Explore: running through history

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It seems when restrictions were partially lifted, people were afflicted by another contagion; one where ‘good old British common sense’ was replaced by a mania in which people perceived themselves invincible.

They started throwing themselves off cliffs into swirling seas, marching up mountains in flip flops or queuing for three hours to buy a Big Mac (Have they not discovered Lidl’s deluxe beefburgers yet? They should be told). 

When the ‘stay at home’ restrictions lifted, do you know what I did? Not much.

Truthfully, I’m not ready to relax the rules on myself. I’m a bit taken aback by the noise and movement and activity. And paranoid, maybe. 

But I’m not a total recluse (yet) and when I’m not dancing for the birds, I’ve been out running. 

Nothing comes close to making me feel grounded and safe and buoyed.

Let me tell you about my run today. 

I planned a route taking me around Bovey Tracey, a sweet market town on the edge of Dartmoor. 

‘Bovey’ comes from the river ‘Bovi’ or ‘Boui’ which passes through the town. ‘Tracey’ was added later as a result of the de Tracy family; supposedly after William de Tracy, a feudal baron and one of the knights who murdered Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. 

(Let me just say this not the last of the bloodshed). 

The route enjoys a tremendous range of scenery with wooded sections, nature reserves, heathland, ancient monuments and superlative views. 

Bovey’s position next to the Bovey Basin, the UK’s principal source of ball clay, means the area is peppered with former clay workings which are now nature reserves.

In Little Bradley Ponds I duck to avoid damselflies and dodge thistles in Chudleigh Knighton Heath. I gulp in big views at the top of Teigngrace Meadow and inhale pine as I race through Stover Country Park. 

I come to a stop in the gorse and heather landscape of Bovey Heathfield on the outskirts of town. 

Traffic roars from a nearby road. In here, it’s still and silent. 

But 400 years ago it was a different story. 

It’s January 1646. England is gripped by civil war.

Royalist troops, led by Lord Wentworth, have been here through the winter and have built huge defensives – ramparts and ditches and trenches – to protect themselves. 

Parliamentarians under Lieutenant General Cromwell have been advancing into Devon. They’ve already overrun Tiverton. 

The New Model Army sweeps into Bovey Tracey from the north, seizing off-duty officers as they go. On they march. 

Under the cover of darkness on 9 January 1646, they attack. Royalists are caught off-guard, are woefully underprepared and fall. Cromwell captures senior officers along with 150 heads of cattle. Wentworth retreats. It’s a decisive moment in the war. 

I stand, squinting into the past. Roundhead against Cavalier. Royalist versus parliamentarian. Cattle cadaver followed by the head of a king. 

Evidence in today’s urban sprawl nods to the past. Road names ‘Battle’, ‘Fairfax’, ‘Wentworth’ and ‘Musket’. Drumbridges on the road to Plymouth is so-called because Royalist troops called their headquarters ‘drums’. 

On I run. I plunge into a tangle of trees. For me, there’s something special about woodland. I love hearing trees whisper and tracing the texture of bark under my fingertips.

I run along sun-flecked carpets and underneath lime coloured canopies. I feel awe at their age and wonder how many people they’ve seen trudge past, what changes they’ve witnessed. The comings and goings of man and beast. 

When I run, I always learn something. I discover fresh paths to tread or figure out a problem I’m mulling over. I see something new and uncover the old.

If there’s anything that makes me feel alive, it’s this.

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I'm a writer, journalist and communications officer based in the South West of England. I write about wellbeing, the outdoors and life in a rural playground.

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