Dartmoor Life

I love Devon life. I love the farmers and their sheep and cattle that surround us; I love helping search for lost ponies and disentangling sheep from fences; I love walking the lanes at night with the beagles and watching the skies turn...

The front door opens, a stentorious voice shouts 'Good morning'!' and there's a thump as this morning's delivery is thrown onto the bookcase by the door.

One of the beagles lifts a lazy ear from her rug by the Rayburn as the door slams shut again. She knows it is Neil, the postman; nothing to worry about.

I turn and look out of the window, just in time to see him vault the gate, shorts and all (in January) and fit his powerful body back into the Post Office van. He drives off and I pause for a moment to gaze over the gate at Dartmoor. It's been three years and I have never once tied of the view.

We downsized. Lots of people do. I was invited to Exeter to give a talk and there are no trains back from Exeter to Birmingham after 9pm (nor are there trains back to Exeter from pretty well anywhere in the country after 9pm as this gigging comedian has long-since discovered) so the organiser offered to put me up.

I'd been expecting a semi-detached in the city but, under a coal-black starry sky, he drove me to a medieval house on Dartmoor. When I awoke in the morning and drew the curtains, Cosden Hill met my eyes and every fibre in my body cried 'I want to live here!'

It's possible that nothing would have come of it had it had I not left my dirty socks and knickers behind. One embarrassing phone message later, asking for my address in order to return them (laundered) meant I had to call my host back as I didn't have an email address. When I did and we had laughed, I told him what I felt when I drew the curtains.

'Oh, that's just what happened to us,' he said. 'You must come down and look around. You can stay here.'

So we did. We looked around and fell in love. We're both self-employed and despite knowing we'd take a financial hit from giving up regular work in the city, clearing out half our possessions and using an Internet connection with the band-width of a flea, we thought 'why not? Surely, we said, it was about time to start living where we wanted to spend the rest of our lives.

Now, Cosden Hill is gloriously visible (or not, depending on whether it's raining or about to rain) over our gate so I can thank it for this adventure of happiness every day.

I love Devon life. I love the farmers and their sheep and cattle that surround us; I love helping search for lost ponies and disentangling sheep from fences; I love walking the lanes at night with the beagles and watching the skies turn; I love the village of South Zeal, the tiny pilgrim church of St. Mary's and the shop run by Alex and Irene, I love walking barefoot with the beagles on Dartmoor and being snowed in (fat chance this winter!).

I love watching yellowhammers, goldfinches, bullfinches, siskins and working out what's a dunnock and what isn't; I love gathering blackberries and making bramble seedless jelly -- and winning prizes for it at the village show! I love the almost daily rainbows; I love the winds that almost ceaselessly embrace our home, roaring up the lanes, wuthering in the hedges and the telegraph wires and making the metal gates sing elfin songs; I love talking to the trees and the bushes at night time when their dryads are out; I love the velvet and glittering sky and learning to recognise dozens of constellations. I even love the rain. Well, mostly.

I'm almost certainly going batty. And I don't care.

We'll always be foreigners: you're never a Devonian unless you've buried your grandmother here and it doesn't count if you dig her up and move her. However, we are starting to be accepted.

I know that as I walk down the hall to check the post. There, on the bookcase is a bank statement and a brace of pheasant. Neil shoots them and, now he knows I'm not afraid of skinning and disemboweling them, we get regular deliveries.

To start with, it turned this city girl's stomach to chop off heads and pull out entrails but now I see it as a privilege. These glorious creatures are gifts from God; the least I can do is honour them as I work and thank them for their lives. I do this sacred ritual of blessing and dismembering on the porch with an interested cat and beagles watching but not venturing too near and am always slightly breathless, bloody but unbowed when it is completed. Two birds ready for the pot with giblets to simmer for stock and a bowl of remnants, covered in feathers, to be placed on the common at night for the wild folk.

For days, the house and garden will be haunted by feathers. For days we will eat well and sustainably. Truly, truly, truly, this is the life.