Not quite Christmas on the 11th of December but my last wild camp of the year before the festivities begin. Due to my shifts I was fortunate enough to have a couple of days off work during the week. So taking advantage of the fact that the moor would be quiet as everyone else was at work, I packed my winter gear and departed from home at about ten in the morning.
Arriving at Dartmoor around half twelve I was greeted by a stunning snow covered landscape, so for me it was a white Christmas (almost)! Parking the car on the outskirts of Princetown I opened the car door to an icy breeze, at this point I did wonder what the hell I was letting myself in for, but after a near three hour drive I quickly decided there was no going back.
Wrapped up in thermals and windproofs I began my walk along the old Plymouth to Princetown railway line, now a gravel track which makes for easy walking. The railway first saw service in 1823 originally carrying horse drawn carriages full of granite from the nearby quarries.
The railway soon became the major form of transport for prisoners and guards to Dartmoor prison, as well as transporting masses of granite to Plymouth for onward building projects all over the world including London bridge and Nelson’s column. The line was sadly closed on 3 March 1956 and is now a popular route for walkers. After a while I decided to stop for a brew and a quick rest, I sat with my tea and imagined how brutally harsh it must of been for prisoners chained in a carriage en route to the foreboding prison. Peering out over the frozen moor, with nothing to look forward to apart from a life of hard labour in front of them must of been a depressing prospect. One can only guess how hopeless they must have felt with nowhere to run, even if they did manage to escape into the harsh terrain there was little hope of escape or survival.
After a ten minute break to warm up I continued on my way. From experience I have found that it is vitally important in cold weather to take on lots of hot food and drinks even if you’re not really feeling the need to. The trick is to stay warm, as once you are cold it’s very difficult to get your core temperature back to comfortable again. Stay warm and keep warm is my motto. It wasn’t long until the quarry ruins of Foggintor appeared around the bend in the track, and I wasn’t going to be disappointed.
By the 1840’s Foggintor quarry was a very busy place, employing over 300 men, including blacksmiths, carpenters, stone masons and labourers. Several cottages with thriving gardens and a managers house once stood here, now all that remains are the crumbling ruins of a once thriving workplace.
The “Tor” of Foggintor has long since disappeared to the explosives, picks and shovels of the workers, all that now remains is a large hollow basin filled with a lake and surrounded by granite cliffs. Walking into the actual quarry was an amazing experience, once I had scrambled over the rocks and stood by the lake itself, the biting wind ceased and I felt that I had been transported back into a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The snow covered rocks glowed golden with the low winter sun, and the whole place took on an atmosphere of magic.
Sadly there was nowhere in sight where I could pitch my tent due to the rocky terrain and the sloping ground. A shame really as it was a sheltered spot out of the wind. I ventured back out of the lake area and investigated the area around the old managers house, eventually settling on a flat spot which although it looked exposed was strangely out of the worst of the wind.
Once the tent was pitched I made myself a cup of tea and had a couple of muesli style bars and proceeded to have a wander about and take some photos of the quarry with the setting sun.
The temperature had now dropped considerably so I quickly scoffed down my dinner of Adventure foods vegetable hotpot accompanied by more tea whilst admiring the view towards Kings Tor.
With the sun dropping behind the distant horizon I popped on my Christmas lights and contemplated the long cold evening ahead of me.
It was now quickly approaching -3 degrees Celcius so I changed into my mammut liskamm advanced jacket and climbed into my tent leaving the now creepy dark ruins out of sight.
With a hot Whisky toddy in my thermal mug and some chocolate and peanuts to snack on, I watched a couple of documentaries on ascending mount Everest, which probably wasn’t the best type of programme to watch considering the conditions outside. Regardless of this I was warm as toast in my sleeping bag and by about nine o’clock I was fast asleep.
I awoke around seven in the morning and amazingly I’d had a great nights sleep and hadn’t at any point felt cold, popping my head out of my tent I was treated to a glorious sunrise.
From the looks of things it had been a cold night and my tent was frozen solid on the outside with a fair bit of condensation on the inner.
I had myself a hot cup of tea and decided against breakfast in favour of some chocolate. It was only an hours walk to the car where I would soon be in Princetown, where a fried breakfast awaited at the Fox Tor cafe. So I sat with my tea for ten minutes and then packed my rucksack.
Having struck camp I carried out my usual routine and ensured that I had left no trace of my stay, other than a tent shape in the snow.
It was a crisp morning and the old railway track was slippery with last nights dusting of snow which had now turned to ice.
On the stroll back to princetown I stopped to investigate the snow covered ruins of a bronze age prehistoric settlement. These long abandoned settlements litter the moor, but I always take the time to have a look at remains of our ancestors homes. Although hard to make out in the images below, the granite hut circles are all that remain and they lay in abundance, this was obviously a once thriving community.
I was soon back at the car and within half an hour I was tucking into a great breakfast, better than anything out of a foil bag that I usually have in the morning.
After breakfast and a gallon of tea I joined the rush hour Dartmoor traffic and was home within a few hours.
So that was my last wild camp of 2017 and I’m hoping next year brings many more adventures..