Monday, 22 July 2013

2013 - June: A hot walk across Dartmoor

It seemed a good idea to walk from the North to the South of Dartmoor on two of the hottest days of the year.  I took the bus from Barnstaple to Okehampton, backpack heavy with energy drinks and melting chocolate.  The route below revisited some of the parts of the moor I trekked over when I was 15 and doing the Ten Tors expedition - amazing that we did 50 miles in a weekend in rough conditions, with heavy kit and no mobile phones.  Kids nowadays...blah blah...

Rough map of trip - not in straight lines
The first challenge was going up Yes Tor, just about the highest point on Dartmoor.  I quickly realised that the long spell of dry weather meant the fearsome bogs were not a serious problem - they had dried up.  And navigation would be easy - no sudden dense mists - so target Tors could be identified miles away. Still I did use the compass, and only turned the phone on to text my progress and take pictures at a few high places (where there was, reassuringly, a signal).

View north from Yes Tor - having just climbed from that valley in baking heat and swigging Lucozade.
So to be honest the walking was rather easy - I even met someone taking their toy remote-controlled car for an outing on the top of High Willhays.  But still a bit of a slog, getting to grim Hangingstone Hill after about 3.5 hours walking, some on rough tracks. 
Slightly gloomy outlook south from Hangingstone Hill -  a notoriously gloomy place
The route south was around 5 miles of completely trackless moor, which would have needed some neat navigation if I were not able to see Rough Tor clear as anything on the horizon.  Still I had to cross the source of the Teign, the East Dart, and the West Dart rivers.  It was stinking hot, nobody visible for miles, no mobile signal, hoping I would not twist my ankle on the dry but tuffety bog.  The East Dart looked a bit red, but very tempting so kit off and in I was, with only a pony to watch.  Very cooling.

The East Dart river.  No picture of me sitting in it.

The bog leading up to Rough Tor was quite rough - if it had not been dry it would be have been very draining.  Rough Tor is right on the border of the Merrivale Firing Area, and the red flag was flying, so kept my head down.

Trying not to be shot at

Panorama from Rough Tor. Not a soul in sight.

Cottony stuff on tuffety stuff
Wistman's wood is supposed to the last remaining bit of the proper 'Dartmoor Forest' - knarled old oaks growing out from between lumps of granite covered in moss.  Feels like a set from a Tolkein film.  Tricky to walk over, and the first people seen for about 5 hours.

Watch out for goblins in Wistman's Wood
Then a very welcome pint of shandy in the smart hotel at Two Bridges, that nevertheless had a sign saying 'Muddy Boots Welcome' - felt very welcome, even though not muddy.  But tired. Then final walk along road to Princetown - a famously grim dump that looked rather fine in the evening sunshine.  And even finer when I got to my comfortable single room booked in the Plume of Feathers pub.  Nothing better than feeling utterly entitled to sit most of the evening in the bar, eating good food and drinking cold white wine.

It was another hot morning as I explored the joys of Princetown, including the wonderful abandoned railway line, the church built by Napoleonic prisoners-of-war, and the fine Prison museum.  The Prison managed to look dour and depressing, even in bright sunshine.

Small headstones for prisoners - no names, just initials.

Luckily I did not sleep here
Set off south, staggering under the weight of all the Lucozade sport that was going to keep me hydrated on a stinking hot day. Walked through old tin mines, ground all chewed up like a World War 1 battlefield, occasional deep shafts with a fence round them.   Then there was about 5 miles without any sort of track, and so took a compass bearing and set off in a straight line across Foxtor Mires.  Turns out this was Conan-Doyle's inspiration for Grimpen Mire in Hound of the Baskervilles, and if it had not been abnormally dry it would have been a very stupid route.  But it was like walking on a mattress - fortunately did not break through the crust and so all well.
Fine granite wall in the middle of the bog
Trudged on, using occasional standing stones to check the bearings, and even saw another walker, who I greeted merrily.  He took no notice whatever, so I hoped he would fall down a mineshaft.  Got to the source of the River Erme, and once again it was kit off an into the cool, rather reddish water.  Heaven.
My bathing place in the River Erme
Walked through the old settlements in the valley, and then took a wrong turning and got hot and bothered clambering up a hill trying to find the route of the Two Moors Way.  Eventually stumbled on a fine path, dead level disappearing over the moor in both directions.  Turns out this bit of the Two Moors Way runs on the track of the old tramway that ran from near Ivybridge to the Red Lake China Clay works: good photos here and here's some history.

The 'Puffing Billy' track runs high across the remote Dartmoor
It was a relief to have some easy fast walking along the track, with walking stick clicking on the gravel in a satisfactory way, and views to Plymouth and miles to the edge of the poor.  Must have been ghastly and desolate to work here throughout the year.  So plodded happily into Ivybridge without a trace of heatstroke, to find my local train had been cancelled.  Just getting grumpy when in pulled the London express on an unscheduled stop, which was the very train I was supposed to be connecting with.  So hopped on, scarcely believing my luck.

In conclusion, a bit of an adventure and all went as planned, but I have to admit I was quite lucky - if the weather had been normal, the bogs would have made it much harder.  My navigation was OK, with a good map and some compass work, and I did not use the phone to find my position, so I think I would have managed even if the mist had come in.  Took a risk being on my own, as if I had twisted my ankle it would have been tricky and I even forgot my whistle, so would have had to stagger to somewhere with phone reception.  But I texted my position every couple of hours.  

A good walk.