Since the start of March, when I moved here to Broadhempston from my temporary perch at Schumacher College, I have been exploring my neighbourhood in ever-more circuitous peregrinations — and since the national COVID19 lockdown here in the UK, my running and cycling have all been based from home; day by day my GPS layers maps of interbraided rings that link farm lanes, bridle paths, footpaths, hilltops, and public woodlands.
I am slowly finding my way in this place.
Whichever way I turn out my door, within a minute or two I am out of the village and surrounded on all sides by a rippling downland of fields punctuated by copse and brake. On the brilliant clear days which have predominated this spring, the uplands of Dartmoor enlimn these farmlands with a horizon of sepia and umber some ten miles to the north.
My constant companions on all of these neighbourhood adventures are miles and miles of hedgerows. There are some 33,000 miles of hedgerows in the county of Devon alone, and although the ‘Devon bank’ or Devon hedge is already unique in England for its stratified structure of earth, trees, shrubs, grasses, flowering plants — even within Devon, hedges differ according to soil type and species.
Whenever I stop for water or to check my bearings, it is invariably beside a hedge — a deeply impenetrable, twisted, interwoven mass of hawthorn and holly insinuating into beech, blackthorn, and oak, basal flowers spilling into the roadway, the lingering scent of wild onion often following behind.
In an interview I gave earlier today at Soundart Radio in Totnes, I talked about my years of endurance running adventures in the far north and why I might be drawn to Dartmoor as I am to the Arctic — because of the invitation among its endlessly unfurling expanse of moor and heath and bog to lay myself bare to wind, rain, snow, and sun from which there is little relief save for in the shadows of its scattered tors.
However, it needn’t be an adventure deep into the national park to invite connection to something greater than oneself.
In recent weeks, I’ve found solace in the constancy of hedgerows — my daily companions on even the shortest outings. I’ve startled pheasants, befriended blackbirds, chased rabbits, and always, looking into the hedge, have found something new.
There is a wildness here, and perhaps this global pause can offer us just what we have dearly need — the chance to slow down enough to look deeply and notice the worlds within these steadfast strips of green.