April 24th is a day of anniversaries. On this day in 1965 I first visited Dartmoor and Hillbridge Farm which still mean so much to me. On the same day the Pennine Way was opened (but, a ten-year-old, I was unaware of it at the time), and in 1932 it was the Kinder Trespass. Six years ago it was Rozel Lawlor’s funeral, a poignant and hauntingly beautiful day when I said goodbye to a friend with whom I shared Dartmoor walks and a love of birds.
So it was especially good that I was at Hillbridge on 24 April this year, and was up early for a walk. The first bird I saw, looking out of the bedroom window at the adjacent magnolia, was a pied flycatcher, gathering food before flitting into the oakwood which is next to the colourful garden. I had seen him the day before and was thrilled that he was still about.
I walked down to the River Tavy where a dipper sped upstream, then across fields known as Coffins through Wapsworthy. It was here, at the top of the bridleway close to the moor gate, that I heard then saw my first redstart of the year. A moment later there was a loud cuckoo behind me and I swung round to see the bird perch at the top of a nearby tree.
I climbed to the top of White Tor, reaching it by 7.30; there was low cloud but still a fine view towards Great Mis Tor.
Then I walked down to Stephen’s Grave and Twist where, as I had hoped, I saw another redstart (I have seen them here before). By the time I reached Cudlipptown the sun was coming out.
After descending through lush fields I came to the sparkling Tavy at Horndon Clam. Common Wood is on the left as one looks upstream.
It was a scramble to get along the river at the bottom of Common Wood, with grey wagtails flickering on the rocks. As I walked up from the river towards the leat and home I saw another cuckoo in the trees.
And so, once again, 24 April was memorable, for a spectacular walk and exciting birds, in a very special place.