WE'RE not really meant to approve of things like man-made lakes or forests if, that is, we're singing from the absolute, full-on, hair-shirt, environmentally-correct hymnbook. Things like reservoirs and pine plantations don't tick many "as-Mother-Nature-intended" boxes – and, try as they might, they cannot emulate authentic wilderness.
And yet, such places can be lovely. Very lovely indeed, in the case of Fernworthy Reservoir and forest – which is the Westcountry's answer to the great Canadian outback – or whatever it is the endless, watery, coniferous countryside is called.
I make no excuses for heralding the place long and loud. I absolutely love North Dartmoor's answer to the North West Territories – and the basic three-and-a-half-mile walk around Fernworthy's blue, blue, lake is one of the most pleasant waterside strolls you can take anywhere in this region.
You can, if you wish, extend the reservoir walk in many different directions to enjoy a longer stroll – I'd highly recommend it.
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But last week I managed to grab a couple of hours to follow the brown direction signposts from the Moretonhampstead-Princetown road. My ulterior motive was wanting to walk somewhere that was both dark and dimpsey and full of sparkling light.
There's a visitor car park and picnic area for those who simply wish to admire the view at Fernworthy – or there's a choice of walks for those who fancy shaking a blood corpuscle or two. The round-the-lake hike is easiest and most desirable.
All you have to do is make up your mind whether you want to walk clockwise or anti-clockwise – and enjoy.
I chose to go in an anti-clockwise direction, which took me right along a path to the dam. This is not one of the Westcountry dams you can walk across – you have to continue a few yards beyond its granite mass to descend into the valley and cross the River Teign, so rudely interrupted in its course back in 1942 when they built the reservoir.
Fernworthy was actually once a village. Judging by the many prehistoric remains now hidden by massive pine forests, it was once a very busy place indeed.
It is fascinating to read William Crossing's account of wandering around the area before the trees came – and the reservoir, for that matter. He writes of an old farm that used to stand hereabouts, and how it was once in the possession of a Farmer Lightfoot who carved his initial 'L' in the stone over the doorway. A tiny fraction of a Dartmoor fact – but evocative nonetheless, now that either water or coniferous darkness covers all.
Climbing out of the steep valley back towards the dam, we reach the northern bank of the reservoir which affords the lake's most open aspect. Long grasses sway in the breeze along this part of the walk which passes under Thornworthy Down and its low tor. Next time I plan to leave the reservoir here and walk north to see the Three Boys standing stone – a fantastic hike could then be developed around Stonetor Hill and the back end of the big pine forest.
It suddenly dawned on my just how lucky I was to be in such a heavenly spot on a hot sunny day without having to share it with a single other human being. Amazing. As the well-made waterside path passes around the boggy bits of the lake's north-west corner, South West Lakes Trust has even built walkers a nice springy boardwalk so they can keep their feet dry.
Next comes a section where you have to stroll along the paved lane provided for anglers.Soon after the lane crosses Sandeman Bridge, hikers are able to regain the lakeside and wend their way along the little round-the-reservoir footpath back to the car park. There's been a great deal of felling along this section in recent times, which might look a little unsightly for a while – but they've left the indigenous trees standing, having got rid of all the old dark pines, and the area will soon look far better than it did.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed my lonesome sojourn around the lake.