Sunday, June 22

Dartmoor Dawdle: Wash-Up

The Stats:
Day 1: IVYBRIDGE- SNOWDON; Distance - 9.25 mile; Ascent - 209m; Average Speed - 2.9 mph

Day 2: SNOWDON - FERNWORTHY FOREST; Distance - 12 mile; Ascent - 499m; Average Speed - 2.7 mph

Day 3: FERNWORTHY FOREST - OKEHAMPTON; Distance - 8.75 mile; Average Speed - 2.8 mph

TOTAL: Distance - 30 mile; Average Speed - 2.8 mph

Summing Up:
1. Dartmoor is screaming out for an Alf Wainwright ready to put in the hard work to map the myriad of tracks and really open up the area for walking (Or perhaps not?) For every dotted line on the OS map I found two or three clear tracks on the ground, especially across the military ranges.

The worst section I crossed, around POSTBRIDGE, looked to be the cleanest route as far as the map was concerned. Very much an area where, given reasonable visibility and a willingness to read the terrain, there is much latent opportunity just waiting for those looking to live alongside nature. And so far from the crowds usually associated with any easily accessible wild area of the UK.

Having let a few days pass since the trip I'm already considering longer trips, circular in nature with a couple of stop-offs for resupply. A weeks uninterrupted wild camping could be easily planned all on new routes.

2. I was surprised just how easily this area allowed for a quick walking pace. I wouldn’t regard myself as particularly hill-fit but the 30 miles was covered in a little over 11 hours of actual movement. It only took me 1 full, and two half days to cover my chosen route. But that included sight seeing, the occasional dawdle, and the usual diversions aside for route finding & camping. Most of the journey was around the 250-400m height (say 1,000 feet) but the reduced pace with ascent and descent I'm so used to from Lakeland walks just wasn't a factor over the terrain I crossed.

3. Map and compass skills are a necessity in this area. Mine were OK when I started. But much improved by the time I’d finished. A great learning environment in reasonable weather, but a cheeky little challenge in poor visibility.

4. In much of the area I travelled shelter was very limited, or non existent. Something to bear in mind when the rain clouds are down and the wind howling. And some areas are truly very very remote.

5. If, like me, you are easy with the solitude of your own company then Dartmoor readily provides this. I saw no person or habitation for over 24 hours on the latter part of my trip. And I can’t remember the last time I have been in such a position. But be warned, Dartmoor will try to suck out your soul, given a chance, with its utter desolation in some places. But its not really that dour. There's copious signs of previous human activity over many thousands of years. Its not so much that one is alone on the moor, just passing through on a slightly different time line to others who have gone before.

6. The YHA. Hmm what to say about this one? As you can see from the comments already left on the earlier post I'm not the only one who has been affected by the 'new' YHA. I've never used the hostels as cheap accommodation or holiday fodder. For me they've always been a traveller's way-side stop. Often in remote locations. And places where, in the past, I was likely to meet like minded people and compare trips, opinions and ideas about the area I was in. Never one for organised accommodation the opportunity to self cater was one of the attractions.

However over the past year or two I've found myself being declined a bed for the night. True this normally comes with a friendly helpful service interested in offering a reasonable alternative. But Okehampton itself was a real disappointment leaving me with the question as to how far the organisation's holiday-camp ethos fits alongside the walker/cyclist's desire for simple shelter from the elements. At some point I think I will try the alternative hostels on Dartmoor, to get a better consensus. But the Okehampton hostel, sadly, is a place I put firmly alongside the likes of the Ambleside hostel. A place to stay as a last necessity, not a desire.

7. Its the first time I've walked from the foot of a map, to its top, turned it over, and then done it again. It's amazing how satisfying a sense of achievement that is. Every time I open a Dartmoor OS map in future I know that I've covered both sides of it, even if using a limited corridor.

Similalrly watching the GPS grid refs count steadily upwards as I travlled northwards gave a positive feeling as well.

Lessons learnt, Tips & Tricks:
1. This was my first chance to use the
Aquagear Water Filter As I rule I've never felt the need to treat my drinking water. But not knowing this particular area I erred on the side of caution. On the plus side I was able to fill it from extremely small water flows without any concern about the crap that usually manages to get into my Platypus bladder. I used the filter bottle to fill my 1 litre bladder. The 2 litre bladder took water straight from the stream - this was always boiled for cooking/coffee. I had no health problems whatsoever during the trip. In fact I found I could also carry a reserve 0.5 drinking water in the filter bottle as a fall back when walking.

The only (mild) criticisms that I would make - the decanting of treated water from the filter bottle to the bladder did take considerably longer than I was used to when taking on water, and usually required 3 or 4 bottle fills to get a full litre in the bladder. I also found that if the base wasn't tightened down fully my over enthusiastic squeezing (easily done as the boredom factor set in) would lead to water dribbling from the base, and reducing the flow from the bottle itself. Just a case of getting used to the way it works really, and not being in so much of a rush.

As others have noted, the printing on the bottles rubs off far too easily. For one used to foldable water bladders it was a bit of a pain packing away the 0.5 litre bottle shape, but it rested easily on top of the pack, under the lid, and easily to hand next to my bladder for immediate access.

Overall the filter was a resounding success. One piece of kit that I wouldn't hesitate to use in those areas where I'd previously considered the water source to be suspect i.e. the New Forest streams.

2. One tip I've used before which might be of interest. On a cold night, with a lightweight sleeping bag, for a biot of extra warmth I zip up my waterproof jacked and slide it over the foor of my sleeping bag, moving it up as far as is necessary. The result is a warmer bag, and the extra weight seems to give a better sense of comfort. Why zip it up? It keeps it exactly where you want it to stay.

I was rarely alone on this trip without some form of wildlife nearby, especially birds. A nice change.

I took my usual selection of cheese, crackers, sardines and dehydrated pastas/potato. One tip Nigel passed on was to replace the wax covered Babybel cheeses with a slab of Edam in the future. Like Babybel its can take some packing abuse and won’t go-off in hot weather. Probably a cheaper option as well I suspect.

(Okehampton - stating the bleedin' obvious!)

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Did you use 1:50,000 or 1:25,000 maps?
Dartmoor Explorer OL28 - 1:25000
Did you find any discrepancies in paths on the ground, and paths on the map? I ask as it's OL28 that I've got for next month's trip.
The OS paths were there on the ground, its just there were a lot more on the ground not on the map

TO be honest I think OL28 is as good as it gets
I'd rather it be that way round, John, than the other. Can't wait to see the place in real life. Woohoo.
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