I departed from Salisbury at ten in the morning and after an easy drive I arrived at the little gravel car park at Holming Beam just after twelve in the afternoon. My planned route was to take me down the slope and across the Cowsic river and then up to the Beardown Tors, then across to Lydford Tor and over the moor to Devils Tor where I planned to wild camp and hopefully survive the night. I soon realised that this walk may need some careful map and compass work, as I could not see the Beardown Tors from my car due to the usual Dartmoor mist.
I donned my boots and gaiters, completed a final kit check and headed off down the gravel military road with the plantation on my left. I then followed the bend in the road which took me straight down a steep incline to the small wooden bridge over the river.
The bridge crossed, I continued uphill into the mist. After twenty minutes or so I found myself approaching the first rocky outcrops of the Tor where I stopped to get into my waterproofs, as the rain was now becoming quite persistent. I then headed directly north to another of the Beardown Tors (of which there appeared to be three major outcrops). From there I took a break to investigate the granite shapes and take some pictures. I was temporarily graced by a break in the mist which gave me some stunning views over the valley to my right.
Taking advantage of a break in the mist I walked to the newtake wall and over the stile and off in the direction of Devils Tor, which should only be a couple of Kilometres to the Northwest.
It wasn’t long before I had totally lost the vague path through the grassy hummocks and as usual found myself cursing my way through boggy ground. Within forty-five minutes I was climbing the ridge which would take me to my location. As I reached the top of Devils Tor the rain started coming in sideways. I was by now very hungry and quite a bit demoralised, so I hastily pitched camp using the small Tor as a bit of a wind break.
My next priority was water. I could see on the map that down the slope to the west is the head of the river Cowsic, so gathering my water containers and Sawyer filter I proceeded down the rather steep hill. At the bottom of this hill I discovered a lovely little waterfall and some very peaty coloured water.
Water collected I now took the murderous steep walk back up to my tent. Upon arrival I dived into my tent out of the wind and rain. Tea was needed so I popped the kettle on the Trangia whilst I changed into a fresh layer of clothes. I had by now become slightly damp due to a combination of sweating and foul weather.
After a mug of tea and some oat biscuits I felt a bit more positive about being out here in the rain and wind on Halloween. It was time to get a few pictures of the Beardown Man standing stone which was no more than twenty metres from the tent.
Dating from the Bronze age this prehistoric standing stone has stood out here on the open moor for at least 3500 years, if not more. As to Its purpose nobody knows..
It was just too cold and windy to hang around outside for too long so I decided to take shelter back in the tent, where just outside I had left some water on the trangia in preparation for dinner. tonight’s delicious meal was my home-made rehydrated Spaghetti Bolognese with Parmesan cheese.
Dinner devoured it was time to take off my boots and chill out whilst listening to spooky stories on BBC Devon. The rain persisted all night so I decided to watch a movie on my phone, which I struggled to hear due the loudness of the rain hammering off of the flysheet.
I had by now forgotten that it was Halloween. That was until at exactly nine thirty-five in the evening the rain suddenly ceased. It was almost as if somebody had flicked a switch. It was then that the whole tent was lit up by what I thought was a camera flash. Scared witless I couldn’t comprehend why someone had decided to take a photo off my tent out here, in the middle of nowhere. In split seconds as the panic set in, I decided to get out of my tent and confront whoever was out there. It wasn’t bravery but the fact that I had no other choice. I wasn’t going to die whilst hiding behind 0.5mm of nylon.
As I went to unzip the inner,the entire ground shook as the Tor was rattled by a massive roar of thunder. It now all made sense. The camera flash was in fact lightning! The relief quickly ebbed away as I realised that my wet tent was supported by two carbon fibre walking poles and I was now going to be electrocuted instead of murdered by a mad man, who specialises in tracking his victims over vast moorland before photographing them in their tents.
As it happened the rain started just as quickly as it stopped and that was the last of the thunder and lightning. It proceeded to rain all night.
Considering the noise of the rain all night long, I slept surprisingly well. It was still pouring down with rain at six so I decided to stay cosy and make some tea. By 7 am things were looking brighter, so I popped my boots on and went for a quick stroll to the standing stone to get some photos of the sunrise.
After some breakfast I decided to make the most of the weather and strike camp. Packed away, I propped my rucksack against the granite of the small Tor and sat to drink some tea before starting the walk back. I noticed out of the corner of my eye a small green canister wedged amongst the rocks. I thought at first that it was something military but quickly realised that I had by chance found a letterbox!
Funny to think that this letterbox had been hidden by a couple from Bologna in Italy and I had sat here last night eating Spaghetti Bolognese! Placing the lettterbox safely back to where I had found it, I picked up my rucksack and headed directly south east towards Lydford Tor,which I couldn’t see but shouldn’t be too far away. As it happened, the route back was far easier.
Lots of frogs hopping about on the return journey ensured that I had to watch my step.
The very last stretch of the hike was back over the bridge and directly uphill to the car. The last 300 metres nearly killed me as I am not a big fan of hills!
Glad to be back at the car I caught my breath and was pleased with myself for making the effort to have spent the night out. I really hadn’t been in the mood for this little trip at the outset and had forced myself to go. I was happy to be feeling that sense of achievement, one that I only get from a bit of wild camping. Before heading home there was one more thing to do. To locate the Holming Beam cup marked stone!
A rare thing to find on the moor is a prehistoric stone with cup markings, made by ancient man thousands of years ago. This one that I had read about on the Megalithic Portal website, apparently it had been incorporated into a farm wall after being moved from an unknown location. Nobody knows the reason for this prehistoric art, if that is what it is.
After a quick investigation I drove off down the track and headed back home, feeling happier for having escaped civilisation. Even if it was for less than 24 hours…