Jubilee Weekend in a Dartmoor village (Part 1)
Passageways and gates

Jubilee Weekend in a Dartmoor village (Part 2)

Dartmoor ponies on the slope of Meldon Hill

The Two Hills Race is held every year (this is its 35th), following a moorland track that runs up and down the two large hills that embrace our village.  It's a gruelling track, 3.45 miles long, through bracken and brambles and a notoriously muddy bog (in which shoes are regularly lost) and occasional encounters with stray cows and sheep...but every year friends and neighbors of all ages do it, and I think they're entirely mad, and heroic.

This year, a herd of wild ponies from the moor grazed placidly at the bottom of the first hill at the start of the day, but they'd courteously moved aside to a nearby field when the race got going. Don't let the picture above fool you, that hill is much higher than it looks, with a tor at the top overlooking the village, the valley, and the moor. It's even higher than the tall hill we live on, Nattadon (below), the second hill in the race.

Nattadon Hill

It was a beautiful, crisp morning of alternating cloud and sun, with runners and supporters gathered on the cricket green. The racers ranged from small children to folks over 50, and one valiant cow.

And suddenly, they're off! (Go cow! )

2 Hills Race, Chagford

2 Hills Race, Chagford


Go cow!

2 hills 3

While the rest of us watched without raising a sweat, the long string of runners climbed 1076 feet upwards at an astonishing speed. That's Howard and Tilly in the picture above, with artists  Steve Dooley and David Wyatt, musician Peter Shields, and my mother-in-law, theatrical costume designer Jenny Gayton. Below, if you click on the picture to enlarge it and then look very, very closely, you can see tiny little figures snaking up the path to the top of Meldon...

2 Hills Race, Chagford

...while Tilly sat quietly (mostly) and watched it all with absorbing interest.

Tilly and Howard Gayton

The fastest runners returned in under half an hour, while the others straggled in throughout the following hour...the cow last of all. Our job was to cheer every single runner returning, for just to make it to the end of the race is a triumph. Here's my god-daughter, Ely Todd-Jones, below, on the last stretch to the finish line....

2 Hills Race, Chagford

Two Hills Race, Chagford

And Howard's band-mate Jenny Dooley, who won the race in her catagory...and then went on to play a full gig with the Nosey Crows that night. (Myself, I would have been lying prostrate on a sofa for days afterwards.)

Jenny on the home stretch


Speaking of the Nosey Crows, the day ended with music and dancing in the village Square, while children pranced about and folks spilled out of the pubs to listen, beer glasses in hand. First up was The Cuckoo Club, warming up the crowd with a sexy mix of swing, jazz, latin, and blues: Bobby Gilbert on piano (he, too, had run the Two Hills race earlier), Howard on percussion and backing vocals, and three-part harmonies from the amazing Susie Yorke with Poppy Burgess and Demelza Riddell. (That's Susie in the middle below.)

Cuckook Club 1

Cuckoo Club 2

Next, Nosey Crows: David Wyatt on lead guitar and bouzouki, Steve Dooley on percussion, with vocals shared by Jenny Dooley and Howard (on rhythm guitar, cajón, and washboard).


Nosey Crows at the Diamond Jubilee, Chagford

Howard Gayton


As night fell, the gig ended with '50s dance music from another good local band, The Diamond Geezers -- but I was too busy dancing by then to take pictures (and my camera's not so good with night-time shots).

Afterwards, a huge beacon bonfire was lit at the top of Meldon Hill, and other high places around the moor. Tilly and I watched it flare up from below, as we made our way sleepily homeward...zzzzzz....

Sleepy tilly