Having met my wild camping mate Phil the previous week in a nice country pub in Wiltshire, where we planned our route in the comfort of a beer garden over a pint of real ale, the day of departure had finally arrived. Phil had finished a night shift and arrived at my place in a state of exhaustion at just gone 5 in the morning. Judging by the recent weather it was looking like we would finally get a rain free trip. Leaving Salisbury we had only gone five miles when he realised he had left his map and hat in his car, so after quickly backtracking we were once again on our way (much to my annoyance!)
After an uneventful drive we arrived at the small visitors centre car park in Postbridge. Checking our kit over we started the walk. Already the temperature was rising..
I’d had an urge to get a wild camp in on Fur Tor for some time now, due to it being the remotest Tor on Dartmoor and the furthest one can be from a road south of the border with Scotland. We followed the route of the East Dart river on the opposite bank to Hartland Tor and then headed north over Broad Down towards the area of Sandy hole pass. The sun beating down upon us was quite intolerable at times, in fact I don’t believe I’ve ever sweated so much in my life. My new US army boonie hat did a tremendous job of keeping the sun from finishing me off.
This walk was turning into a proper slog, uphill all the way. It’s always a great idea when having a pint in the pub and planning a route, knowing those contour lines on the OS map are going up the way for miles. Carrying out the task in reality is for some reason a lot harder and oddly always seems to come as a surprise..
We slogged on for an eternity and arrived at what we first thought was Sandy hole pass but soon realised that this hideous orange stream could not be the East dart.
Checking our bearings we realised that the East Dart river was only a couple of hundred metres north so we carried on. We arrived slightly west of Sandy hole pass which wasn’t a problem and had a lunch break in the relentless sun. We cooled our feet in the river and I had some pasta and beans followed by a gallon of water. I only realised that evening that 25 minutes of dangling my legs in the river had given me a mild case of sunburn. Without long sleeve shirts and hats we would probably been incinerated! As it was I was already developing a blister on my right heel and we were only half way there, so after a cool foot dipping I applied some plasters and a blister pad which did trick.
Our break concluded we followed the river until we found the Cut Hill Stream which we followed until we met the Merrivale and Willsworthy military range markers, these ranges were currently in use so being careful not to stroll into a live firing exercise and being blown to pieces we headed up Cut Hill.
Cut Hill was murderous in the heat and earned itself a new name which can’t be mentioned here. Half way up Cut Hill we came across an interesting little stone with a plaque upon it. This was a cutting through the once impassable peat which was made in Victorian times, known as the “North west passage”
Although the heat was slowly sapping our energy, this part of the moor is usually a quagmire, having read some other hikers experiences it seems that the walk is usually extremely difficult due to the peat hags, bogs and marshes. Fortunately for us it was bone dry, unfortunately we suffered in another manner. I think whatever weather one takes this hike in, its notoriously difficult in one way or another. This area is vast and all one can see in every direction is wilderness.
Arriving at the summit of Cut Hill, Fur Tor finally came into view. It was an amazing sight and also quite daunting knowing we still had more upwards walking to complete.
Now for a new dilemma. As we were planning on spending the evening on top of the tor we knew we would need lots of water for cooking, eating etc. Consulting our map we could see that down in the valley before we reached the Tor there was a water supply called the Cut Combe Water. This however from a distance appeared to be dried up. We opted to save the walk down into the valley and go for the summit instead, once reaching the top we would head over the other side and fetch water from the more promising looking tributary of the Amicombe brook.
We were soon on the top of Fur Tor soaked with sweat and quite worn out by the distance, uphill walk and heat combined. My blisters were still under control but by now I’d had enough. I can’t imagine how Phil was feeling having completed a night shift!
We soon found what looked like a promising camping spot and emptied our rucksack’s. We could see what looked like a stream about a kilometre away so I took my Sawyer filter, water bladder and empty bottles including all of Phil’s available containers in my rucksack as we headed downhill towards it. We sadly realised as we approached the “stream” that due to the heat it had become nothing but a muddy swamp trampled beyond recognition by masses of cattle. Luckily the Sawyer filter could deal with this issue. We cleared a small area from mud and debris and waited whilst the slow trickle turned the little pond we had created into some good clear looking water. We filtered away until we had filled every container we had, this took about 40 minutes but was essential to our staying the night on the Tor.
I filled up my rucksack with all of our supply and due to Phil completing a night shift and making it this far without any sleep I kindly volunteered to carry it back up the Tor. I made it less than halfway before Phil had to take over, I have to admit I’d had enough by now and was greatly appreciative of his hard work when we made it back to our planned spot. In no time at all we had the tents set and dinner was consumed.
The views up here are incredible, photo’s just don’t do it justice. It’s a vast landscape and there is no sign of habitation as far as the eye can see in any direction. No roads, houses, aeroplanes, people. Nothing but us and some distant rivers and cattle.
The time was now upon us to celebrate. I had a flask of whisky and Phil had brought along some rum for himself. Admiring the fantastic views and feeling of achievement we had a little to drink, listened to some music and chatted away until the sun started to sink on the horizon. This I believe is up top with one the hardest walks I’ve yet done but was well worth the effort. We were rewarded with a beautiful scene of the sunset and some amazing cloud inversion in every direction.
Just as the sun disappeared I collapsed into my tent and watched the last glow on the horizon fade away. Phil had fell asleep about a half an hour before which was of no surprise as he had been awake for over 24 hours at this point. It wasn’t long before I was out for the count.
After a peaceful nights sleep I awoke at just before seven to find the tent was being buffeted by quite a high wind. Popping my head out of the tent I could see that we were enshrouded in clouds and mist which was zipping by at some speed.
Donning my waterproof’s I found some shelter behind a nearby rock and lighting the Trangia I made some tea and heated up and army ration of beans and potatoes. I sat there for a couple of hours soaking up the atmosphere and left Phil in his tent snoring away, after all he needed the lay in considering he’d done a 24 hour day and a ten mile walk the previous day. By the time I woke him up I’d pretty much packed my gear away and was ready to get going. By about eleven we were both fed and watered and on our way, fortunately the weather had cleared and it was looking like an overcast day and a lot cooler than yesterday.
Today’s walk was pretty much downhill all the way, within a couple of hours we had stopped for lunch by a lovely waterfall on the East Dart River. Having replenished our water supply I had some soup, tea and biscuits and took a few photos.
Whilst relaxing we noticed a few walkers heading our way, these guys were probably in their sixties and didn’t seem too happy that we had beaten them to this great little spot. By now we were ready to depart, but after watching one of the walkers angrily gesticulating and the others shooting displeased glances in our direction we decided to stay on a while longer just to piss them off. Had they come over and spoke to us we’d of happily said “Good afternoon” and left them to it! They had to settle for a couple of rocks to sit on further up-stream..
Once the miserable sods had departed we headed off in the opposite direction, mission accomplished. We weren’t quite sure where we were going to camp tonight but that’s part of the adventure I guess. As we were having to head home the following day due to work etc we decided we’d more than likely get within a few miles of Postbridge to save a long walk in the morning.
Heading back over Broad down we came to a drystone wall and stopped for some water, we decided that we’d follow this wall down the hill and head in the direction of the Beehive Hut by a small tributary of the East Dart. We had walked past here on a previous expedition and knew there were a few good flat spots to pitch on with a great water supply.
That was when we found a poor sheep stuck between a wire fence and the drystone wall.
We immediately dropped our rucksack’s and jumped into action. Action to the free the sheep that is! Seems the sheep had found a gap between the fences further along and had walked as far as he could but didn’t have the sense to walk backwards and free himself. Phil lifted the wire fence as much as he could whilst I tried to coax the sheep backwards, for a few minutes all he wanted to do was head butt the wooden post, but eventually he was on his way running free..
A good deed was done as far as we were concerned. Phil however was worried that some Dartmoor farmer might return later to find his girlfriend missing. So we hastened on our way before the aforesaid farmer returned to accost us.
An hour or so later we arrived fifty yards from the Beehive Hut and pitched camp. We both had some dinner and decided that as we didn’t have far to walk in the morning it was time to pop some music on and drink some of the booze that we were too tired to enjoy the previous evening.
Quite a few drinks later as the sun was setting we decided to try to light my little Lixida stove. The last time I’d attempted to use this was at Fernworthy forest, that attempt had turned into a complete failure due to everything being soaking wet.
So this time we had a shit fire. Literally.
All we had to burn was animal dung which due to the hot weather was bone dry. I was quite impressed with my little stove but soon discovered that to keep the fire going we would need a pile of dung the height of my tent.
It wasn’t long until the sun had gone down and we had departed to our tents where we awoke in the morning to another cloudy, warm and dry day. Within an hour we were back at the car and heading home.
To sum this trip up in one, brilliant. A hard slog on day one which was rewarded with excellent panoramic views and an amazing feeling of total wilderness.
Day two was a pleasant walk downhill finished with a relaxing evening by the river burning turds and drinking whisky.
Day three was greeted by a mild hangover and a three hour drive back to reality.
All in all I felt a real sense of achievement about this trip and am looking forward to returning to Fur Tor later in the year. Probably in cooler weather though!