We are lucky here in south Devon. Right on our doorstep, we have a large expanse of wilderness that gives birth to rivers, soaks up carbon emissions and offers visitors the chance to reconnect with their past. It also seems to help people engage with the present, in a way that many seem to find increasingly difficult, especially in the metropolis. I know this because of the number of my clients who come here from London, Swansea, Glasgow and beyond in search of something else.
But Dartmoor national park is so much more than a tourist attraction. I see it as a kind of canvas, on which anyone can project their deeper thoughts, fears and dreams. OK, it’s not really wild in the sense of the Scottish Highlands or Alaska. But, if you believe wildness is a state of mind inherent in all of us, then you’re probably not in the business of comparing landscapes. Neither am I. Much better to see the contrast in a seamless blur, as though looking from a train, but actually being in it.
Ever since I moved to Totnes five years ago, fresh from the mayhem of a large South American city, I have wanted to embed myself in the combes, forest floors and granite tors of this magnificent, living, breathing relic. In Buenos Aires, I realised it’s possible to feel alienated even among three million other people. On Dartmoor, I can run all day and bivouac beneath the stars, yet somehow never feel alone. Surely this is what it means to feel connected.
But getting connected is more than just experiencing something for yourself. It’s about sharing that experience with others.
Something I like about running – be it trail running, fell running, wild running, call it what you will – is that it seems to attract people from all backgrounds, creeds and sensibilities. You could call it one big tribe. Everyone has their own motivations, inspirations and aspirations, but our scattered individuality seems all the more wonderful and colourful when it’s shared.
The gestation of Something Wild, the running festival I’ve set up, began when I was running the 2012 Transalpine race. Every evening for eight days, after running a marathon over alpine passes, the runners shared a huge communal meal and listened to each other’s tales. It was a fantastic experience.
Then I met Dave Chamberlain, a PT instructor, runner and dad from Ashburton. Dave had just returned from Sydney and, together, we got excited about this new project. Something Wild will be our tribute to trail running and our celebration of Dartmoor.
The weekend will showcase inspiring adventures, a talk about Dartmoor and another about how to recognise birdsong. Saturday will be full of children’s activities, including – of course – races. We’ve also got the Guardian’s Adharanand Finn, who will talk about his time in Japan, the subject of his new book The Way of the Runner.
And, of course, we will have races: a 10K and half and full marathons. The steep climb up from Dartmeet to the hill’s crest overlooking Yartor has been known to break even the hardest Tour de France cyclists. So, it’s fitting that those who enter the marathon should at least get a taste of this stretch, although they’ll only be crossing the tarmac. They will also run past bronze-age and iron-age settlements, quarries and manmade waymarks (forged by prisoners), as well as granite tors, logan stones and clapper bridges, and find their way through a plantation.
We consider Dartmoor the perfect place for physical endeavour and endurance. Every May, it’s home to the largest outdoor youth participation activity in the UK: the Ten Tors, which has been going for 50 years. Some 2,000 teenagers are attracted to the physical challenge, the teamwork and the adventure into the unknown. A heady concoction.
As a running guide now happy to have moved in to Dartmoor national park, I see clients who travel from all over the UK, and sometimes from abroad, to take in the moor. Some of them are former Ten Torers, returning for a nostalgic glimpse at their yesteryear. We hope that some of the people at this year’s festival, young and old, will still be coming back in 10 year’s time.
Now that trail running is becoming recognised as a growth sport in the UK, I thought it would be appropriate to bring it to our great, big, peaty lung, which sucks in south-western clouds and carbon and spews out rivers as if it invented them. What better way to celebrate the birthplace of so many life forces, one that has given rise to mill towns, estuaries and even cities, in the shape of the Plym, the Avon, the Dart and the Teign.
Something Wild festival runs from 18-20 September at River Dart country park. Find out more at the Wild Running website