Monday, July 21

UKOB Dartmoor Trip - Saturday

I awoke early Saturday, but obviously not early enough as most of the others appeared to have beat me up. With the previous evening's rain and wind Darren had narrowly avoided taking an early bath, without leaving his sleeping bag as the water found its usual path downhill via his pitch. And that could have been any of us to be honest. Luckily his choice of Hex (3?)tent and bivvy bag meant his morning ablution was still a matter of choice, rather than unexpected enforcement.

No tarps on this trip matey, not even for Geoff or Darren. Very sensible.

Mick & Gayle ably demonstrated one outcome of their 84 days on LeJoG as they worked in unison to smoothly pack away their gear, with nary a cross word or question. Last time I tried that with my partner I had to hide all sharp poky things from the vicinity. Impressive M&G.

As others followed suit I ditched the idea of a "holiday" and started to packed away the brew kit. The weather, as expected, was wet. Not necessarily raining. Yet. But a day of on/off showers was going to be the best we could hope for.

We remnants of the True Holiday Makers started the walk up the western bank of the West Okement River, oohing and ahhing at all the damned fine wildcamping spots for the future. Ones less likely to act as a catchment area for pooling as had the one on the night before. We even came across a tent with its occupants still ensconced. Now that's Proper Holiday Stuff.

Geoff and myself left Duncan, Darren, and his friend Martin to head up towards Black Tor whilst we moved on up the valley. I’d had this route in mind since I first spotted it a couple of years ago, keen to see just how far south it went and the quality of the track. Quite good as it turned out until the inevitable bog and flooded land forced a detour onto the western slopes and up to Lints Tor (GR 580 875) aka
The Sphinx
(Lints Tor)
On then to contour around Great Kneeset and its smaller relation, Little Kneeset before the trudge across the increasingly common bog/stream/bog crossing up to
Fur Tor (GR 587 830)

(Army tent city high on Black Ridge?)
This is the most remote of the Dartmoor Tors. Remembering the trudge up to it I’d certainly concur. But on a good day, with drier conditions underfoot great day out for a circular walk from Okehampton/Meldon Reservoir, with a choice of lowland one way and return across the tops to Yes Tor. However with low cloud and heavy rain definitely more of a challenge and only for those with good map and compass skills.
(A view from Fur Tor)
The sight of the distinctive Postbridge aerial in the distance meant a welcome chance to finally get a reasonable mobile phone signal and report 'Alls Ok' back home (Sun & T-shirt weather I was told. Hmmm. Super)

Sheltered from the ever present wind whilst taking our lunch the sun broke through the clouds. And promptly disappeared again as the wind sheered around and our haven became yet another pocket of gusts. So far we'd only been walking for a couple of hours and based on my recent Dartmoor experience during my previous trip I felt the ground, though wet, to be easy enough to move over given an acceptance that tracks had to be spotted as we went, and most footsteps were inevitably soon followed by one that would splashed.

We were wearing our waterproof jackets, more to keep out the chilly wind than rain. With the day being lights showers you just get to a point where the damned waterproof is left on really. But except for a brief trial with the leggings it was never bad enough to get us wetter than we already were, or ruin the views. And what views they were as we could look back down the valley tracing the route we had travelled already.

Crunch time. With our evening's meet-up fixed Geoff and myself debated the remainder of the route. Looking over the valley floor to the Tors on the western skyline the choice was mapped out below. Take the high, but long route? Or Go For It cutting across the valley floor?

The latter won out. Oh what poor misguided fools! In hindsight it was definitely land I wouldn’t choose to walk over again having done it the once. With the heavy rain of the day before crossing Amicombe Brook made life "interesting" (Aren’t brooks supposed to be piddly little water courses with kids sailing paper boats?) This one must have taken twenty minutes or so before we found a suitable crossing place due to the waters flow and depth. And then only by a spirited jump across into the reed bed on the far bank. With the inevitable splash and giggle as a couple of steps later we were reminded just why reed beds grow near/in water.

By now we were both getting the feel of the land we were travelling across, and the inevitable splash and mud was little more than an inevitability of our route. Even the times when the sphagnum beneath our feet seemed to sink and then ripple away before us gave little real concern. Solo I’d have probably have been a little more cautious about the route, but our joint experience level, and realistic expectation of the ground meant as a duo we could be a little more exploratory on this occasion. And to be honest it was fun honing those essential broken ground skills. From my experience of Dartmoor this was as bad as it was likely to get, so bring it on (but hey - I had spare dry socks!)

The next couple of hours were a trudge across the open moorland contouring Amicombe Hill heading towards the seemingly ever distant Green Tor. Normally I find that if the goal is in sight then movement towards feels quite rapid. But not today. We'd find sheep and cattle tracks, or an occasional paths made by a farmer's ATC, only for them to peter out within a few hundred metres. And that was the good stuff. Mostly it was a case of reading the ground ahead, and sticking to the 340 degree bearing. A task which we managed with magnificent aplomb (But god did it get monotonous after a while) Even the sight of a lizard scuttling for cover (me) or a frog (Geoff) did little to break up the trudge. Breaking out the Biltong at least meant our minds had something else to cope with, as the fibrous meat, tasty as it was, was left lodged in the gaps between the teeth. Something else to think about amongst the occasional splashes.
(Bleak House)
Finally we were near enough to the Tor and with some casting about we picked up the mine track heading down towards Nodden Gate, the pitch for the night.

But not without one reminder of the real danger of Dartmoor.

We'd both stepped in various boggy matter, usually just the one leg to the calf; Or knee at worst. But descending a small slope into the old mine workings below Bleak House (560 863) my right foot slipped into a hole and I once again found myself sitting down. But one difference. No mud or bog around me, virtually a dry slope with evidence of a good and well used path. I waggled my foot experimentally to find purchase and raise myself. But there was nothing underneath it except empty space.

Something to laugh about at the time as I gingerly pulled myself back from the gap, but a warning that whilst the open moorland may feel a difficult place at times it’s the apparently safe paths amongst the old mine workings where the true danger lies.

But this apart the journey downhill was a simple descent with fine views all around. A final manly stride through the ford (well I was past caring by now and the boots needed cleaning) where we found ourselves to be the last to arrive, the others having (mostly) opted for shorter routes.

A chance to meet up with fellow Dorset Backpackers Club member, John Yale (Hi John), on his own solo wildcamping trip. And shortly after Fossil Buff (aka FB) of Outdoors Magic fame(?), and his mate (another Martin I think)

FB didn’t get a hugely enthusiastic welcome from me initially, on account of a potentially over enthusiastic greeting from one of his dog brace as I dangled over the stream carefully removing contact lenses. But with that chore safely away, and the evening meal complete, we walked the short distance down to the Fox and Hounds at Bridestowe. Great beer. Great food. (Although Mick may yet have something to say about that considering his unexpected illness later that night) But especially great company as we bloggers et al set the world to rights.

Well OK Alan Sloman talked and we tried to butt in occasionally when ever he stopped for a sip of beer(lol) And thanks to those who plied me with free ale for an exceptionally cheap evening.

An early night after a tiring but enjoyable day. that's the south, north and west borders of Dartmoor all traversed in a month.

Undoubtedly there's gold in them thar Dartmoor hills. At least for us wildcampers who appreciate real solitude away from the crowds.

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"the others having opted for shorter routes."

Not being picky you old blighter, but I made your Saturday's meanderings something like 17km (about 10km off piste) with roughly 550m ascent, whereas the rufty-tufty group's route came out at 19.5km (9km off piste) with 600m ascent...

So similar struggles really! :-)

I put your tardy arrival at Nodden Gate entirely down to your "Holiday Maker's" late start!
You mean you actually sat down and measured it you sad bugger!

I'll post the stats in the wash-up. Way off on the total ascent, but now I'm going to have to get the calulator out of the bottom of the dogs bed where I threw it last time.

But we both know, its not the length of the route, but the journey itself that counts.

suitably admonished I've just amended the report, if you can find it
I adored the struggle through the lush bogs - the vibrant colours and the impossibility of bogs on hill slopes of 40 degrees.

The seemingly endless vistas and the huge skies flowing over our heads. The primevil cries of the huge crows dancing crazily above the ancient flat tors. An incredible place, worth revisiting sooner rather than later.

Thanks for organising it John.
I'd chucked my gps on in my bag, and got a 12km reading for us (how do you spell?) "wooses".

Good to see folk again. I'm definitely going to have to sort the lacing on the Hedgehogs. I can't seem to tie them so they keep tight.
Spot on Alan - already thinking about a repeat before the autumn

duncan - I just lace them straight up - with no problem
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