Words: Belinda Dixon; Images: Malcolm Snelgrove
Imagine – it’s the kind of day Dartmoor does so well: colour-vivid; sunglasses-bright. Gorse a vibrant yellow against a brilliant blue sky. And you’re in the kind of place Dartmoor does so well: away from roads, with a wilderness feel, resounding to only-natural sounds: a soft whinny, the clip of horseshoe on stone.
And why might you be there? Perhaps you’re learning (or remembering) to ride. That’s what took us to Babeny Farm Stables, on the fringes of Dartmeet at the end of a gloriously long lane. With the sun streaming onto the yard we were welcomed by Dee Dee and team and Malcolm Snelgrove, Visit Dartmoor Ambassador and specialist in horse and outdoor sport photography.
First it was meeting Jess, our capable, cheerful guide, then sorting riding hats and pairing us up with the right horses: for Nicola Hendy (TV presenter/Producer) cheeky Rowan and placid Ellie for me. Next comes going through the basics; how to sit, hold the reigns, nudge the horses on.
Then you’re off clip-clopping down the lane. Past a rushing stream, through a hamlet with thatched cottages and onto the open moor. And it’s here that Babeny’s – and Dartmoor’s – strength shines through: within minutes of setting out you’re in the heart of a wilderness. Far from habitation, with nothing between you and swooping tor tops and overarching sky.
And the pace of this adventure is special. Being on a horse, and being a beginner, requires you to move at slow walking speed. Which is actually quite startling – you’re forced to slow down and calm down. To sit and look around. And when you do, you notice so much that seems new. Sights, sounds and smells seem all the more vivid; you really notice those moss-covered stones, the brilliance of birdsong, the smell of woodsmoke and of cows.
After heading out over Corndon Down we pause at the cross commemorating the loss of WWI soldier, Evelyn Cave-Penney. It’s also a chance for us to pat Ellie and Rowan and remind them how well they’ve done.
Next Jess guides us through the best technique for the climb up to Sharp Tor, to look out over the expanse of the Dart Valley. Then, back into that unbreakable rhythm; where riding on Dartmoor feels both age-old and timeless – in this traditional place you’re moving at a traditional pace.
The final furlong brings a batch of well-instructed but only fleetingly achieved trots, then equine and human yard-side goodbyes. Driving off, we’re struck again by just how much you can do on Dartmoor: wild camping, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, wild swimming. Thrilling, chilling, testing, resting. And you’ve always got so much moor to explore.
This adventure was organised by the top team at Visit Dartmoor, official tourism partners for Dartmoor National Park. Dee Dee and team at Babeny Farm Stables were similarly fabulous; providing a warm welcome and excellent tuition. And Malcolm Snelgrove was, as ever, the photographer extraordinaire …