finding it difficult living without a parent just to be able to hear their voice whenever they want on a storybook C.D, the trauma, stress and sense of loss is easier to deal with. Such a simple thing and yet it does so much good, for both child and parent.
So when we saw a 'chain gang' collecting money on their five mile hike across the moor we were more than happy to dig deep in our pockets. Last year they were able to produce over 2,600 C.D's to make children smile. This year they hope to top 3,000.
But the chain gang weren't the only unusual sightings that day on the moor. I think these Highland Cattle are a long way from home!