Thursday, September 24, 2020


Camping on Dartmoor

It never occurred to me that wanting to visit Dartmoor would bring me face to face with the famous prison of the same name. I really never gave it a thought.

  I mean, after all, the moors are vast, covering  an area of some 368 sq miles. 
 And my main aim was to walk them - well a very small part of them. 
But looking at the map Princetown seemed to be in the heart of the moorland, central enough to have a good explore. 
No, I didn't know it was the place where the prison was. That is until we drove by the huge walls behind which another world existed. 

It's history goes back to the early 1800's. 
From 1803 to 1815 Britain was at war with Napoleonic France and many prisoners were taken. Originally they were accommodated in Plymouth on redundant warships. 
However, conditions were so bad - poor sanitary arrangements, little exercise, lack of fresh air,  awful diet - that many died.
 It was decided to make it land based. Princetown, being in the middle of the moors, was deemed a suitable location and that's how Dartmoor Prison came to be built. 

The foundation stone was laid on 20th March 1806 and building work began. The first prisons were constructed from stones obtained by breaking up the boulders lying around the site and supplemented by dressed stone from nearby Herne Hole quarry.
 The planned completion of 18 months took twice as long due to labour disputes and the notorious Dartmoor weather.

On 22nd May 1809 the first prisoners arrived and the prison, full by the end of the year, soon became overcrowded. 
The situation worsened when American prisoners came in April 1813, with outbreaks of diseases killing 11,000 Frenchmen and 271 Americans. 
With the end of the wars the prisoners were repatriated, the last leaving in 1816, after which the prison closed, not opening again until 1850 as a penal  establishment for criminals.

The first convicts were mainly invalids, imbeciles, one armed and one legged men and others with chest complaints who it was thought would benefit from the fresh Dartmoor air. 
Cast-iron cells arranged back to back were constructed by artisan convicts under the supervision of contractors.
 These were superseded by stone cells before finally the older prisons were demolished and replaced by the buildings you see today, also built by convicts under artisan warders supervision. They were occupied by the worst criminals in the land.

The Military Service Act of 1916 introduced compulsory Conscription. 
‘Conscientious Objectors’ or ‘Conchies’ as they were called could apply before Tribunals for exemption on moral or religious grounds and either accepted non-combatant duties or agreed to serve at a Government Labour Camp. 
In 1917 Dartmoor prison was designated a Labour Camp and around a thousand such men replaced the convicts, occupied their cells and performed the same work as they had done. 
All locks were removed, they had freedom of movement locally and the Warders acted as supervisors only. 
They and their families were generally despised and suffered much hardship.

On Sunday 24th January 1932  around fifty men broke ranks and  soon took  control, attacking anyone in their way. Officers retreated to safety.
 The Administration block was set on fire and irreplaceable prison records lost. Police and soldiers rushed to Dartmoor. 
 The trouble was quickly quelled and the ringleaders later tried and convicted. Ropes, grapnels etc. found afterwards, confirmed suspicions the riot was a cover for an (unsuccessful) escape plan.

Dartmoor today
The bad old days are gone. Dartmoor now holds low category prisoners who are encouraged to undertake training programmes to help them on their release. Skilled advisors hold discussion sessions to make them aware of how unacceptable their crimes are. Single cell accommodation still applies and they eat in their cells. Showers and telephone communication with their families are freely available. They are not here to be punished; their punishment is loss of liberty tempered by help towards reform and rehabilitation.

24th July 2020
We make it to Princetown as a low mist settles and head for the Plume of Feathers, a park4night spot that had good reviews. We were glad to find it , especially as there seemed to be no campsites around and wild camping would have been difficult in the national park. OK though if you have a small tent. We park round  the back of the pub where we see that there are campers already and a lot of space . The only downside was the whole area appeared to be on a hill, a slight one, but an incline nevertheless.
Finding our way into the bar area, and being asked to use hand gel ( Covid times), we pay the lovely chap, who was wearing a facemask, £18 for two nights.

That'll be long enough to see the area and if we like it we'll stay for longer.
After booking, we're sent away with a menu for the restaurant. Of, course, Peter would like to try it, while I try to justify the spend in my head. 

Later we find the delightfully decorated showers rooms and the outside washing up area. I know, a bit of a dichotomy there. It'll do just fine, I think

After a detailed search we find a good enough / level enough place to park up and sitting in the camper with a cup of coffee, looking out at the misty drizzle (or mizzle as the Cornish call it), I take a look at the menu. There are some gorgeous dished to choose from , but not many that are gluten and dairy free. But I work out that some of the recipes could  possibly be tweaked if the chef was willing.

We are shown to a table by the fire, for which I'm mighty grateful, the weather having turned a bit chilly. I love this menu, you can have a regular or a small on all their meals. We choose the same - chargrilled chicken with bacon, cheese , chips and salad. Of course Peter has no cheese. They gave him something else, but I can't remember what. My small meal cost £7.95 and his regular cost £11.95. The difference? Not a lot, not £4 worth, that's for sure.
With two pints of Guinness the whole meal came to £29 - not bad for a fine evening dining, with lots of banter from the table opposite and the cockney waiter and  with the added attraction of a spoiled dog who was allowed to lick the table!
And to bed, with the hope of some sun tomorrow. 

But no such luck, the drizzle continued . However,  we manage buy an ordinance survey map which gives us the courage to go for a walk out on the moors. We choose a route and after having coffee we set off. The moors look vast in front of us but we're on a path, so it's ok right? We'll we hope so.

We meet some animals along the way - ponies and cows, mostly. Their freedom inspires me.


And the road seems long, a trek.

Looking back we can see the town with the tell tale walls of the prison nestled in there too.

This next picture probably shows it better.

Over four hours later and having walked for more than nine miles and having got lost on the moor in the mist, we walk back into the campsite, tired , wet and relieved. We enjoy a bean chilli that I had prepared a few days previously. How welcome that meal was after our long, wet trek through the moors.

Thursday, September 10, 2020


10th Sept 2020

Today I'm joining Grammys grid's Wednesday Writing Prompt ,

 to write a  story in 98 words to include the word, computer.

Here's my effort. Hope you enjoy it 

                                           New Beginnings

 Jan stretches, turns off her computer and heads for bed.

  Is that the time, 1.30 am, were we chatting all that time?

 She undresses by the light of the streetlamp. 

She never pulls the curtains, enjoying the night sky and the morning sun 

dancing through the windows.

 She lays awake, thinking.

 If it wasn’t for Covid 19 forcing her to work from home, she’d never have thought of running poetry Zoom meetings. 

It’d become quite lucrative, but more importantly, she met David. Tomorrow I’ll meet him in real life.

I hope… She shivers.  I’ve been alone too long.

98 Words

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Getting Here

 9th September 2020

Here is a revision of a piece from before. 

In this time of Pandemic, when all sense seems to be hidden where no one can find it, our lives have to go on in some sort of acceptable way. 

Keep safe friends and have no fear, things will be ok in the end.

How Did I Get Here

On my birthday that year, 
Not so long ago,
I  risked shattering my dream,
a dream I was frightened 
of seeing evaporate 
once the heat was turned up.
I took a chance.
With palms sweaty, heart pounding 
in my chest, I stop for a moment 
to breathe
I plunge into the unknown,
my soul lay bare, exposed,
like the emperor who thinks he's
 clothed in Gold and fine linen. 
I had no idea if I could, 
Who was I to think I was able?
But was I, would it work?
No, I, me, a nobody, I had nothing,
nothing to say, surely. 
Yet, I was forgetting, 
forgetting the woman I was,
A lioness
With deep roots in the mountains
in the  valleys, in the bogs, 
Of the forty shades, 
With Storytellers for ancestors.
I should have known that I could
that I would,
And, oh so softly,  I did.
And here I am.

Monday, September 7, 2020


 4th Sept 2020


Before leaving Falmouth we treat ourselves to a breakfast at a restaurant that looks out over the Bay. 

"Do you fancy having breakfast there," he mumbled, tentatively, pointing to a restaurant with outdoor seating hanging over the water. It looked extremely posh. Not the sort of place we would usually frequent. My dear hubby nearly fell over when I  said,                                                                          "Yes, let's go for it." I had been looking at it myself and deciding that if he asked I would say yes and to hell with the budget. After all we deserve something special now and then. Not like me at all, eh...?

And was it worth it, dear readers? 
A table outside on the quay, morning sun warming my back, pancakes with maple syrup ( for me) yummm, gluten free fry up for Peter, the best cappuccinos I've had for a long time. It was worth every penny! The food was amazing , the service exceptional and the waiter even asked if we'd like a jug of tap water (not to have to ask is a rare thing, or maybe it's just the establishments we are used to).
We left on cloud nine and after buying hats in the town, we got in the camper and headed towards Megavissey.

Megavissey holds happy memories for me, ever since childhood when my parents took us on a number of  holidays there, in the days before we started going abroad to Spain and France. Dad always liked to fish off the harbour and I loved to join him, learning how to cast a line and how to gut the mackerel that we would catch. Cutting down the belly of the fish, in no way put me off enjoying it fried for supper in the evenings. My sister's, being younger, didn't seem keen.

An attractive harbour-side village on the more sheltered South Coast of Cornwall, it's a hive of industry with the  harbour itself, full of dozens of  small fishing boats, the owners of which make their living from the sea. In the narrow streets of the village you'll find many restaurants, pubs and cafes, as well as galleries, gift shops and craft workshops. Some of the fish restaurants and fish shops are in old buildings which used to be the haunts of Cornish  smugglers.

A painting of Cornish smugglers unloading their contraband ...

 Back in the 1770's smuggling was popular around the Cornish Coast and Megavissey itself had numerous secret passages, trap doors and creative ways of getting through the village unseen, to support it's underground industry. French cognac, dutch gin, tea, tobacco, silks and lace could all be picked up and brought back to be sold at high prices. A single trip could make a whopping £170,000 in profit in today's money. No wonder it was rife at that time. 

We arrive on the morning of the 23rd July and because I'm concerned about finding parking and negotiating the narrow streets, we stop in a layby a few miles  away to rest, collect our thoughts and have a coffee.

However, it turned out we didn't need to worry. There was a huge  carpark right on the edge of the village, with a sign that showed it welcomed camper vans and that it might be possible to camp for the night. 

We were pleased to learn that for £8 we could park for the night and sleep in the camper. No facilities, but safe and legal, nevertheless. All the other carparks we'd seen in Cornwall so far had overnight parking alright but none allowed sleeping in  your vehicle. We happily handed over the £ 8 and felt comfortable knowing we didn't have to leave till the next morning at ten. That would do us.We couldn't believe our luck, especially as the campsites were all full and we didn't want to have to do wild camping. We'd now have time to have a good look round without any worries about the night time. 

We put the top up. I stand up, making the most of the extra space, and put together a quick lunch before we go for a walk to find the harbour. The centre of the village is only 200 metres  from us - easy.

It took me a while me a while, but as we came to the harbour wall warm recollections of dad fishing there came flooding back. I stopped still and wiped hot tears from my eyes. Peter's arm found it's way softly across my shoulder. I leant into him and for a few moments lived in another time. I dried my eyes again and we continued to walk to the end of the wall where we could see people fishing. I won't call them fishermen, although some might of been. But the majority were holiday makers trying their luck. I saw a little girl of about nine helping her dad. She brought him a hammer for the mackerel he'd just caught. What did me and dad do, I tried to remember. We didn't bash them over the head, anyway, I thought. No, dad did something quite gentle. I couldn't say what. 

I could tell that Peter was itching to get his rod out and have a go himself, so after walking around for a bit with the sun shining and the water glistening and everywhere a view better than the last, we hurry back to the camper to get it.We decide we'll spend an hour fishing or finish after he catches two fish, then go back for dinner. Only two fish because he won't take more than we'll eat.

He casts off well. Not near the others on the harbour wall, but off by himself a bit nearer some rocks where we've seen some small fry swimming.
The wind blows my new hat. I hold it across my face to keep the sun away from those wretched, bloody lips that are sore now, after being burned.
Unfortunately, just as he's getting into his stride, whoops , the line breaks, taking with it the little fish look-alike that is his bait. He didn't bring any replacements. I see the disappointment in his face, but  he decides that's enough for today. 

With the extra time I'm now left with I use it to make a chicken curry, using just a little chicken and then bulking it out with potatoes, onions, carrots and courgettes. Delicious!

In the evening we walk all around the village, in and out of the residential area on the hill, taking in all the Mevagisseyness that we can. Some of the little streets were so narrow that if the person from one house opened their front door and put out their hand and the person from the one opposite did the same, they would touch hands easily. No cars up these streets. I tried to imagine how someone might carry their belongings up when they were moving in. I wouldn't like to do it. 

The rain cuts our excursion short and we end uo in bed early with a bottle of wine, listening to radio Cornwall. A fabulous day.

Mevagissey | South Cornwall