The 4th of January 2017. First wild camp of the year and a chance to get in touch with one’s self.
After a busy Christmas I once again (as I often do) felt the overwhelming need to escape on my own from civilisation. So after saying farewell to my Girlfriend I threw my rucksack into the boot and took an early drive to Dartmoor from Romsey in Hampshire. Due to the cold weather and the short winter nights I decided upon arrival to take a short 5 k walk whilst taking in a few of the prehistoric monuments in the area.
The drive from Romsey took about 3 hours in total, including a pit stop at my favourite little chef cafe for a vegetarian early starter breakfast and a gallon of tea. I arrived at Peter Tavy at about 11 am and parked up in the lay by near the track to White Tor fort. Upon exiting the car to swap my shoes for walking boots and gaiters it dawned on me that I had made the right decision to pack my extra winter gear, as the temperature here was definitely a few degrees colder and a lot windier than it was back in Hampshire. After sending a couple of text messages to let my contacts know I’d arrived safely and that I was starting my walk I carried out a final kit check, donned my backpack and proceeded up the gravel track towards White Tor Fort.
Twenty minutes into the walk and up a steep incline it dawned on me that I may have possibly overdone things in regards to the Christmas food and drink. In contrast to the biting cold winds I was beginning to get a bit warm under my Goretex and out of breath. Fortunately the ground soon levelled out and in the distance I could see the lonely windswept monument of Stephens grave.
As with all suicides this one entails a rather sad story. Legend has it that about three hundred years ago a young lad by the name of John or George Stephens fell madly in love with a girl from the nearby village of Peter Tavy. It seems that his love was one-sided and after being rejected he wandered into the moor and took his own life by poisoning himself with deadly nightshade, other tales say he gave the girl a poisoned apple which after she took the first bite and died he ate the rest himself. Whatever the truth is it seems his body was taken to this desolate spot and buried, as suicides in olden days could not be interred in hallowed ground. For many years to follow local people avoided this spot as it was reputed to be haunted by his desperately inconsolable spirit. It was of course comforting to know that I would be spending the night on my own not far from here!
After a quick brew and some moments of reflection into the pointlessness of it all I continued on my cheery way past White Tor Fort on my left (Which I will come to in a while) towards the Langstone standing stone. This prehistoric standing stone lies within the Military firing range, so it’s always advisable to check the range firing times unless you wish to be unexpectedly blown to pieces. You can find out what times are best to be shot at on the Dartmoor Ranges Firing Programme and timings programme.
Anyway, I digress. Back to the Langstone menhir. A beautiful Bronze age standing stone nearly 3 metres tall, re erected in 1893 and apparently linked to a stone row which I could see little trace of. It has a little bit of damage on it which was caused by the US army prior to the D Day landings. Seems they used it for target practice of all things.
As you can see in the above picture it was a bit wet in this area of the moor. My next destination was the Langstone stone circle. After checking my OS map and taking a compass bearing I realised I could see the circle about 500 metres to my right. Things weren’t going to be that easy though as there was the dangerous Langstone mire to navigate around. These bogs or mires can be deadly if you get stuck in one, especially if you happen to be out on your own with a 13 kg rucksack on your back. The last thing I needed was to be sucked into a watery grave in the new year. So I opted to skirt a couple of hundred metres to the left of this quagmire whilst keeping the distant circle in view.
Ten minutes later I came across some odd stuff which I had previously only read about. Star jelly!
Now, this odd stuff is a mystery. Scientists have apparently never quite discovered its origins. There are many theories ranging from ghostly ectoplasm to frogs. It’s meant to appear on the ground shortly after meteorites have been seen, hence its name. Personally I think it’s do with the sheep coughing up nasty looking mucus. I certainly hoped it wasn’t due to ghosts and ectoplasm, it’s bad enough having the ghost of George Stephens wandering around my tent without him being responsible for this..
So after poking at random goo with a stick I carried on traversing the boggy ground up a slight incline and the stone circle came into view. A wonderful sight when up close, with a vast valley opening off to the right and a view all the way to what I’m guessing is the sea at Plymouth.
Not much left of this circle due to the American military obliterating it with artillery fire, not being satisfied with damaging the previously mentioned standing stone. Bronze age in date but only a few stumps remain but amazing all the same due to the beautiful setting our prehistoric ancestors chose. Most of these circles on Dartmoor have shown evidence of prehistoric fires within their centres. One can only imagine how far away these fires would have been seen from..
I was now feeling cold and hungry so decided on heading past the circle and down the slope to the valley bottom to pitch tent and get some food and tea. I’d already planned on a spot for the night whilst I was at home using the trusty old OS map and Google Earth, but like all well laid plans this soon became unravelled. Getting down to the valley bottom to the River Walkham which was my planned water supply was relatively simple. Upon arrival I soon realised that I could get nowhere near the river due to more boggy marshland. I sat on my rucksack pondering my next move looking up at the daunting hill I had just come down, hungry and getting colder (it was now about zero degrees) when I heard the sound of bubbling water from behind me. Much to my glee I had just found an underwater spring!
So out came the Sawyer mini water filter and up went my tent, Trangia stove on the go and I was all set for the evening. Firstly it was some tea and oatmeal biscuits for starters, followed by a veggie rehydrated curry and rice. These rehydrated meals remind one of an airline sick bag but taste much better. Not that I’ve sampled many airline sick bags but I’m sure it’s something along the lines of Air India. Just as I started cooking in came the usual Dartmoor drizzle and mist, so into my tiny tent I went.
I’m not complaining about the weather, if anything I absolutely love it when the mist comes in obscuring everything in view. It sort of adds to the atmosphere, Hound of the Baskervilles and all of that..
So darkness and mist enveloped me by 5 pm but I was quite cosy in my sleeping bag with my new Christmas present book “The boy at the top of the mountain”. Without a good book I think it’s fair to say I’d of gone insane. There’s only so much you can do in a one man tent on your own when it’s dark and the temperature is below freezing. I’ll leave that one to your own imagination.
After a few hours reading and lots of chocolate and snacks, out came a small bottle of single malt whisky. As it was ridiculously cold I added a few shots to some hot coffee, the rest of the night is history. I can add that I had an excellent nights sleep and woke up 9 hours later. A better nights sleep is to be had in the wilderness than one can achieve at home. I put this down to being away from WiFi signals, electrics and the noise of Chav’s driving by in Honda Civics with souped up exhausts, Dustmen in lorries, traffic and annoying things in general.
Waking up before dawn and packing my tent after feasting on some porridge and a gallon of instant tea I headed up the slope away from the river in the hope of catching the sunrise at the stone circle.
Alas it was looking like a cloudy morning so after hanging about in the subzero temperatures and drinking more tea the best photo I managed was this pitiful shot:
Having failed at that idea I headed off to White Tor Fort avoiding being sucked into the abyss of the mire to investigate what is the remains of a Neolithic fortified enclosure, up until recently thought to be a much later Iron age hill fort.
White Tor (Or Whittor) fort is scattered with ancient remains. There are burial cairns, hut circles, enclosure walls all in sight of Peter Tavy and the Langstone monuments. I stopped here for an hour and had a brew whilst travelling back in time before the final walk back to the car and the journey back to reality..
So that was the end to my mini adventure and I must say it was a memorable one. The fact that I saw no other human being for 24 hours was a wonderful thing. It gives one the ability to clear the mind of all the debris that modern-day living brings. So I made it back to the car and after sending a couple of texts to let people know I was still alive, much to their disappointment, I headed off home to Salisbury. Soon I was out of Dartmoor and sitting in traffic surrounded by angry motorists, who really should consider doing something like I’d just done and get in touch with what I believe to be the real world.
One of solitude and wilderness..