It is 3 miles as near, or far, as makes no difference from the car parking place at Lud Gate to Red Lake. Not so far until you factor in the three hillsides to climb and the rough nature of the ground underfoot. There was a time I could run it non-stop, not any more. I shall instead use ‘stopping to take a photo’ as a feeble excuse for ‘I’m going to die’.
The open moor is only just waking up to spring. A few bluebells are showing in the hedges at Lud Gate whereas in the woods near home they form a blue carpet and have done so for a week or more. Down at Holne Bridge the first hawthorn (may) flower was out two weeks ago but as I pass the last hawthorn on the edge of the open moor it is only showing its first green leaf tips. The grass underfoot has gone past brown and dessicated and is now bleached and crumbling and the ground is parched and dry, well dry in a Dartmoor sense, in other words I have not yet gone knee deep in peaty mud in the first 100m of open moorland.
Along the way I make a little diversion to the top of Puper’s Hill to take in the view, then down to Huntingdon Warren where the daffodils are still in bloom and up to the Mound of Sinners, on to Broad Falls and thence Red Lake.
It was going so well, but there is no approach to Red Lake from this side that does not involve a long diversion or wet feet. I have wet feet. So close. I have also stumbled upon the dead sheep which had alerted me to its presence 100 yards away.
The lake is a disused china clay pit which by all accounts never made any money. I am not surprised. The cost of the tramway alone, which snakes down the moor 6 miles to Harford nearly on the level and then steeply down to Ivybridge must have been exorbitant. However, what I imagine most people don’t see is the line of the porcelain pipe down which the china clay slurry was sent. It is clear to see in some places such as where it crosses a small tin streaming works on an aqueduct but for most of the rest of the way it is simply marked by a run of standing stones. It too must have cost a fortune.
It is widely held that the lake is contaminated with arsenic which was extensively mined in Devon and Cornwall during the early part of the 20th century. The water however is alive with fish and tadpoles and they live and drink it all day long and it doesn’t seem be doing them much harm, but it is probably as well not to drink the water. That probably equally goes for any river downstream of a town where the pollution from vehicle exhausts lies in the gutters until being swept into the river by rain. Right about now after weeks with no rain that will make the lower stretches of the River Dart fairly nasty when the rain finally comes.
The water is chilly but not cold. I enter form the west side under the bank which cuts out the chill breeze, but here the bottom is marshy rather than sandy and bubbles of gas burst foetidly as I wade in. It is about 400m around the edge if you swim close in to the shore, but today I content myself with heading out into the middle kicking and splashing at the tea stained water, it never really clears, February or July, always dark and peaty.
There is something about the emptiness of this place that would perhaps not be to everyone’s liking. There is the hurried lap, lap, lap of wavelets driven by the breeze against the stones, the sound carries around the sunken bowl like a faltering heartbeat and the breeze soughs through the grass in a final death rattle. Floating out here in the middle of this forsaken lake is either like dying or being born, for is it not written “All things come to those who wait.”*
Suddenly the sky is full of swallows, sweeping, ducking and weaving and there is that heartbeat again.
I could head back the way I came or I could follow the tram way to where it is crossed by the Abbot’s Way, then down to the clapper bridge and around the hill and back. However, from the top of the volcano I have a clear view of Ryder’s Hill a mile and a half away over fairly level moorland and once there I can take the ridge back to Snowdon and skirt Pupers Hill to get back. It is a long way but it is ‘level’ or at least mostly in my favour.
Downhill it may be but I am very glad to see the car again and I am splattered with mud once again. There is nothing for it, I will have to stop at Holne Weir on the way home.
*The Way of Mrs Cosmopilite, 3 Quirm Street , Ankh Morpork.