From afar, the Barbican Estate looks like a concrete jungle: a bleak mass of grey blocks, columns and towers. Cast aside your opinion of brutalist architecture for a moment, and venture inside. Greenery spills over the balconies; water features create an oasis of calm. But the best is yet to come.
Rewind to last summer: searing heat, endless sunny days (a stark contrast to the grey days and downpours this year). Sun’s out, bikes out. Destination: St. Ives. Cripes, that’s a long way, I hear you say. Fear not: I’m talking about St. Ives, Cambridgeshire, here, which is only 20-odd kilometres away from Cambridge on the world’s longest guided busway. (Yes, that is St. Ives’ claim to fame.)
Postbridge lies on the fringe of Bellever Forest, right in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, and is best known for its medieval clapper bridge. We’d crossed it the previous evening, but as we hadn’t had time to admire it properly a detour first thing in the morning was in order. After eating our fill of cereals, we set off into Postbridge, opting for the dirt tracks instead of the main road.
I was expecting bleak expanses of moorland, shrouded in fog. What I experienced was the polar opposite: blistering heat and clear, blue skies. If I had to choose a favourite day in Dartmoor National Park, it’d be the one spent hiking to Postbridge, via Princetown (for that all-important cream tea) and Wistman’s Wood (a magical spot which, in misty conditions, would be a dead ringer for the Forbidden Forest).
I’m used to waking up under canvas on hiking trips; on this trip, we branched out into the world of camping pods and B&Bs. I woke snug as a (fried) bug, toasted by the underfloor heating. Outside, blue skies, sunshine and footpaths (twenty-odd miles of them) beckoned.
First stop: Tavistock, a stannary and market town on the fringe of Dartmoor National Park. From Exeter, it should have been two trains (down to Plymouth, up to Gunnislake) and a bus ride away, leaving us with a short, scenic walk across the moorland to our accommodation. Two trains in, outside Gunnislake station, those plans unravelled.
Dartmoor National Park is peat bogs, pine forests and ponies (lots of ponies); mile upon mile of open moorland, crowned with tors; and stars – more than I could count, than I’ve ever seen before – twinkling against inky skies. Over Easter, Laurence and I spent five days hiking across Dartmoor National Park, sampling cream teas, exploring market towns and quaint villages and getting very (very) sunburnt along the way. I’ll retrace our footsteps through Tavistock, Princetown, Postbridge and Widecombe-in-the-Moor in subsequent posts, but for now, here’s a selection of my favourite snapshots . . .