It had been a couple of months since our last foray into the moor and once again my wild camping companion Phil had just finished a night shift. We set off from Salisbury at six in the morning, arriving just after nine at the Fox Tor cafe in princetown for a fried breakfast. After a feed we departed for our destination.
It wasn’t long until we were kitted out with our rucksacks and boots entering via the farm gate at Scorhill and onto the open moor, heading over the hill towards Scorhill stone circle. Even though we had been here numerous times we thought we’d stop for a quick look at the standing stones as we were passing by. After a quick perusal it was now time to go and take a look at the “Tolmen Stone” which hangs over the nearby North Teign river.
We took five minutes to top up our water supplies and investigate the aforementioned stone. This is a natural feature which consists of a huge granite block hanging precariously over the river. It has taken millions of years of water erosion to carve out a hole in the stone which is large enough to fit a grown man. Local folklore states that if one can pass through the stone without touching the water below, it will cure you of many ailments. As you can see in the above pictures Phil achieved this quite easily, I have however seen this river in full spate and I’d certainly not recommend trying this after a heavy rainfall.
Soon we headed off along the river towards Watern Tor on the far horizon. Having previously read other hikers experiences of this route we were certain that it was going to be a boggy one.
The route along the river was easy for the first five minutes but eventually the track petered out and we were squelching our way through wet bog and grassy hummocks. After about forty minutes we stopped by some rocks to sit down check our route. It was at this point that I noticed a rather large tick attempting to climb up my rucksack strap. I have a dread of ticks ever since finding one on a very private part many years ago, so not wishing to relive this experience I immediately incinerated it with a lighter from my cooking kit sending it back to hell where it belongs. If anyone can explain the purpose of ticks I’d be intrigued to find out.
After the tick fright we headed on along the river and then veered off to our right to follow the drystone wall which shoots straight up the hill to the left of Watern Tor. This hill was a killer to be honest so we took several breaks along the way where I admired the views and investigated some interesting lichens growing on the granite boulders of the wall we were following. After probably thirty minutes of uphill toiling we were in sight of the Tor itself. Within another five we were upon it and started scouring the area for a nice flat camping spot.
Looking west towards the massive outcrop of Watern Tor one can see that it is made up of two main bulks of stone. The Right hand outcrop is known as the Thurlestone and has a naturally weathered gap which a person on a horse could easily pass through. This is the spot that I originally had in mind for pitching camp. Sadly it was completely covered in animal dung which wasn’t too inviting. We decided to camp by the main part of the Tor over to the left as it was pretty much dung free.
Within 20 minutes our tents were up and we were ready for the evening ahead. Phil and I wandered about for a while taking some photos and marvelling at the shapes and contours of this very unusual tor, in fact I’ve not seen anything else like it on Dartmoor, I do believe it’s quite unique. We then headed five hundred metres down the slope to fetch our water supply for the evening, an easy walk down to a small flowing stream called Watern combe. Soon after we were back at camp where Phil declared that he was exhausted and he was off to his tent for a sleep, hardly a surprise really as he had finished a twelve hour night shift at six this morning. He zipped himself away asking to be woken in an hour. So I busied myself with some further exploring of the Tor and relaxed whilst watching the landscape and listening to Eddie Vedder on my MP3/radio.
After an hour had quickly passed I attempted to wake up the sleeping one, but after a couple of acknowledging grunts from behind his flysheet he was soon asleep again. I found myself a small perch up on the Tor and heated up a boil in the bag curry followed by some freeze dried chocolate dessert, polished off with tea and ginger snap biscuits. Another hour had passed and Phil feeling revived joined me and had his dinner, which if I remember correctly smelled of cat food and had listed on the ingredients molluscs and crustaceans. Possibly Whiskas or a similar brand.
It was decided that we should quickly explore the nearby Bronze age burial cairn a five minute walk away, before we lost the sunlight. A massive cairn dating from around four thousand years ago, it truly shows that ancient man must have had an appreciation of this part of the moor. Whoever this huge memorial was constructed for, it must have been someone extremely important. Laid to rest overlooking their ancestral lands for eternity..
It was now whisky o’clock so after walking back to camp for a few drams it was nearly time for the event of the evening. The long-awaited partial solar eclipse! Unfortunately the sun soon disappeared over the hill to our west so it wasn’t looking promising. From where we were located the sun was not visible, however we noticed to our North on the slopes of Cosdon Hill that there was some wonderful cloud inversion taking place with the cloud rolling down the hill in our direction. We were soon enveloped in mist as the skies darkened, the mist became so thick that it was impossible to see more than five metres. Within forty minutes the skies on the horizon brightened and the mist lifted. It had been a strange almost “trapped in time” feeling where everything had become quiet and still. The next couple of hours passed chatting away whilst spotting a couple of shooting stars, the milky way and the odd bat flitting overhead. All in all, an amazing evening and a perfect setting for it.
We were soon in our tents and I personally had one of the best nights sleeps I’ve had whilst camping to date.
I awoke in the morning and unzipped my tent to discover we were once again surrounded by a thick fog. I eased my feet into my boots and set about making some tea and breakfast. I opted for an army ration pack veggie beans and potato brekkie accompanied by several cups of tea and a grapefruit drink. Phil was up about an hour after myself and went about his breakfast and coffee duties.
After breakfast we packed up and started walking back to the car, apart from the mist and my mate going up to just below his knee in a bog it was an uneventful walk back. By the bottom of the drystone wall back the way we had come, we found the start of a track, which turned out to be a much easier route all the way to the stone circle at Scorhill, passing another wild camper by the river in the distance.
Arriving back at the car we took a drive towards our next planned spot at Lanehead in the parish of Mary Tavy. En route we stopped of for a pint at the Castle Inn at Lydford, this is a popular little country pub built circa 1550 and is steeped in ghostly tales it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re in the locality.
After enjoying a pint of Tribute ale in the beer garden we realised that it was already gone three o’clock so we jumped back in the car, with me at the wheel and Phil in charge of navigation we departed for Lanehead and our parking spot. It was soon apparent that Phil had led us a couple of miles up a dead-end (which according to my passenger was my fault as I was driving?). As this was a single track lane with no turning around points to be seen Phil opened the farm gate at the end of the lane and I turned the car around.
I had driven another five hundred metres in the right direction when he stated that he must have dropped his electronic cigarette back at the farm gate. I put the ensuing confusion on his behalf down to his two pints in the pub to my one. I now reversed the car the entire length we had driven all the way back to where he thought he’d lost it. As he got out of the car I noticed his sleight of hand in trying to conceal his electronic device. I realised straight away that he’d found it down the side of his seat the moment he’d left the car, hilariously he made an attempt to walk away to search for it before I pointed out that he already had it in his hand. I think Phil thought I’d be annoyed if I’d driven backwards for nearly half a kilometre if I’d discovered he had it next to him all along. At least he meant well in not wanting to upset me, bless him.
Even though I thought at the time that he was a complete knob.
Arriving at Lanehead where there were several parked cars, Phil was out of the car and saying hello to an older lady walking her dog whilst I reorganised my rations for the evening . Once the coast was clear he explained that he was off for a pee as he was desperate. I later discovered that as he was standing with his tackle hanging out thinking what a great relief it was to relieve himself, the same aforementioned old lady was sitting in her Volvo not ten feet from him watching his every move. It certainly was a tale of hilarity that I shall never forget, and no doubt neither will the poor old, now mentally scarred woman.
We quickly headed into the moor past Nat Tor and Ger Tor following the Leat most of the way before the police arrived and arrested the flasher for indecent exposure.
The walk was relatively easy for the first part of the journey but we soon strayed from the leat and found it much harder going. Scrabbling over rocks and some serious boggy areas it took us about two hours to reach Tavy Cleave itself.
Fortunately we had it all to ourselves. This can be a popular spot we soon realised after passing many people on the way, but it seemed everyone was out for the day and heading home for the evening. Our next dilemma was how to get across the river to the nice looking flat spot on the opposing river bank. There was nothing for it but to go into the water along the top of a very slippery waterfall. In all honesty it was a lot more dangerous than the photographs show.
It wasn’t long until we had put our tents up, Phil getting first choice spot as it was my turn last night. We were both next to the river which is obviously a great water supply without having to walk any distance. A brilliant spot deep in a valley next to a waterfall and surrounded by the imposing Tavy Cleave Tor’s across the river. This area is dotted with prehistoric Bronze age settlements and hut circles, one can totally understand why our ancestors chose this area of outstanding beauty.
The large pool of black water at the bottom of the waterfall is known as the “Devil’s kitchen”. I can only assume that one wouldn’t want to fall in here as it probably goes straight down into the abyss of hell itself.
We were both hungry at this point so the Trangia’s were out and boil in the bags were on the go. I had myself a Moroccan vegetable tagine with some additional green Tabasco sauce. Phil had a Nepalese style pork curry and thanks to him we both had some biscuits and squeezy cheese. Very decadent I thought.
The rest of the evening was spent with our usual couple of hours of talking rubbish and having a drink whilst admiring the waterfall. It was a bit cooler this evening so I donned my new Mammut coat and gloves to keep warm. It was soon dark and time for some sleep before heading back to reality in the morning.
After another amazing nights sleep I woke up refreshed and had some tea followed by noodles and more tea.
It was slightly foggy which added a prehistoric feel to this incredible spot, it seemed a shame to be leaving but civilisation required my mate to return to work. I still had several days off work to look forward to, so I packed away my tent and rucksack in a good mood.
I relaxed by my tent for an hour until Phil got up packed away in no time. Walking back to the car following the leat for the majority of the journey it was a much easier journey than yesterdays walk out, which resulted in a quick return to the car park. And homeward bound we were. I for one would highly recommend these wild camping spots and will certainly be returning..