Day One 28th of February 2017
It had been almost two months since my last foray into the moors and the urge to escape humanity was once again upon me. Having spoke to Phil a few days previously we had arranged to spend a couple of nights out on the moor. The weather report had been constantly changing by the day but this wasn’t going to put us off. I arrived at Phil’s house in rural Wiltshire at about 0630 am whereupon Phil presented me with a mass of army ration pack goodies. It was a bit like Christmas morning having a load of army snacks given to me, and combined with the fact that we were escaping for a couple of nights was an excellent start to the trip.
Less than two hours later we were sat in the Little Chef not far from Dartmoor devouring breakfast, I chose the olympic vegetarian breakfast and Phil opted for the smaller carnivorous version. Now fully set up for a good walk we departed onwards and less than an hour later we arrived on the moor and were greeted by a snowy landscape.
After a few minutes of wandering about marvelling at the Dartmoor scenery which never ceases to astound me, we jumped back in the car and headed for our parking spot. Less than twenty minutes later we were parked up in Postbridge by the national park information centre. We carried out a final check on our kit and rations before walking off down the road to find the gateway and footpath onto the moor itself.
We paused for a few snaps of ourselves on the clapper bridge and soon afterwards we were on our way. It’s always a great feeling to get away from the car and all things tarmac related, and very soon the feeling of freedom was upon us. Following the East Dart River we walked along the slopes of Hartland Tor, so far the going was quite easy, the rocky path wasn’t too wet and the weather was actually quite warm.
Fortunately there was no snow on this part of the moor and the wind was practically non-existent, all in all it was looking quite promising. Spring was definitely on the way, every bit of river, puddle and wet ground was covered in frog spawn, I don’t think either of us had seen so much of the stuff before now.
Phil decided to go down to the river and get some water to drink for the walk, whilst I lazily sat on my rucksack admiring the bronze age hut circles on the opposite banks of the river. He soon returned explaining as he was filling up the water bottles he had found an entire bin bag full of rubbish by the riverbank.
This find resulted in us planning how to effectively deal with people who left litter on the moor. After all why carry out all of that stuff for a wild camp just to leave it all behind? We both find this sort of behaviour totally disrespectful and irresponsible. We agreed that should these people be caught in the act they should be made to wander the moors litter picking, whilst wearing goat hair shirts and leggings with sandpaper lined deep-sea diving lead boots. A fitting punishment indeed!
After putting the world to rights we continued along our way keeping the river in sight we arrived at the “Beehive Hut”. There are a few of these structures on the moor and they are believed to be medieval in date. Originally built for tin miners forstoring tools and as a shelter in bad weather. You can see why they earned their name by the strange beehive shape they resemble.
We spent a good twenty minutes taking photos and inspecting the masses of frog spawn when I noticed a weather front approaching. We quickly donned our waterproofs and within minutes we were hit by wind, snow, rain, sleet, hailstones which didn’t abate until we arrived at Fernworthy forest itself.
So much for great weather and the onset of spring. But as always we came prepared as Dartmoor weather is a law unto itself. We walked on through this nasty weather for what seemed like an eternity, at one point my entire left side was a sheet of ice, the sleet was hitting my glasses and affecting my visibility (a downside to wearing spectacles) and I was generally quite annoyed at the battering we were receiving.
Walking on past the prehistoric cattle pounds of White Ridge we could see Fernworthy forest in the distance, and The Greywethers stone circles on the horizon to our left. Shelter from the rain etc was within reach. We decided to head down to the valley bottom into the forest as there would be a water supply in the valley and hopefully somewhere to pitch our tents and get the tarpaulin up amongst some trees. I was determined to get a tarp up on this camp as I’d carried it all the way out here. I usually opt for lightweight gear and like to minimise the weight I carry, according to Phil I moaned continually about the extra weight of his tarp that I had opted to carry, this weighing about an extra two kilos. But the extra weight was soon to pay off.
Arriving at the bottom of the valley we met another walker whom we briefly acknowledged, we obviously weren’t the only lunatics out here in this weather. Phil fell over half into the stream we were crossing and I was quite upset that I’d missed this spectacle. The other walker had witnessed this wonderful sight much to Phil’s embarrassment. It wasn’t entirely his fault however as by this point Phil had lost both mud guards on his walking poles, which now meant he effectively had pointy sticks which were constantly sinking into the ground.
Not everything had gone according to plan for myself either. I was secretly pleased that the weather had turned foul as I had my brand new Berghaus Rosgill 3 in 1 jacket, my newly waterproofed trousers which had received a coating of Fabsil, my new Enkeeo walking poles and finally I had got to try out my Trekmates waterproof gloves.
The latter turned out to be sponge like gloves which were by now soaked through. I was now, much to my annoyance in the possession of cold hands and wet gloves, the rest of my new kit had performed admirably to be fair. I did however find a great use for the wet gloves, attaching them to my walking poles they made a great pair of face slapping gloves which I thoroughly enjoyed using on Phil.
After a few minutes of face slapping and planning our next move we went in search of a suitable sheltered spot in the woodland. I had until now never camped in amongst trees as I’ve always been wary of sudden death from falling branches. On this occasion I couldn’t have cared less, I’d rather of had a tree fall upon me than a slow suffering night of cold on the open moor.
The clear flat spots amongst the trees were far and few between, we eventually settled on a small clearing in the forest where we could attach a tarp to the trees for some shelter. Even though the rain had by now abated it still threatened, and we were well aware that we would probably get wetter in the woods from huge droplets falling from the trees, than we would on the moor.
Phil made an admirable job of putting the tarp up as this is his area of expertise. The only knot I can do is the ones on my boot laces. This turned out to be a good little spot, albeit a bit muddy and cold but certainly more sheltered than I had hoped for. Our camp site was now established and we were both feeling hungry. Phil got into a rage about everything in general whilst setting up camp and I knew this was because he hadn’t eaten his usual allowance for ten people during the day and he was out of Snickers bars. So dinner was soon on the go, with filtered water from a nearby stream I proceeded to have a vegetarian boil in the bag Chilli from Wayfarer foods followed by a chocolate pudding of the same brand. All of this was rounded off with a large mug of Typhoo tea.
I must add at this point that these two meals were the best I’d had yet where camping food is concerned. I have recently gone in the direction of dehydrated food to save on weight, but I haven’t really enjoyed any of them especially when compared to the taste of Wayfarer food, I highly recommend this brand and shall be bringing them along on future trips. I think Phil had some army ration packs which smelled of cat food but he seemed quite happy now that he’d eaten.
After dinner we decided to go for a stroll into the forest to see what we could find. Much to my surprise we stumbled across a group of prehistoric hut circles in a clearing. There were six in total which could be made out by stones protruding out of the ground which in the past had been churned up, most likely by irresponsible tree planting by the forestry commission.
Much to his glee Phil found himself a small deer antler which had been lying about for sometime as it had a coating of green algae on it, a great find all the same. He now had a weapon to defend himself from the glove slapping poles.
We spent some time sitting amongst the hut circles imagining what it must have been like to live out here four thousand years ago before heading back to the tents. It was now not far from getting dark and I wanted to try out my other new gadget. I’d recently been reading about firebox stoves, these little steel contraptions fold flat for storage and once built you can get a tiny fire on the go using small sticks and even dry cattle dung. With this you can cook and keep your hands warm, I bought it mainly for something extra to do whilst camping to while away the hours, as I’ll always use my Trangia for cooking. As I had never used one before and wasn’t sure what to make of them I had purchased a cheap copy of the number one brand, it’s called a Lixida pocket stove.
The only issue we came across was the fact that everything was sopping wet, there were no dry sticks to be found anywhere. We used cotton wool buds soaked in vaseline as a fire starter and eventually managed to get a small but very smoky fire going. We gave up after twenty minutes due to the lack of combustibles but I must say that I’ll be taking this piece of kit along in the summer, as I can imagine it will be a great asset when we have available stuff to burn. The moors are covered in animal dung, and in the summer months there will be an abundance of this to add to the fire.
By now it was getting quite cold and I had no gloves to wear. A few whiskies later I was feeling quite toasty, Phil had his spiced rum in several hip flasks that he was working through and it wasn’t long before we decided to call it a night. I was confident that tonight I was going to be nice and warm in my sleeping bag due to the addition of my new sleeping bag liner. This was not to be the case!
Day Two 01st Of March 2017
A very cold and uncomfortable night was endured. I’d spent most of the night rolled against one side of my tent due to the sloping ground, at one point I awoke to find my sleeping mat on top of me. The sleeping bag liner had obviously made some difference but not enough. We both agreed that morning that we needed better cold weather bags, I needed new gloves and Phil needed new guards for his pointy sticks. Slightly demoralised we got ourselves out of our sleeping bags and after breakfast we were feeling a bit more positive. I had an army ration pack of vegetarian sausages and beans, Phil had more of his cat food in a foil bag type stuff.
Fortunately there was no rain this morning, it was however a very damp day with overcast skies. My gloves were still wet and everything in my rucksack was damp apart from my spare clothes and sleeping bag. Even with a rucksack cover, the previous days rain had run down my back and into my pack. Another item I have purchased since this trip is a rucksack liner, something I’ve never previously required but after this experience an essential item.
After packing our kit away and breaking camp we walked out of the woods and headed uphill in the direction of Sittaford Tor and the Greywethers double stone circles. These two circles which are adjacent to one another date from the Bronze age, making them approximately 4500 years old.
The Dartmoor exploration society restored these circles in the late 19th century as many stones had fallen over. They also discovered a mass of charcoal on the site which suggests prehistoric man was having some huge fires within these circles. One can only guess what they were up to, I like the idea of a wickerman type sacrificial thing going on. But it could of just been a big barbeque, who knows..
We stopped here for a while whist the rain headed in once again, we were planning on heading on towards the newly discovered stone circle at nearby Sittaford Tor but decided against it due to the weather, and the fact that we still had a long walk ahead of us to return to the car park. We shall save that for another trip.
Continuing on our way for a couple of miles we found a nice little waterfall at Winney’s Down Brook. We stopped to fill up our water bottles and admired the view for a short while.
There is no denying that this walk was a tough one, we did go off track for a bit and weren’t quite sure if we were headed in the right direction. The tracks were like miniature mud filled rivers full of rocks, the rain continued and then the mist enshrouded us.
We eventually arrived at the waterfall on the East Dart River, a lovely spot but we didn’t stop for long as we knew we had to find a river crossing.
We followed the river along for about half a mile until we found the shallowest crossing point we had yet seen. This was however still about a foot deep, so we decided on getting across as fast as possible with me taking the first crossing, luckily we both made it across with dry feet.
Now we had to find our way across a mile of open moor in the mist, Phil took a compass bearing and off we headed. It always unnerving when on open moor with no landmarks to give you an idea of your location and relying solely on a compass bearing. We did eventually find the next part of the river thus cutting out a whole section of walking which was to put it mildly, a bit of a relief.
Down to the river we walked, and then we followed it for about a mile on a very small track which took us over boulders and up and down hills, we stopped a couple of times for a snack and to replenish water. This was the first time either of us had visited this part of the moor and we spotted loads of great camping spots, I think we’ll definitely be back in the summer months.
It seemed an age but in time Hartland Tor came into view meaning we weren’t far from Postbridge. We had come back a different route from the previous day which had in all fairness confused our sense of direction. So it was a good feeling to know we were almost there, and were safe from the idea of a slow wet demise lost on the moor.
Traipsing through another two miles of mud in the mist and rain saw us back at the car in Postbridge. Ridding ourselves of our weighty packs we sat in the car and pondered what to do next. By now I think we’d both had enough of the constant wetness of everything and decided we could do with a night under shelter with a fire. I had an idea, about fifteen years ago I’d stayed at a camping barn on Dartmoor. We took a drive across the moor to see if by any remote chance if it was still in existence.
Arriving at the farm-house I could see the barn was still there, no surprise really as it does date back to the Domesday book according to the owners. After speaking with the owner she explained that nothing had changed in the fifteen years since my last visit, and yes we could stay the night. Even better there were no other people expected that night. We soon moved in and made ourselves at home by lighting a fire with some logs we’d bought from the farm which in turn would help to dry out our wet kit which was now spread all over the barn interior.
By now it was starting to get dark so we had some dinner and spent the evening having a drink and chatting until late by the fire. During the night it sounded like there was a torrential downpour that lasted for ages, I think we’d certainly made the right choice by finding this place.
Awaking in the morning after a good nights sleep I looked outside to see a beautiful sunny day. This is typically the case when it’s time to go home. So it wasn’t long before the car was packed and we were heading homewards.
Overall this trip turned out to be totally different to what we had expected, but it was a great one all the same. I for one shall be returning to the camping barn as a retreat in foul weather. And I’ll also be buying some new “waterproof” gloves as they still hadn’t dried out 48 hours later!
I asked Phil if he’d like to add a few words about his experience. Instead he has decided to write a blog all of his own. Well worth adding his comments though: