Today started slow (intentionally) with coffee, reading, and listening to birds. We love our little barn!
Around 10, we got in the car to start the day. We had to meet the llamas! Today was all about our walking with Dartmoor Llama Walks, which is more or less exactly what it sounds like. You get a llama, you go for a walk. Depending on the day, you might get tea and scones too. The husband and wife owners (Steve and Diane) are a delight, and they brought five llamas and one alpaca for our group. Their grandson Charlie helped out as well. Each party gets their own llama – the alpaca was for a young girl who was with her family.
Our llama was Marlia, who is about three years old and is still learning how to be a “lead llama” (walking at the front of the pack). Our stroll took us across some moorland and up to Cordon Tor. A tor is essentially a rock outcropping at the top of a hill. Along the way we met ponies grazing, and plenty of sheep. Once a year, the ponies are rounded up for medical treatment or to be selected for sale, but otherwise they just live life out on the moor. We also learned all about the plants on the moor – the gorse which the llamas love despite its prickers, the bracken which is invasive and bad for the llamas (but which they also love), the multiple kinds of heather, and so on. Diane also taught us about the ways humans have influenced the Dartmoor landscape over thousands of years, with farming, mining, and now tourism.
At the tor, we sat and enjoyed scones baked by Diane with clotted cream and jam, and tea and coffee. On the way up the climb, we were chatting with Diane about travel, and something in the conversation made me wonder which airport we were transiting through on our way home. I pulled up the Delta app to check and low and behold discovered it said that our London to Washington Dulles flight was cancelled. No email notification, no rebooking, just “cancelled”. I tried their automated chat tool, which was very apologetic and offered us a refund. Sadly, it didn’t have a “but I need to get home” button, so I gave Delta a ring. Mercifully, I got through to someone after only about 30 minutes on hold (still enjoying my coffee and scone) and got a new flight booked. Travel in 2021 is still not totally back to normal.
On our hike, Diane warned that Dartmoor would likely be overrun with tourists this weekend – it’s been a popular destination during COVID, and Monday is a “bank holiday” so this is a long holiday weekend for many. She suggested staying away from the popular sites. But she also mentioned that most tourists never go more than 30 meters from a carpark. We decided to risk it by visiting one of the most famous tors, Haytor. After all, we’ve been to Yellowstone in the summer – how crazy could this really be? It’s Britain!
But first we needed lunch! We went to a farm shop near Haytor and had a tea spread, along with some halloumi fries. The UK is really into halloumi, which feels like a trend we need to import. We also picked up some essentials and not-so-essentials in the farm store.
For our hike of Haytor, we followed a 6 mile path from the AllTrails app*. Parking was easy and after the first half mile or so, we saw almost nobody. The path took us on a loop past a number of tors, up and down valleys, and through a medieval village, before ending at Haytor itself. It was one of those hikes where each view is more stunning than the last. It took us about three hours to do the loop, with plenty of breaks to examine interesting rocks, plants, and animals. We were also looking jealously upon rock climbers enjoying the awesome granite climbing opportunities.
We made it home around 7 and fired up the grill for some burgers and grilled vegetables and a FaceTime with the family. Tomorrow the geology gets taken up a notch, so look out!
* Are you a hiker? Buy AllTrails. I know it seems expensive, especially when you’ve come to expect that all software should be free-in-return-for-all-your-personal-data, but it’s worth it. Discover trails anywhere in the world! Fully offline maps! And, my favorite feature – once you tell it that you’re on a hike, it’ll tap your wrist (on your Apple Watch) if you stray too far off course. So, you don’t need to stare at your phone as you hike, but there’s a safety net keeping you from getting too lost.