A two night wild camp on Dartmoor. Part Two – Shovel Down

After our foray to Bleak house we found ourselves back in the car and heading away from Lydford. Looking for a good country pub we ended up in the “Ring of Bells” in Chagford for a pint of real ale and some peanuts. Once we’d relaxed and warmed up we decided to head towards Scorhill to do a bit of walking. However, we ended up in the Northmore arms near Wonson. In my opinion the best pub on Dartmoor. Sitting by the fire I had myself another beer, only two for me today as I was having to drive.

My mate had himself another three pints of real ale even though he knew we were shortly going to look for a camping spot a couple of miles away on foot. A couple of hours later we were in the pub car park arranging our kit and preparing for a night out on the moor. Phil was by now finding things a bit difficult due to the several pints he had consumed over the afternoon. I was getting slightly irritated due to the fact I wanted to get walking, Phil seemed to be taking forever to do the most simple of tasks. The afternoon ahead was going to be a rather amusing one!

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Phil taking an eternity to pack his gear. Much to my annoyance..

After what seemed like several years we eventually headed off towards Scorhill stone circle. This was an easy walk (for  me as I was sober) and the stone circle soon came into view. Phil had lagged behind moaning for the first part of the walk, for what must of seemed to him something equivalent to ascending Everest.

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Scorhill stone circle

Scorhill is a Bronze age stone circle located on Gidleigh moor. Thirty four of the original sixty-five odd stones still remain with twenty-five of those still standing. This part of the moor has been inhabited for millenia, Mesolithic hand tools and flint tools from the bronze age having been found out here in recent times. The area is scattered with ancient hut circles possibly once occupied by the builders of the circle itself.

After a quick stop off at the circle we headed towards Batworthy corner and past Kes Tor on our left. We weren’t quite sure where we were going to camp for the evening but decided to look around the area near Thornworthy Down, where the moor meets the edge of Fernworthy forest. We arrived at the edge of the forest about twenty minutes later. Dumping our rucksacks on the ground we went for a look in the forest, as Phil was keen on setting up his tarp and staying in the woods for the evening.

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Entering Fernworthy Forest

After a wander around the forest it was decided that although it would be better sheltered from the prevailing winds and cold, it would have been somewhat dangerous. As you can see in the above picture there were just too many “widowmakers” or trees that were likely to fall on us in the night. As we didn’t fancy being crushed to death we opted for the safer option of camping a short distance out of the forest, on the open moors. We eventually set up camp next to a drystone wall giving us a little shelter from the wind.

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Our spot for the night with Thornworthy Tor in the distance

So after setting up camp we went back into the forest for some dinner and hot drinks due to it being a bit less blustery amongst the trees.

I had myself an army  ration pack veggie curry and rice with some biscuits and hot chocolate, which did wonders to raise my spirits. We took our dinner next to a small woodland stream with crystal clear water, which I  filtered all the same as the last thing you’d want a few miles from the car is a bad stomach and sickness from water-borne bugs.

Dinner finished and we decided upon a walk out to Shovel down just around the corner from where we were camping. Before we commenced our walk we were fortunate enough to see a large stag on the skyline with massive antlers, he was contentedly grazing away whilst keeping a close eye about him, we watched him for about ten minutes before he went on his way. We felt privileged to be lucky enough to have seen him, after all the years I’ve wandered these moors he’s the first I’ve ever seen. It was good to have shared this experience with someone, especially as after a couple of lunchtime beers it confirmed that it wasn’t actually a hallucination.

Shovel down itself is a beautiful part of the moor found at grid reference SX66968660. It’s covered in Bronze age monuments and a stones throw from the Scorhill circle, which in my opinion places it as part of the same complex of ancient ceremonial monuments. It contains five double stone rows, one long single stone row, burial cairns, a fourfold stone circle, a standing stone known as the Longstone and the Three boys standing stone which is now pretty much laying flat.

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The Longsstone at roughly three metres tall

All of these monuments are in sight of Kes Tor where there can be found an ancient settlement of twenty-seven hut circles. No doubt the former homes of the people responsible for erecting these stones.

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One of the double stone rows at Shovel  Down with another off to the right

Wherever one looks in this area, remains of prehistoric man can be seen. When looking around you can easily understand why they chose this part of the moor, the land is perfect for grazing cattle and of course there is an excellent water supply nearby at the North Teign River. The ground is well drained for farming, and there are remains of Bronze age field systems on the higher ground.

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Kes Tor seen from the higher part of Shovel Down. A perfect area for prehistoric settlers

It wasn’t long before the weather changed and we were harassed by sideways rain and wind, fortunately it only lasted ten minutes and we were rewarded by a stunning rainbow arching over the entire area..

Yet again the weather changed, this time it was sleet and ice cold rain so we headed back to the shelter of our tents where we were attacked by hail stones and the a flurry of snow. Inside my tent It was deafening with the flysheet being battered by all manner of ice,rain, snow, sleet and hail. It only lasted for about thirty minutes and we were soon back outside inspecting the aftermath.

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Some interesting weather was experienced in a short time

We decided due to the cold that we should take our cooking equipment and some rations into the forest where we would be a little more comfortable. We sat by  a small woodland stream and Phil lopped off several pine branches to make a dry and insulated sitting area. Out came the small bottle of whisky and now it was getting dark I lit several night lights and placed them in some crevices of the drystone wall we were sitting against. It turned out to be relatively comfortable and we spent the evening chatting and enjoying the feeling of having the forest all to ourselves.

Phil had by now sobered up, once rehydrated and fed he continued with a few beers whilst I had a few single malts in the dark woods, which added to the atmosphere. After a few hours we returned to the tents for a cold if not comfortable nights sleep.

Awaking in the morning to a hard frost and below freezing temperatures I hastily  made myself some tea and porridge and soon warmed up.

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Tea and porridge before striking camp

We soon packed away all of our kit and headed back past the stone rows towards the car. Packing our tents away made for some good photos though.

On the return journey we were once again bombarded with hailstones, this time they came in sideways and were extremely painful if they hit any bare skin.

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Phil being battered by hail stones

We both donned our gloves an hats and pulled our hoods tight. It made for a freezing return journey but it soon cleared up by the time we came to the Tolmen stone.

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The Tolmen stone

The Tolmen stone is a natural granite boulder which has a large hole bored into it. This hole was caused by river water slowly  wearing a hole over countless millenia. This hole now hangs over the North Teign river and its said in local folklore that should you manage to pass through the stone without falling into the water you will be cured of all ailments. I personally wouldn’t wish to try this as the river is a deadly fast flowing one and although cured you would probably drown in the process. I believe there is no doubt that the builders of the nearby Scorhill circle chose this spot due to religious ceremonies involving this stone. No  coincidence there I think..

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Turning around for a final look at Scorhill before we headed away and made it back to the car for our journey home

We were soon back at the car and with the heater on full blast we drove out of the moor, homeward bound. A great couple of days and nights in all manner of weather which made for some great memories.

Comments from Phil…

Hi Phil again
Graeme makes me sound like a raging alcoholic in this one. In my defence though it tasted good. Plus halfway through our first beer in Chagford he disappeared to make a phone call, he should be grateful I bought myself a second beer instead of drinking the one he left in front of me on the table.
In Chagford I bought a new KFS and felt much better after a nights sleep even a cold one. The two pints I had hit me a bit harder than expected because they made me think having another three in the Northmore arms before walking out on the moor was the best idea ever. (Note it wasn’t the best idea, not even a good idea it was an awful idea)
Again I trailed behind Graeme the whole way, though I think I probably walked twice as far as he did as I seemed incapable of going in straight lines. Again I endured Graeme’s mocking but countered with the fact he had been wrong about walking poles all along.
(A brief history into this. I love survival things. I always carry a self built survival kit and other gadgets and Graeme makes fun of me because in all the years he’s been camping he’s never needed any of it. There is nothing sweeter to me than when he needs something I carry and has to become converted about it. Bleak house opened his eyes to walking poles. Even if I only usually carry them to act as additional tent poles for setting up a tarp. I was right he was wrong!)
We found a spot by the edge of Fernworthy forest with a dry stone wall offering some wind relief and headed into the forest to find a spot to eat. It was a beautiful spot incredibly peaceful with a small stream running by it. I felt totally alone among the trees and happily fell asleep against a pine tree after lunch.
Later that evening after exploring the stone rows we returned to the forest and disturbed a family of deer on a loggers trail. I made two piles of pine bales against a small wall and spent a comfortable well insulated evening among the trees before bed and a much better nights sleep this time round.

 

2 Comments

  1. I can’t tell if you’re making me out to be a drunken fool bumbling insomniac. Or not enough of one. You forgot to mention the buck with the huge antlers crossing the skyline.

    Liked by 1 person

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