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Moorland Matters
29 July, 2020

Moorland Matters

We enjoyed Mark Griffiths' Country Life article - ‘Unleashed, mad and dangerous’: How Britain’s wild, romantic moorland is our ‘signature habitat’, inspiring everything from Beowulf to The Hound of the Baskervilles.

At this time when travel and holidays are pointing towards the exploration of our Great British landscapes - we would urge you to get caught up in the mystery and wild beauty of Dartmoor just as Arthur did - perhaps you'll be inspired! 

Country Life Magazine

"In June 1901, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to his mother from the Duchy Hotel at Princetown in deepest Dartmoor:

‘We did 14 miles over the Moor today and we are now pleasantly weary. It is a great place, very sad & wild, dotted with the dwellings of prehistoric man, strange monoliths and huts and graves. In those old days, there was evidently a population of very many thousands here & now you may walk all day and never see one human being.’

By ‘we’, he meant himself and his friend Bertram Fletcher Robinson, Daily Express journalist and devoted Devon man. Having stirred Conan Doyle’s curiosity with tales of spectral hounds, Robinson agreed to show him Dartmoor and to help him with the plot and details of a novel to be set there. In the landscape and its lore, he found material so sensational that he felt justified in reviving a character he’d killed off eight years earlier.

For all that the dog is demonic and the detective dazzling, the genius of The Hound of the Baskervilles lies in its main location.

Conan Doyle, in the person of Dr Watson, describes the moor as ‘gloomy’, ‘sinister’, ‘so vast, and so barren, and so mysterious’, and ‘like some fantastic landscape in a dream’.

'It is an ‘enormous wilderness of peat and granite’, where squalls drift across the russet face of ‘the melancholy downs’ and ‘heavy, slate-coloured clouds’ trail ‘in grey wreaths down the sides of the fantastic hills’.

Above stand ‘gnarled and craggy cairns and tors’, below lies the Grimpen Mire, a maze-like morass that swallows all but the most careful, be they people or ponies. This bog’s borborygmi, says the novel’s villain, cause the ghostly howling that can sometimes be heard, but the natives say it’s the hound, and they’re right. Dartmoor Prison adds to the desolation and an escaped murderer to the menace.

And yet Conan Doyle also portrays a place that is singularly beautiful and rich in history both natural and human. Peaks that lour in some lights shine in others. Wild orchids, rare butterflies and archaeological digs bring out the buff and the best in even the worst of the characters.

Despite his repetition of the word, little of Conan Doyle’s Dartmoor is ‘fantastic’. For example, he based the Grimpen Mire on Fox Tor Mires, still a 370-acre bog that no newcomer should consider crossing except during a drought. He resolved to convey Dartmoor as he found it, aware that its genius loci was quite drama and mystery enough.

In doing so, he was tapping into something deep and ancient in the British collective psyche..."

Read the full article HERE


Country Life Magazine

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