Friday, June 20

Dartmoor Dawdle:Tuesday June 17th


Yep sure was a cold night; But an old trick of mine kept me cosy (see Wash-Up) So as befits a man on holiday I had a lie-in until the sun poked its nose over the ridge, giving me the chance to lie in bed and listen to the song of the skylarks for twenty minutes of so. And I mean really listen. Lying in my bag with no other distraction my concentration was fully given over to their repetitive trills, before their song veered on to yet another melody. No other background noise to taint the sound. A sublime experience.

Breaking camp it was immediately back to map and compass work. The open moorland was largely featureless, and with no recognisable tracks to speak of. Onto Ryders Hill, clearing the cattle from the summit carn as I passed, I could see my route ahead for the next few hours; If I could get there in the first place. Some zigzag contouring and stream hopping finally brought me down to the remains of Hooten Wheals (GR 655 710)

(My earlier route - spot the tine mine?)
After ten minutes or so of casting around I finally came across the old mine track leading down to the Forest Inn (GR 655 726) at Hexworthy. A personal hidey hole I’d stayed during past and darker days. Far from the maddening crowds (and mobile telephone signals) but definitely a 'muddy boots welcome' pub. Great food & beer, and a friendly welcome from the (soon to be?) new proprietors.

As I sat enjoying the weakening sun another backpacker appeared for a well earned pint. With the arrival of a sudden rain shower we dived indoors to chat over a pint. Nigel was on his own solo wildcamping trip crossing east to west, a trip he makes three or four times a year. A man in his early sixties, and unaware of the reservoir of on-line backpacking/walking resources, so it was good to share our individual approaches and remind myself of the inherent simplicity of backpacking. And to also recall my own tentative first steps back in the seventies. Trying it out. Making mistakes. But slowly building up confidence in ability and capability. All too soon my pint was finished and the urge to move along was building, so turning down a refill (oh what a saint!) I was back outside for a short road section before hitting the moorland once more at HUCCABY COTTAGE (GR 662 736) west of DARTMEET, and up towards BELLEVER TOR (GR 645 764)

(The morning's route behind me)

(The afternoon's yet to come -to Bellever Tor)
I worked my way through the remains of the large conifer plantations on good forest tracks, pausing only to don & soon shed my waterproofs - the first and only time they were needed as it turned out.

A final road crossing west of POSTBRIDGE onto the clearly marked Bridleway (GR 645 788). Without doubt the poorest section of the whole journey. Welcome to a quarter mile of the worst smelling mud, sludge and water imaginable. Passed through only with some imaginative footwork & a substantial use of the banks bordering the path. It was a relief to reach the ford at the foot of the track, if only to wash my boots clear of the foul smelling mud.

Back on the moorland proper I sat for a short while trying to work out where my intended route had gone (the opposite bank of the fast flowing river it appeared) A chance to watch 2 collies and their shepherd move the flock of recently sheered sheep back to their moorland haunts. A group of German tourists appeared in the midst of this activity, similarly attentive. I suppressed a chuckle as their clean garb, particularly their suede walking shoes, wandered off in the direction of the cesspit I’d just come through. Now that's getting a real taste of the English countryside!

But where there's sheep there's flies. And boy did they find me in their hordes, attracted no doubt by the salt from my perspiration. My sudden departure was halted with the realisation that the GPS was not in its usual place. Retrace - Grab - Run. The midges trying for a time to keep taking chunks of meal courtesy of me. But soon outpaced as I started my way up the valley, looking for a suitable river crossing point. The water was deep and wide here. The shepherd had offered the advice that there would be 'a few stones upstream' with which to make a crossing. He was right. Lots of stones. Green slippery ones especially. But finally, with pack unbuckled I managed to boulder hop to the far bank without incident.

Back then to typical Dartmoor tricks (oops should that be tracks?) The annoying thing is that a good path can be yards away from your present route, but remains cunningly hidden by the high vegetation obscuring it from view. Despite the OS map indicating a clear and strong straight path up this valley it was back to sheep tracks once more as I headed into the featureless landscape onto HARTLAND TOR (GR 642 800)

Or perhaps not so featureless as the sheep tracks turned to a wide grassy section with signs of past human activity aiming for stones on the horizon. They turned out to be a unique landmark when I finally reached them. Two stone circles, side by side - the first time I'd ever seen this feature after many years of antiquity/circle/hill fort tracking (
A picture just doesn't capture the strangeness of this setting high on remote moorland.

The legs were beginning to tire after the rough ground covered during the day, so time to look for my next pitch, which with the increasing wind gusts needed to be with some shelter if available. En-suite facilities were nicely provided by the river flowing under the clapper bridge (GR 639 844)

No phone signal to make my check-in at home, so the emergency fallback arrangements had now started to countdown. But for me a night alone in a deserted valley, a nearby abandoned farmstead my only sign of any human activity. Thee wind and rain threatening a wild night.

A hot meal eaten whilst frowning over the map. Trying to work out the next day's route over (according to the OS map) trackless countryside. An early night after the rigours of the day.

(Wildcamp #2)

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Roll on next month. Great teaser for my first visit to the moor, John.
this will sort out the Innov8 boys from the goretex boots men
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