So the first wild camp of 2018 had finally arrived. We had planned this one a couple of weeks before and the morning of the 2nd of February was upon us. Phil picked me up at around six in the morning. It was still dark and temperatures were a couple of degrees below zero. We were soon on our way and arrived in Princetown just before nine.
As the Fox Tor cafe wasn’t yet open we had a ten minute mooch around the abandoned tin mining village of Whiteworks where we had camped a couple of years before. We were somewhat disappointed with the amount of damage from the fires that people had lit, and the debris they’d left behind. This was a spot I would of returned to but it’s obviously now a bit too popular amongst the disrespectful types.
Now both quite hungry we headed back to the cafe, alas it was quite closed and no lights were on. This was a ruination of our morning as it had become quite a tradition to start our mini adventure with a full English breakfast before we spent the next few days eating out of foil bags. We opted for a quick visit to the local post office and stocked upon sausage rolls and other random foodstuffs. Fortunately I’d brought along a sandwich from home so that sufficed for me.
Half an hour later we were parked at Harford gate car park where we did a final kit check and proceeded down the road on foot to Harford bridge, entering through the small wooden gate and into the wooded valley we followed the river which leads onto the open moor.
I had planned this route well in advance and had put a fair bit of research into it. I was fully aware that the first half a mile through the woods should be straightforward enough followed by a slightly boggy area. Slightly boggy was a massive understatement to say the least. As the woods thinned out we found ourselves looking out onto the beautiful open moorland where we walked straight into an impassable mire which took me up to my knees.
After five minutes of nearly being dragged into a watery grave we had no other option than to head directly up the hill to our left at a very steep angle, through a mass of brambles to reach Tristis rock on top of Burford down. From here we could see our route ahead. We took five minutes to take a look at the cairn circle and stone row on Burford down which once had a length of 500 metres. Sadly much of it is now hidden by the grass or covered by the peat bog, many stones having fallen over in the past four thousand years, but considering their age they’re doing pretty well.
We now headed directly north and uphill through more sodden wet ground in icy cold winds to find the Cornwood Maidens, another prehistoric stone row. One that I had been desperate to visit for sometime. Also known as the Stalldown row it stretches for over 600 metres uphill in a north/south direction. Over 65 stones still stand with many fallen or buried by the peat bog. In my opinion this stone row is one of the best on Dartmoor due to it’s enigmatic setting in the landscape. The views from here are dramatic, looking south one can see over to Plymouth and out to sea. I can see why prehistoric man erected these stones on this spot.
Towards the end of the stone row are the remains of a large kerbed cairn circle, this would once have contained a burial of someone of great importance. Possibly a great King or Queen, maybe a religious leader. We shall probably never know, but for me that adds to the mystery.
We carried on with our walk and were surprised when we stumbled upon another magnificent Cairn circle and Cist, which was in an excellent state of preservation considering its antiquity. This one is called the Stalldown North platform cairn circle and cist, It wasn’t part of my plan to include this on the walk as I wasn’t even aware of its existence. So a lovely surprise made even more magical when a group of inquisitive Dartmoor ponies came over to investigate us.
Having lost a good hour at the beginning of our walk scrambling up hills through bogs and brambles we decided to get a move on. It was now about two in the afternoon and we still had a fair way to go before we arrived at our planned destination. Fortunately we had completed most of the uphill work and descended downhill to the river Erme as we were out of water.
As we were filling our water bottles the weather was definitely taking a turn for the worse, we had a few spots of rain and the temperature was plummeting. We donned our waterproof leggings and out came the rucksack covers but luckily it came to nothing. So water collected and a couple of litres guzzled down we took the last uphill stretch towards the Stall moor stone circle, also known as the Dancers or the Kiss in the Ring circle. I’d been out here before on my own back in August 2016 having walked from the Avon Dam reservoir. It was nice to approach it from a different direction on this occasion.
This stone circle is in remarkable condition which is most likely due to Its remote location miles from any civilisation. The interesting thing about this circle is that it is found at the end of the longest prehistoric stone row in the world. My previous visit to this site (In much warmer weather I may add!) can be found here: Upper Erme stone row.
The final part of our journey was not far now, a kilometre or so following the stone row straight down to the Erme pound, where we were going to spend the evening. I was at this point a bit concerned that the pound I had previously visited on a scorching hot summers day might now be a bit too wet for camping, and as it was getting late in the day this could become a bit of an issue. As the pound came into view it was looking promising, with the bit of ground near the river being flatter than I remembered. Once the precarious river crossing had been completed we scrambled over the drystone wall and were happy to find that it was an ideal spot. In the bottom of the valley, sheltered from the wind and behind the low stone wall. We quickly set up camp..
First thing to address after the tents were pitched was more water collection followed by dinner. I had myself a dehydrated Pasta al Funghi meal made by Adventure foods followed by a Chocolate dessert. Food quickly consumed I started to warm up a little as I had been feeling a bit chilled after being exposed to the biting winds all day.
It wasn’t long until the sun went below the horizon so it was time for a couple of whisky’s to celebrate our first wild camp of the year, maybe also to placate the spirits of the ancestors whose home we would be sharing tonight…
Not long before seven we decided to head off to our tents as we were both feeling the cold, my feet although dry were feeling like ice and it was pointless trying to sit outside in the cold as it was no longer enjoyable. I made myself a hot water bottle and zipped myself inside my tent spending the next few hours listening to radio 4 and relaxing in the warmth of my sleeping bag, it wasn’t long until I dozed off.
A good nights sleep was had, waking on occasion to the sound of the river Erme bubbling away and the rain lashing off the flysheet.
Once awake I stayed in my sleeping bag for half an hour whilst drinking tea and listening to the rain. Some yards away I could hear Phil rustling about in his tent and the rattle of Trangia pans. Within half an hour we were packed and ready for the walk back to the car. Fortunately the rain had ceased for our return journey, but as you can see from the pictures below the dry spot I had pitched my tent upon had become a small lake due the amount of rain we’d had. It was going to be a soggy walk.
We had only walked 300 metres when we arrived at the remains of two more prehistoric settlements. Skirting around the low tumbled walls of the first ancient village we came to the vague remains of a double stone row which led the way to the other small settlement. A tiny bit of research since has revealed these to be the remains of Hook lake. Little can be seen on the ground here as nature has pretty much taken over.
we continued onwards past some opencast tin minings and uphill until we joined the two moors way. After a day and a half of bogs, grass hummocks and generally tough terrain we both agreed this was like a high speed moorland motorway.
On the way back we stopped off to investigate the ruins of Leftlake china clay works and the disused pit which is now itself a lake. It’s only after reading about this place that I realised that this section of two moors way is actually the remains of the tramway which served the china clay works. Hence the easy walking!
The views from up here on the two moors way are quite incredible. Across the river valley to the west we could see the Cornwood Maidens on the horizon, Piles copse nestled in the valley below and the deadly mire which nearly halted our walk the previous day.
Once back to the car we decided to drive to Hexworthy where we camped for the next two nights. On the way we stopped off at the Royal Oak in Meavy for a well earned pint and a bit of lunch.
The following morning we decided to venture out to Burrator and walk to the ruins of Combeshead farm in the hope of discovering the elusive potato cave. On the way there next to the path leading to Combeshead farm we came across a nice little ruin, Middleworth farm, which was abandoned by the owners in 1900. I believe there are several abandoned farms in this area which I shall have to return to for some further investigation.
Onward to the potato cave! On this occasion we were successful in our potato cave quest, having failed to find it on two previous attempts. An amazing and well hidden little cave carved out of the side of the hill by the farmer, it was used to store his crop of potatoes. Now empty, it’s reported to be the home of bats, although we didn’t see any.
Thoroughly pleased with our successful venture we returned to the car and found ourselves in the Plume of feathers pub in Princetown where we had a couple of beers. Returning to our basecamp at Hexworthy we spent a quiet evening polishing off several more drinks and talking nonsense. Awaking in the morning to a hard frost and a temperature of -4C it wasn’t long until we were packed and on the road. Before heading home we had a breakfast in the now open Fox Tor cafe.
So that was our first camp of the year, a very cold one where I spent most of the time wondering why we do this in these temperatures. But now I’m back in the comfort of a warm house I am already busy planning the next trip!