Thursday, April 23

Dartmoor Five Day Walkabout: Sun April 19th

(Devil's Tor in the distance)

Oh what a surprise. Around 5am rather than the typical Dartmoor dawn chorus of the multitude of skylarks rising from the moorland I was woken by the sounds of the nearest scout group getting up.

Which took the next two hours.

The overnight chill of 5.5 deg had me curling up in the sleeping bag, trying to get back to sleep, but to no avail. I finally gave in and plugged in the trusty MP3/radio in an effort to block out the unwanted early morning call. But eventually that ruse failed as I listened to the 7am group dressing down by the group leader complaining of their lack of early morning alacrity.

Finally they were off, but not without a final barn. "Look" I heard "that bloke is still here". "He's probably having a lie-in" came a response. Well chance would have been a fine thing!

This was the final straw, and with the cold showing no sign of lifting I quickly dressed and found the cause of my temperature problem. In picking my spot I’d inadvertently pitched on the western side of the Tor's shadow (for the view mainly) which was doing a great job of keeping the bright sunshine from heating up the tent. A lesson learnt the hard way. As a respite I spent a leisurely breakfast sitting on warming rock, reading a paperback book whilst waiting for the sun to rise high enough to dry the heavy dew from the flysheet.

So despite the early alarm call it nearly 10am before I headed off towards the intriguingly named Devil's Tor (GR 598 796) which I'd taken a bearing on the previous evening. East then onto Rough Tor (GR 605 798) and then picking up the army range boundary markers to head northwards.

(follow the red & white poles)

On past trips I’d realised that these boundaries have broad tracks, always a welcome on the open moorland, & make direction finding so simple. Just eastwards of Cut Hill (GR 607 828) I swung up the valley, along the way flushing out numerous lizards basking in the excellent sunny weather. And for a change they seemed to have no fear of my presence which I suppose indicated just how infrequent human activity is in this area, despite Fur Tor, a notoriously remote spot, and hence a regular day walk target, being so near.

(Hey John - fancy seeing you)
I was on familiar ground now, and as a result I made my own route up, following the numerous small paths to contour around to Great Kneeset (GR 588 859) rather than make the mistake of heading down into the valley, a notorious wet spot.

Taking the same approach I headed towards High Willhays for the night's wildcamp. Somewhere along the way I diverted slightly and instead found myself at Fordlands Ledge (GR 575 888)
(Fordlands Ledge)
With a night's water required there was no other choice than to retrace my steps and find a spring, or descend down into the valley to the river. Out came the trusty binoculars, until now used to look for potential tracks on distant hills, always easier seen at a distance.

I was rewarded with a glint of sunshine on water just a short way off, and not too far too descend.

Taking a bearing I worked my way back along my original path, but found the water was a small, part stagnant, pool. Not ideal. I worked my way down the hill's slope, using the darker vegetation as a general guide and letting my ears trace the route of deeply running water. At one point I could clearly hear running water until I realised a large vertical slab of rock was magnifying the sound from deep below ground. But a few minutes later my latent bushcraft talents were rewarded with fast running & clear water.

(fresh water-it just needs a bit of lateral thinking to find)

Moving carefully amongst the local small frog population I spent a pleasant half hour in the sun, collecting my supply for that night and taking liberal amounts to reset my hydration levels.

No worry about the water thanks to last year's purchase of the
Aquagear Water Filter. I've never had problems with water quality on my trips, but some sources have been a little dubious in the past. This kit reduces any concerns on that score with the plus I now have extra carrying capacity of drinking water when I choose to load up. During the trip I mostly started the day's journey with a 1 litre Platypus and the Aquagear. Only in the evening would I add the 2 litre Platypus as well, and at no time was I short of water for cooking and drinking.

Washing? Well that was another subject - but more of that to come.

Finally onto High Willhays (GR 580 895) at 619m, the highest spot not only on Dartmoor, but
anywhere south of the Brecon Breacons. Making camp on the western side of the Tor (learnt my lesson you see!) I had the place to myself. It was then I realised I’d seen barely 5 people all day, a marked contrast to the previous day's crowds. And this was the area I expected to run into most day trippers.

( High Willhays wildcamp)
Panoramic views before me. A evening meal eaten whilst sat high on the Tor, sheltered from the evening breeze, most of north western Devon spread before me as a I watched the sun sink below the horizon.

It doesn't get much better than this. Or so I thought that night

(the view south eastwards)


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