A Night At Hooten Wheals

So after much debate about when Phil and I could actually get away due to our conflicting shift work patterns we finally agreed to leave for the moor after I finished work at three in the afternoon on the 29th of April. Phil had suggested we walk out to Hooten Wheals and wild camp by the ruins. Neither of us had been to this place before which could prove risky if the ground was sodden or uneven for our tents, but as I hadn’t had any time to plan I quickly agreed.

After being picked up from work we arrived on Dartmoor at about half past five in the evening. As usual we decided as we drove through the moor that maybe we could take the lazy option and camp at Huccaby farm in Hexworthy and spend the evening in the pub, but much to our annoyance the camp site had a few tents already pitched. As we both dislike people in general we agreed to stick to the original plan, which we both realised would be for the best.

Parking at Combestone Tor we donned our packs and walked down into the valley towards our destination. It wasn’t long until we started finding bones. The first one looked like some huge cow or horse pelvis which also doubled up as an excellent demonic mask!

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We continued on across a small stream and stumbling across more dead sheep I started wondering if the beast of Dartmoor really does exist and could possibly be watching us from some rocky outcrop..

It wasn’t long before we arrived at the ruins of Hooten Wheals where we explored for ten minutes before deciding on a good spot. From experience these types of old ruins can be difficult to camp amongst due to buried rubble making it almost impossible to get a tent peg into. Eventually it was decided that we would have to camp about fifty metres from one another due to this very same problem. A shame really as it meant that any verbal abuse which I could shout in the direction of Phil wouldn’t be heard.

This was the first outing for my new tent as I had only put it up in the garden back at home. Much to my surprise it was a perfect pitch in about five minutes. A very lightweight tent this one as it doesn’t come with poles, it relies on two walking poles. It weighs in at one kilogram with pegs and guy ropes. This tent can currently only be purchased from China so it was a good three week wait for delivery, but well worth it.

After a bite to eat we decided to take a good look around the ruins. I’ll keep the history of this place very brief, firstly as I know very little about tin mine ruins and secondly because after a bit of research it’s a vast subject. (A bit of a mine field you could say, groan..)

Mining has taken place here since around 1240 AD and continued until about 1920. It pretty much died off in 1914 due to the great war. After the war, it was intended to put the mine back into full operation, however this proved difficult as one account recalls ‘the men employed were far more interested in getting to the bottom of the next bottle than ever they were of doing any mining’. In 1920 a massive flood ceased all mining activities, I’m unsure if this was due to the entire workforce being pissed but it may have played a part?

The miners worked a lonng hard week from 7am on Monday and finished 2pm Saturday. They were expected to bring their own food supplies for the week and many would walk the eleven or so miles from such places as Mary Tavy for work. The site consisted of a basic dormitory and clothes drying shed which contained a large boiler. Other buildings consisted of the mine Captains house and a carpenters building of which only the steps now remain.

Apparently most of the buildings were in a good state of repair until in 1944 the American army blew them all to pieces whilst practising for the D Day landings. Much damage can still be seen on the stone walls in the form of bullet holes.

Once our wander was over the temperature started to drop so it was on with the extra layers and out with a dram of whisky.

We chatted for a couple of hours and as darkness fell I retired to my tent and watched a movie on my phone. A cold nights sleep was had, although I slept well I did keep finding cold spots on my back and legs, I came to realise that although my new tent was massively spacious to what I have been accustomed to, it was a touch breezier. I shall be investing in either a new sleeping bag or the winter inner which is produced by 3fUlGear.

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Leave no trace

By nine in the morning we were packed and heading off across the moor in search of a cairn circle and cist which was marked on the OS map. We stumbled across some more ruins of the tin mining era called the Hens Roost. Apparently there were three shallow underground workings here at one time in history.

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The Hens Roost

Onwards over the moors and past the Horse Ford Cross which marks the path of the Old Medieval Abbots way, these crosses are found all over Dartmoor and are usually waymarkers guiding travellers in past times to their destination.

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We eventually found the prehistoric cairn circle and cist which was very much overgrown. The central burial cist was over three feet deep but full of water. A shame really but nice to visit all the same. We sat here for a while whilst I contemplated the reason why this spot was chosen by our ancestors for a memorial to a person of obvious importance. As you can see from the photographs below there is very liitle to see anymore, but very much an enigmatic prehistoric site in its own right.

Eventually we found our way back to the car after some gruelling hill climbing, swearing and sweating where we immediately drove in the direction of our favourite cafe in Princetown for a massive fried breakfast. I had already had some noodles and gallons of tea back at camp but had soon burned that off. After refuelling we agreed to make another attempt to reach the elusive Childes Tomb near Whiteworks. This would mean traversing the lethal Fox Tor mires, the same boggy ground that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

This tree is as far as we made it.

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I think the clue to the impassability of this terrain is the fact that a bird has decided to build his nest eight feet from the ground. Obviously nothing ever dares trespass nearby. Only fools like us.

The OS map shows a distinct track leading across the mire, once home and upon further investigation it appears that this track is only of use in the very dry summer months. It seems that the elusive potato cave which we eventually discovered has been replaced by a new challenge, Childes tomb. We shall have to return!

After getting wet feet we agreed on a couple of pints in the Plume of Feathers pub followed by a night at Huccaby farm next to the car so we could depart early the next morning.

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A couple of pints led to several more back at the camp site and another cold night, this one with a ground frost. We breakfasted at the Hexworthy Inn and were on the road home by ten AM.

I shall definetly return to Hooten Wheals as it was a great place to camp with lots to explore in the area. Including a couple of promising spots for the future which were discovered on our walk..

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