Molland Common is a big, though not vast, stretch of heathland and moor on the Southern flank of Devonian Exmoor. I’d been this way a few weeks previously, on a beautiful, varied walk from Hawkridge. Wanting to return, I’d found a 9+ mile walk around Molland Common, taking a route mainly around the edges. The topography, judging from the map, wasn’t going to be terribly exciting, but I’ve been wrong before, so I headed out in freezing wind, glad of the hat I’d accidentally thrown into the car a few days previously. Of course, it’s always great being out under big skies with long views, especially after the hellish double incarceration of the winter 2021 lockdown – winter being a kind of seasonal lockdown due to darkness and weather anyway. But, well, Molland Common is rather dull. Or at least, I felt that way, and I’m sure it has its fans – at the very least, it has stunning views across Mid Devon towards Dartmoor. And though there are a few coombes, none really did it for me. There aren’t any notable manmade features, other than the post erected in 1977 on occasion of QEII’s Silver Jubilee to replace an older one erected for Victoria’s coronation. Just a big, long chunk of dull wood, alas.
Dane’s Brook, which enters beautiful woodland as it heads into the Barle, chuckled pleasantly, if inaccessibly below (it’s the boundary between Somerset and Devon, if you’re interested in such things), though attractive but rather nondescript meadows and beneath old but not too old bridges.
Of course, Molland Common merits attention no more and no less than any other common. It will have its unique qualities, its distinct history and current life. It’s just that I never found anything to hang onto, nothing that opened up for me. And experiencing a place without research, aesthetics is all I have to go on – and my own specific aesthetics at that. There was just nothing especially weird here – other than a horse skeleton. Beyond the common, there were strange shadows on hillside fields, a decimated, skeletal hedgerow.
And it’s such an experience that brings me back to the unavoidable subjectivity of what I’m trying to do here. Just as a political slant on commons exaggerates and suppresses different elements, an aesthetic slant will do just that too. However much I may be fascinated by the many, many trajectories of registered commons which pass through, intermingle, then flash out the other side, that, too, needs to be tempered by my aesthetic sense. It’s tempting to do a kind BBC-on-the-cheap show about commons, but that’s not quite the point, and it’s important that I’m in this too. There needs to be an interplay between the aesthetic engagement, the physical immersion, and the desk-based research. Striking that balance, and finding how and why to do it, is maybe the real work ahead.