Up on the moor at Minions recently it occurred to me that I’ve been photographing the animals and their offspring for more than five years now. The moor rings with the pitiful bleating of lost lambs desperately trying to locate their mothers. The mothers by and large are running as fast as they can in the opposite direction.
When we parked up in the car park at Minions there were two lambs curled around each other in the middle of the road. Their fleeces were so clean that must have been new-borns and they were munching away on gravel! There was no sign of a responsible adult anywhere and they eyed me hopefully, like tired toddlers, ‘can you carry me? Just for a little while?’ When I was a novice to moorland ways I’d have tried to shift them out of harm’s way but nowadays I know that the sheep have some kind of miraculous immunity. If you see them lying in the middle of the road looking dead don’t worry, they’re probably just having a rest. Remember also that livestock always have the right of way.
Having napped wherever they drop throughout the day they get their second wind around dusk and the Minions Steeplechase commences. Lambs of every age capering, leaping and galloping from one lump of granite to the next.
Sometimes a younger one will fall behind and get lost. You’ll hear a forlorn wail from the middle of a gorse blazing in the last of the sunlight. Walk towards him and you can almost hear his little brain thinking out loud, ‘Mum, I’m lost and there’s a beast coming to get me, Muuum, I’m lost.’ Eventually he figures a way out and races back towards his mates, waits ‘til he thinks he’s safe, slows to a nonchalant swagger as if to say, ‘I ain’t afraid of no beast!’
Occasionally you will come across a more responsible sheep; she has the stern gait of a Victorian nanny and the lambs prance along behind her. Sometimes they will stop, perhaps beside the sign on the Hawthorne tree, ‘Sheep lambing, watch your dogs!’ and Mother probably translates, ‘beware the beast of Bodmin moor, time you were in bed!’
The reason I’ve been absent for so long is that I got a new camera and I’ve been trying to figure out how it works. This has taken me the best part of three months but I am beginning to see light at the end of the lens. Despite having been here for over six years now we are still finding new approaches to the moor. We found the Rillaton Barrow in February and have been making weekly pilgrimages to it ever since. The first few times I peered into the triangular doorway all that met my gaze was blackness. As the sun climbs higher the barrow receives more light and the darkness is no longer total, within you can see the green ferns luminous against the mossy granite. The barrow is aligned east to west, overlooking the fertile lands beyond the moor. Surrounding it the high moor is strewn with granite boulders and the Hawthorne trees crouch like old men bent by the prevailing southerly winds, black against the winter sky but greening as spring advances.
When there’s a spectacular sunset and I’m up on the moor is when I feel the people from the past most strongly, perhaps the man whose bones were entombed in the barrow nods his head,
‘Yes, it was a sunset just like this one, and I was standing just where you are now, looking down on the fields below bathed in the last of the light. The lambs were bleating for their mothers, and the horses were grazing high up on the sacred stones, just as you see them now. I don’t know why they go there when there’s good grazing all around them, but they are creatures of habit. Half the hill’s gone now where they ripped the stone away, more stone than we’d have used to build a thousand hurlers and a road from here to the land’s end. A lot of people said it was blasphemy, putting up those stones would bring the wrath of the tors down upon us. Perhaps if they could see the huge craters and the gaping mouth where the hills’ been plundered they’d say they were right. Our sacred stones were only the beginning, we set the precedent for future generations.’
When I got home I decided that these lambs would be much more comfortable in the shelter of the Rillaton Barrow so I relocated them with a little help from Photoshop!
Most of these little rascals have grown up and slowed down since I made this video in 2013, in fact they're probably anxious parents themselves by now!
This spooky looking building is The Museum on the Moor. It's not far from the car park, open all year and free to visit. It's an ideal place to start your walk around the moor and will describe some of the artefacts you'll encounter on the moor.
"She said the grass was greener on this side of the fence! how are we gonna get out of here?"