Most days, from our vantage point of 500 feet, we can gaze east across an expanse of dissected pastoral land, towards cloud shadows passing over the pale slopes of western Dartmoor. The remarkably clear atmosphere of recent weeks has even allowed glimpses of china clay country on the southern flanks of the moor, where whiteness skims the horizon of Crownhill Downs. Beyond foreshortened views of suburbs at Roborough, and the Plym Valley, peeps a hazy knoll of trees (probably on Hemerdon Ball); it reminds of freer times, of travelling away on the train from Plymouth, initially up the incline of Hemerdon Bank.
Much closer, just four miles away, steep shadowy woods of Morwell and Maddacleave mark the Devon bank of the Tamar, but the meandering river is out of sight, below the prominent mine-stack of Gawton and pinnacles on Calstock’s church tower. Further downriver, around Bere Alston, diverse shades of green indicate cereal crops, pastureland and grass already cut for hay or silage; a few fields near Helston Farm stand out with pinkish-brown earth, still unsown. Less than two miles from our lookout, maize emerges through shiny plastic covering an enclave near Metherell. Adjoining bosky ground, of small fields enclosed by hedges topped with hedgerow trees, conceals mine relics on the fringes of Hingston Down, and new houses, under construction along the main road through St Ann’s Chapel.
Where we stand, near the landmark clump of beech, blue speedwell creeps across the crunchy remnants of mast. Further out in the field, flowering sweet vernal, plantain, creeping buttercup and dandelion clocks remain stunted after the dry spring, but some red clover scatters across the scant pasture. Old hedge-banks that were regularly shorn and topped until 10 years ago regenerate as linear bushy woodland. Bluebell, campion, stitchwort, ferns, pennywort and foxglove colonise the rabbit-burrowed footings, but are less prolific than on the outer sides, along lanes shielded from chemical sprays and fertilisers used on arable crops once grown within the field. Today, jackdaws peck about in scuffed earth. South from here, the farmer who is turning an early crop of hay reports sight of two kites circling high above him, unfazed by the harassing crows.