This man has clocked up more than 50,000 miles walking on Dartmoor
- Credit: Photo; Steven Haywood
Retired policeman Peter Evans has been walking the same seven mile route near Tavistock every day for 24 years
At first glance, it looks as though the tracks in the grass and pathways through gorse bushes on moorland near Down Road, Tavistock were made by sheep.
“But they’re probably made by me,” says Peter Evans. “I’ve been doing this route for that long.”
At around 9.30am, six days a week, retired police inspector Peter steps out of his front door and walks seven miles across Dartmoor, towards Pew Tor along Plaster Down, Whitchurch Down and back home again.
He’s done it for 24 years, rain or shine, building up an encyclopaedic knowledge of this stunning landscape, which has recently inspired him to write short stories and poetry.
Peter, known affectionately around here as the ‘walking policeman’ usually heads out alone, enjoying the peace and solitude of this beautiful part of Dartmoor. But not today.
“You’re the first person that’s walked this way with me,” says Peter. “It’s nice to have company.” I don’t think he’s pretending, so we set off – at quite a pace.
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Peter is 78-years-old but whippet thin and fit as a fiddle. He doesn’t stop for snacks or tea (I have both in my rucksack) and he likes to try to do his seven miles in two hours.
“Just say if you need to stop or slow down,” he says. “I won’t mind.”
Peter began his daily Dartmoor trek in 1996 when he retired from Avon and Somerset Constabulary. During his 30-year career, he worked his way up to inspector in Bristol city centre and later became a course commander at the Police District Training Centre, at Chantmarle, Dorset. He then returned to Bristol to work in training and community affairs.
Before he joined the police, Peter was in the RAF, became a pre-nursing cadet in Plymouth (where he met Hazel), ran a carpet shop in Torquay and worked as a radar engineer in Chelmsford.
But in 1991, he suffered an appalling knee injury when he fell out of a loft hatch at home. After months of intense treatment, Peter and wife Hazel moved back to Tavistock, where Peter was born and raised. He was determined to overcome his injury and decided to use Dartmoor as his therapy.
“If I didn’t do this, it would be a nightmare for me,” says Peter, explaining how walking has helped to strengthen his knee - and his mind.
“Oh, I just love coming out here; nothing stops me. I just like seeing what goes on in the seasons, the changing colours, the wildlife. I wouldn’t last long anywhere else. Doing this is such a natural part of me.”
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We pause (thankfully) to take in the view over Cox Tor and Staple Tor, with Brentor Church in the distance before heading down along the Abbot’s Way, part of the route the Buckfast Abbey monks used to take on their 37-mile walk to Tavistock Abbey in the 1500s. Suddenly, seven miles doesn’t seem so bad.
Peter points out a mitre stone in a drystone wall, once used in the tin mining industry that dominated this landscape in the 19th Century.
Not far from there, we stop beside a field. “Look, they left this little lump here just for me,” says Peter, hopping up onto a clump of earth on the bank to peer over at a pretty pond, looking for the resident heron (no luck today, unfortunately).
We walk up, and up, past Moortown Farm, towards Pew Tor and that corking 360-degree view over the world: the Walkham Valley, Bodmin Moor, the Tamar, Plymouth Sound, Tavistock…it’s incredible.
“I remember when I was a tacker, all you could see of Tavistock when you stood here was the congregational church,” says Peter. “Just look at it now, so many houses – oh, here comes Jim.”
Walking every day on your home turf means you get to know the locals - and Peter seems to know pretty much everyone. Jim stops for a chat. Not long after, the postman waves from his van, dog walkers smile and say hello. Even the players at Tavistock Golf Club pause their game to talk to Peter (who doesn’t care much for golf - ‘waste of a damn good walk’, he says).
These are minor (and pleasant) interruptions to an otherwise very quiet Wednesday morning out here. For the most part, all we can hear are the skylarks.
“You can’t believe it, can you really?” says Peter, who passionately believes that we could all do with getting out for a walk on Dartmoor. “Sometimes, there’s just nobody about. When you think of all the people there must be around here - where are they? In their cars, probably. I think if we all did a bit more of this, well Derriford Hospital wouldn’t be so full!”
I completely share Peter’s sentiment. Walking in this beautiful place can cure all sorts of ills and certainly seems to stop the ageing process.
“Here we are, back where we started,” says Peter, not even remotely out of breath. “Hazel will have made us some lunch. You can stop for a sit down, if you like.”
Peter is inspired to write poetry about the moor. This one is called Brentor Church
With granite eyes it sees no evil
And goodness passes by.
Through holey roof prayers
Ascend. Tears of wrath reply.
Church bells toll without a gong
Restless souls in ground remain.
It can be seen from far and wide
As signpost to the lame.
Thunder claps and lightning strikes.
In defiance; this House of God remains.
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