Sunday the 07th of January and our first wild camp of 2019 started with Phil picking me up at 0600. It was still dark when we departed and we arrived to an overcast but surprisingly mild Dartmoor a few hours later. First stop was a massive fry up at the Old Police station cafe in Princetown with lashings of brown sauce so I could complain about indigestion for the rest of the day.
Breakfast complete we parked at the Forest Inn at Hexworthy where we walked uphill to the remains of the Down Ridge Bronze age stone circle. The first half a kilometre was up a steep incline and over a barbed wire fence. Within the first five minutes I thought I was going to collapse as I was seriously out of practice when it came to carrying a rucksack up steep hills. It was only 10 minutes later that we arrived at the circle. Or semi-circle in this case..
This must have once been a spectacular circle with its commanding views over the valley, sadly now only 9 stones remain in situ with an outlying stone about 100 metres away.
After a ten minute break to take in the atmosphere (and for me to temporarily recover) we clambered back over the fence and carried on the way to our destination. We walked onwards uphill for eternity until we arrived at Hooten Wheals, an old abandoned tin mine which was obliterated in WW2 by the military during the D-Day preparations. We filtered some water from the stream and rehydrated whilst I carried out some demonic sheep worship.
We walked on uphill (yet again) to the left of Hooten Wheals in the direction of Ryders Hill. The ground was wet and boggy with very few recognisable paths so we followed sheep tracks for the most of the hike whilst I moaned constantly about the fact that we had been walking uphill for what seemed an eternity, and not forgetting my brown sauce fry up related indigestion.
After an hour or so we stopped off on the summit of Ryders Hill where we took a break by the OS trig point. The wind had picked up as we were now up on the high moor, but it was still relatively mild considering it was early January. Amazing views up here over to Pupers hill, Huntingdon warren and the spoil heap of the long abandoned Red Lake china clay works. I have since discovered that Ryders Hill is the highest point on southern Dartmoor at 515 Metres.
Ryders hill is actually a Bronze age burial cairn although nowadays very little of it can be made out. It has two boundary stones dating from the 1240’s when Dartmoor was split up into areas for ownership. And a OS trig point from 1937 which is now redundant, I’m guessing due to modern technology. The old Saxon name for this hill is “Gnatteshulle”, possibly meaning “Hill belonging to Gnaet”, which may refer to the name of the person entombed within the cairn?.
From here we could see our next destination, Huntingdon warren and the cairn known as the Heap of Sinners, so we plodded on through the bog and marsh up yet another hill. We climbed towards the Heap of Sinners cairn (which I had been wanting to visit for many years) whereupon I suggested that we should summit together. Phil and his twisted sense of humour thought that “summiting” together wasn’t probably the best terminology and continued to take the piss out of me for some time. I suggested “peaking” together instead. In the future I shall keep my suggestions to myself.
The Heap of Sinners is another Bronze age burial cairn which has drastically changed shape over the millenia. In Victorian times walkers used to gather here and rebuild the cairn into various shapes, and as recently as the 1950’s a man by the name of Frederick Symes who lived in the ruins of an old farmhouse in nearby Huntingdon warren caused more disturbance. He was known locally as “MoorRoaMan”, for what reason I do not know. He spent his time reshaping the cairn into a huge pointed cone. Since then walkers have built a couple of circular shelters our of the rocks.
The barrow now serves as a shelter for the local inhabitants and standing up here in the wind I could see why.
My mate decided to go look for some water and a spot to pitch our tents. I was quite happy to stay put as I was feeling a bit worn out and was starting to develop a blister on my heel, so any further avoidance of walking was a bonus. I advised him to take a whistle and agreed if he hadn’t returned in 20 minutes I would go and see if I could find him. In the meantime I took a few pictures of the cairn and the view over to the Avon dam reservoir.
Twenty minutes had passed and no sign of Phil. I decided that he was either dead or had got lost. At least if he was dead I would have extra rations. I took a walk down the hill towards the old farm settlement and saw him walking up the hill towards the cairn behind me to my right. I shouted over and was glad to hear when he joined me that he had not only found water, but had discovered several potential flat spots to pitch our tents.
So we wandered down the hill to the site of the old settlement and some tin mining ruins. We quickly agreed on a spot and pitched our tents. Phil had brought his new Lanshan 2 man tent which he had purchased on my recommendation. This was where the first disaster took place. My tent pitched, I was in the process of tightening the corner adjustments when I pulled one a bit too over zealously. And rip. A 2 foot long tear appeared from the corner along the bottom of the flysheet.
In a moment of horror I sat there in disbelief. Fortunately I had 2 metres of gaffe tape wound around one of my bottles for this very situation.
Of course Phil was extremely helpful by taking some pictures whilst I attempted a repair. I soon discovered that gaffe tape and the material of my tent (silnylon) don’t like each other and the tape wouldn’t stick as well as I’d of liked. I did however manage a repair that I hoped would last the night. Failing that it was looking like a night of sharing with my mate, and having watched Brokeback mountain I wasn’t ready for that.
I must add that I still have faith in these tents, the tear was undoubtedly caused by my over-tightening the strap and in retrospect I had the adjustment strap pulling at the wrong angle to the corner. A lesson learned I guess. The major drawback was the fact that Phil may now be under the impression that I’d highly recommended a substandard product. On that note my next purchase will be the same tent as I have no doubts that this tent is an excellent piece of kit.
Tents pitched and dinner eaten (dehydrated veggie bean chilli with Idahoan cheddar mash for me) we sat and had some booze whilst the daylight faded.
Within a couple of hours we were in our tents. I was extremely pleased with my new “Free Fire” duck down sleeping bag which if anything was too hot. The first outing for this sleeping bag which I believed to be the best bag I’ve ever had. I purchased it for £54 on Ali-express in a flash sale, I’ve seen this bag sell for up to £240 on the same site so thought I’d got a bargain! I laid in my bag cosy and warm (massively impressed), watched a war movie, “12 Strong” and had a couple more whisky’s. I could hear my mate snoring by eight pm and it wasn’t long after that I dozed off.
I awoke in the morning after a decent nights sleep which had only been disturbed by my neighbours snoring and the fact that he decided to have two breakfasts, the first at 5 in the morning and the second around 7. So amidst the sounds of him trying to quietly move his pots and pans around I decided to stay in my sleeping bag and have some tea.
It was soon after that minor disaster number two made itself apparent. Upon getting up I discovered that I was coated in duck feathers. The material of my super wonderful sleeping bag was extremely porous. There was nothing to be done about this other than walk about looking like I’d been tarred and feathered. So much for a bargain, I was just relieved that I’d only paid a minimal amount for it as there was little chance of being reimbursed from China..
It was warm though.
Today’s weather was bleak, misty and a lot colder than yesterday.
After my veggie all day ration pack breakfast and some more tea we packed away and started our walk back. Due to the low visibility the walk required a little map reading. The major bonus was the fact that only the first mile was uphill, from then on it was pretty much downhill all the way.
Our return journey took us back up to the Heap of Sinners then onto Ryders Hill. From there we walked out to Skir Gut, The Hen Roost and back along the track to the hill overlooking Hexworthy. From then onwards it was down the hill through gorse and brambles and back to the car.
Upon arrival at the car we were disappointed that the Forest inn pub was closed so we drove off in the direction of the Plume of Feathers in Princetown as we decided that we deserved a couple of pints.
After a drink or two and some bar snacks we decided that due to the possibility that my tent may not last another night, it would be stupid to risk a night on the moor. Instead we opted to camp in a farmer’s field for the princely sum of £1.50 each. It was here that I met an interesting character. I thought at first that he was the land owner, but upon asking permission to camp he explained that he was trimming the moss on the rocks into the shape of bears. He told me that his company was “magical unicorn gardens” and proceeded to gift me a piece of “unicorn horn”! ( Which was in fact a piece of Selenite crystal).
After leaving payment by the farmers porch we wandered back to the field (Unicorn horn in hand) and pitched camp. Dinner was eaten and a few drinks were had. It was soon dark so we sheltered in our tents. I watched a movie and had an early night.
A good nights sleep was had. I awoke in what I can only liken to a snow globe. Even more feathers had leaked from my sleeping bag. They coated my hat, fleece, gloves and just about everything. Not a good look!
We were soon packed and paid a visit to the Old Police Station cafe in Princetown for a fry up as our usual cafe (the Fox Tor) was closed. And sadly it was time to head home.
A great trip this being the first one of 2019, regardless of the two minor disasters I’d happily do it all over again. Apart from the 5 hour uphill walk on day one, which was quite brutal! We both agreed that Huntingdon warren was a great camping spot and should be revisited in the summer months..
- Always have gaffe tape on hand.
- Don’t buy cheap sleeping bags from China.
- Don’t eat massive fried breakfast with brown sauce before starting an 8 mile uphill walk.