22nd of August 2016
After a long drive in heavy traffic most likely caused by the fine weather and school holidays, I finally arrived just outside of South Zeal. I found a good spot up a farm track to park the car out of the way and proceeded to check my map before heading into the unknown. I had not been to this part of the moors before and as I was going solo I was understandably a tiny bit nervous. I always get like that before a solo wild camp, but once I’m a mile or so away from the car I usually forget all about the nerves and start to appreciate my surroundings.
The walk started of with a nice amble along a gravel farm track, after about a quarter of a mile I came face to face with a very steep and rocky incline. I looked up to the slopes of Cosdon hill and it slowly dawned on me what I had let myself in for. As far as I could see it was going to be uphill from now on. So I soldiered on upwards with my backpack weighing heavier by the minute. After what seemed like an eternity of huffing and puffing the ground levelled out, I turned around to admire the view which I must say was quite breathtaking.
I took a bearing from my OS map and headed off towards my first port of call, The “Graveyard” as it is called, no doubt because from a distance it looks like a jumble of gravestones. As I approached this prehistoric monument I was impressed with the fact that ancient man had obviously chosen this spot because of its dramatic setting.
The Graveyard sits on a flattish bit of land on the eastern slopes of Cosdon hill with amazing views over the countryside. It’s also known as the Cosdon Hill triple stone row. It was constructed in the Bronze age which places it at about roughly 3500 years old in date. It stretches down the slope for approximately 140 metres, some of the stones are buried under the peat so its original length is probably about 180 metres. The remains of a burial cairn can be seen in the foreground of the above picture which has sadly over time been much destroyed. I stopped here for a while to admire the views and puzzled over the meaning and purpose of these stone rows whilst I rehydrated after the uphill slog. After taking a ridiculous amount of photos, the vast majority being completely rubbish as usual, I continued on my journey.
My next destination was hopefully going to be the White Moor Stone circle, also known as Whittmoor or Little Hound Tor circle. I had on another visit failed to locate this circle having walked in from Belstone, this time I was determined to find it. I had not only my map and compass to use, I also had a new app on my phone called “ViewRanger” which I can now highly recommend.
The great thing about this app is that it doesn’t require a phone signal (as you can see from the above screenshot) because it works off of GPS. On this occasion it proved it’s worth as I was soon walking up towards the long searched for stone circle. It wasn’t quite that easy though. I’d heard before that the ground from Cosdon to Little Hound tor was quite boggy, that was an underestimation to say the least. The rough track which I was following soon became a small river and to try to walk either side of it resulted in impassable humps of grass and hidden holes. It was a struggle that paid off though because the stone circle which came into view was quite spectacular.
Yet another Bronze age monument, this circle has a diameter of just over 20 metres and consists of 18 stones. In 1896 there were only 13 still standing but the Dartmoor exploration committee came along in that year and re erected the fallen ones leaving the circle as we see it today.
It’s very strange to think that I had struggled to find this circle, however I did notice that although it sits on a little plateau all of its own, it can’t be seen from any of the lower slopes. It’s almost as if it’s been hidden by ancient man, even more so if this area was a forest in times gone by.
As I sat here in wonder at this stone circle a little bit of folklore sprung to mind. It’s said that in times gone by a man was out hunting with his dogs on a Sabbath and he walked into a storm. As the ground nearby was struck by lightning he was suddenly turned to stone along with his dogs. I guess the church had something to do with this tale as they probably didn’t want people going near such diabolical places, let alone working on a Sunday when they should be in church. A short distance away lies the Whitemoor stone, possibly a prehistoric “outlier” associated with the circle or maybe a medieval boundary marker, nobody really knows. It could well be that man who was out hunting..
It has quite a few letters carved into it showing the ancient boundary’s,the TP stands for Throwleigh parish and the faded DC represents the Duchy of Cornwall. My personal opinion is that it’s certainly prehistoric as many of the stone circles across the UK have an associated outlying stone, I think it was just handy for people to come along at a later date and carve a few letters into it.
After spending some time admiring the scenery It was time to look for somewhere to pitch camp for the night, although it was still quite early (about 3 pm) I fancied finding a nice spot and having a chilled afternoon relaxing and taking it all in. So I headed off down the hill towards where my map showed me there was a water supply. After wandering down the slope past several ancient hut circles I came to the Smallbrook, which as its name suggests, is in fact a small brook.
I found a nice little spot and after locating a nice dry flat area I proceeded to put my tent up. As with everything in life it wasn’t going to be that simple as I immediately became aware of millions of flying ants which were landing on myself and seemed to take great pleasure in congregating on my tent. This would not do.
Now quite frustrated I hastily packed away my tent and moved about a hundred metres away where there was a bit of a breeze, that seemed to do the trick as the flying ants were being blown in the other direction, and even if the wind did change direction I was quite happy that I was far enough away from them. So after clearing away some of the hugest cow pats I have ever seen and clearing the ground of some twigs and anything which may damage my tent, I set up camp.
By the time I had set up camp I was feeling a bit peckish so after filtering some water from the nearby stream I got my Trangia on the go and had some tea and jammy dodger biscuits. In the meantime my dehydrated meal was rehydrating. I was trying out Adventure foods vegetable hot-pot for dinner for the first time. These meals require adding boiling water straight into the bag, giving them a good stir and waiting eight minutes for it to do its thing.
The only positive thing about this meal is that it was packed with calories and was easy to prepare, giving a huge portion. The drawback was that it was a huge portion of bland food which was basically a mass of creamed potato with bits of sweetcorn, onion and green pepper. I added some salt and pepper and ate the lot, I was Glad when I’d finished it to be honest. I can only liken it something you’d be fed in a care home.
I think in future I’ll trial these meals at home first. It’s always a disappointment when you’re confronted with no other choice of food apart from what you’ve carried out with you. Lesson learned though!
After dinner I decided to go for a stroll and check out one of the ancient nearby abandoned prehistoric settlements. This nearest hut circles were just over the rise behind me so It was nice to think that tonight I’d be sleeping surrounded by remnants of our ancestors.
It’s amazing to think that this now desolate moor was once home to whole communities of people who farmed the land and grazed cattle. Now there was just me and the skylark’s, some cows and the odd sheep.
Until a helicopter came buzzing by disturbing my peace that is. I think it was a military one by the looks of it but I’m no expert on these things. I was glad when it had gone as I came here to escape humanity and these little reminders I find quite annoying..
After the minor annoyance I was back to the solitude I wished for. It must have been a peaceful existence back in time, farming the land and attending whatever ceremonies that took at the nearby stone circle. There are over 5000 hut circles on Dartmoor varying in size, wherever you go there are settlements scattered all over.
Once I’d finished exploring the nearby area I headed back to camp as it was getting towards late evening and the grass was becoming laden with dew, I thought this a good time try my skill with the camera’s macro lens. I often get sidetracked with the landscape and vast skies but looking closer at the flora and fauna is just as incredible.
As the temperature cooled it became apparent that I was going to spend the evening in the company of slugs. Hardly surprising really when one considers the proximity to a stream and my location at the bottom of the hill. Soon my tent had shiny trails all over but I wasn’t complaining, its a better option than the flying ants.
As evening progressed I watched the sun slip behind the distant Tor’s and had myself a few drams of whisky and snacked on peanuts.
It was a truly amazing sunset which is often the case on Dartmoor, due to the low levels of light pollution. The nearest village being Belstone which has a very small population. It was the grand finale to a wonderful day that had started with an uphill struggle taking in some amazing monuments on the way, and a thoroughly lazy evening alone with my thoughts.
To while away the next hour of darkness I played some “Dead can Dance” and “The Grateful Dead” music on my phone and lit some tealights. Drinking myself a hot toddy with tea and whisky I could feel the old eyelids drooping so I finished my drink, blew out my candles and zipped myself up into my tent. I soon drifted off whilst listening to the gentle breeze buffeting the flysheet and the bubbling of the nearby brook.
I awoke in the morning after a great nights sleep and realised that the sun was already up, alas I had missed the sunrise but I felt refreshed and positive about the day ahead. I had my next Adventure foods meal of expedition breakfast which consisted of muesli and dried fruits, tasty and nutritious to be fair. After a gallon of tea I brushed my teeth and had a wash in the stream which was refreshingly cold to say the least. Packing my tent and leaving no trace of my overnight stay I headed off up the hill past the Whitemoor stone circle avoiding a herd of aggressive looking cows, which appeared to be warily guarding their young with cautious eyes in my direction.
After a long hike up the hill I eventually arrived at the top of Cosdon hill. Cosdon hill or Beacon, whichever you prefer is the second highest point on Dartmoor at 550 metres or 1800 feet above sea level. A Neolithic hand axe was found on these slopes showing that it has been used by ancient man who would have once lived and hunted in the area. It is covered in Neolithic cairns, remains from the bronze age and Victorian granite shooting butts, once used by the landed gentry for hunting deer are dotted around the slopes. There was even a tin mine on the side at one time. The views up here are quite spectacular.
I sat on top of the cairn for a while admiring the views and took myself a map bearing for the final walk back to the car. It looked like it was going to be downhill all the way to the car which after yesterdays walk and this mornings was a godsend.
So off I headed, downhill to my car near South Zeal. It was a long walk and quite hard going but I eventually found my way back and collapsed into the driver’s seat before contemplating the drive home to Salisbury.
To round things off I thought I’d share this little poem i gleaned from the internet. It really does sum up this beautiful area, in better words than I could ever come up with.
Written by Elias Tozer (1825-73)
Rolling o’er the purple heather,
In the glorious Summer weather,
Staining lips with whortleberries,
Sweet as any figs or cherries.
Sipping from the crystal stream,
Lying on the banks to dream,
Watching skylarks soar above
Singing, with them, strains of love.
Gazing over boundless plain,
List’ning to the sweet refrain
Of the rivulets and rills
As they flow by distant hills;
Hearing voices, strange and low,
Mystic tones that come and go,
Seeing tors salute each other,
Every one a friend and brother.
Yet another successful solo wild camp full of many happy memories. I’ll be back here someday..