Microadventure #8: 3 Nights on Dartmoor, day 1

April, My Year of Microadventure - #YYOM

Regular readers of my blog (ha! I know you don’t exist but it makes me feel like writing this isn’t a complete waste of my time if I pretend I have an audience… 🙂 ) will know that I spent two nights on Dartmoor back in the autumn. And I loved it. And I wanted to do it again.

Well I did. I did it again, and it was awesome. Again.

My eighth microadventure was at the very end of April crossing over into May, but this was April’s microadventure as far as my year of microadventure goes. I was still catching up after my serious illness in February, and this microadventure just about brought me back up to speed.

A ten mile hike from Top Tor (bottom right) to Stannon Tor (top left)
A ten mile hike from Top Tor (bottom right) to Stannon Tor (top left)

For this trip to Dartmoor I wanted to see a different part of the moors, and having recently been bought a copy of the absolutely fantastic book Wilderness Weekends by Phoebe Smith and noted some of the sights she recommended on the moors, I chose to make her walk my starting point for my microadventure. But I wanted to go further, see more, and do more than her walk suggested.

For one thing I had more time: I was heading down last thing on a Thursday night after work having taken the Friday off to turn the bank holiday weekend into a four day affair. So rather than just Saturday and a bit of Sunday, I had all of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and a bit of Monday to really see the moors!

My plan was to really soak up the moors and get close to them. Oh yes.

Before setting off I decided to re-proof my wet weather gear as I’d realised my ageing jacket and trousers were no longer waterproof. I re-proofed them in a hurry the day before I set off knowing there was a good chance I’d need wet weather gear on the moors.

In the spirit of microadventuring I didn’t want a route plan as such, just a vague “I’ll start here and let’s see what happens” attitude. I arrived at the tiny car park near the summit of Top Tor around 11pm, wandered to the summit of Top Tor, picked a suitably grassy spot and pitched my basha before climbing into my sleeping bag – sans bivvy for the first time ever – and going to sleep. Having found my 2-season bag to not be warm enough on my previous microadventure I’d opted to use my 3-season bag for Dartmoor. With a 4-night outing planned I didn’t want to discover I’d not brought enough insulation to cope with the wild Dartmoor weather, so I figured the extra weight was worthwhile. Turned out I needn’t have bothered, I woke up sweating in the night and had to peel layers off to keep from basting in my own juices.

Friday morning I set off bright and early after scaring the hell out of a woman walking her dog. I popped out from my camouflaged basha just as she walked past, she was pretty much next to me and hadn’t spotted it so the camouflage definitely does its job.

I packed up and headed for Hound Tor, the first stop on the Wilderness Weekends walk. Along the way I picked up smallish pieces of wood that I could carve into additional tent pegs having found myself lacking in the peg department.

Hound Tor was pretty and I took the time to stop and, despite the long walk ahead, I climbed to the top of the rocks to look at the spectacular views. At the very top I had to completely flatten myself against the smooth rock to keep from being blown off to what would have undoubtedly been my death. Alone on a 4 day hike in the middle of Dartmoor taking unnecessary risks is probably a bad idea I reminded myself, and so I promptly but carefully descended back to safety. I found a letterbox which I signed before continuing.

Jay's grave
Jay’s grave

Jay’s Grave was the next stop: According to local folklore this is the final resting place of a girl who committed suicide in the 18th century, possibly as a result of having become pregnant out of wedlock. The story goes that she hanged herself in a nearby barn, and her body had been buried in an unmarked grave. This was was later reopened and her remains reburied in a proper coffin with a proper headstone. For years the appearance of fresh flowers was a mystery until it was eventually discovered that the local author Beatrice Chase was responsible, at least for a while, of maintaining the flowers at the grave. As the story of the maid’s suicide became more and more embellished with time the grave became more and more of a tourist attraction and now all manner of offerings are made at the grave by passing folk. There are as many ghost tales from this part of the moor as there are visitors to this part of the moor…

A simple wild camping lightweight lunch
A simple wild camping lightweight lunch

I continued past the grave though Natsworthy and up to the top of Hameldown Tor where I stopped for a lunch in the gale force winds, sheltering my Trangia as best I could behind a rock. Getting the stove started in the first place was tricky as my lighter was repeatedly blown out by the wind. Note to self: Buy a storm-proof lighter. Oh and a wind-breaker for the stove.

Man vs. food vs. the Dartmoor weather
Man vs. food vs. the Dartmoor weather

After lunch I headed back down the hill into Grimspound, the remains of a bronze age settlement built around 1300 BC. It’s a fascinating area: A large outer circle that had been the wall of the village, and a series of hut circles. Most of what can be seen here now is a reconstruction, but it gives you an idea of what had been. Despite being a reconstruction you can still reach out and touch a piece of history in this place, and that feeling imbues the location with an air of mystery and history. The air is thick with it.

Carrying on through Grimspound I climbed up Hookney Tor, which was beautiful. My heart was torn at this point: Carry on walking… or camp here for the night? Eventually I decided to carry on, I didn’t feel like I’d done enough walking for one day to justify making camp, and it was still very early. I made a note to come back and camp here on the Saturday or Sunday, but it sadly never happened.

Following the Two Moors Way for a short while I found myself alongside Fernworthy Forest near Assycombe Hill. When I’d looked at the map back at Hookney Tor I’d thought I would camp here, but on arrival it was all bog. I now knew I needed a Tor: The rocks provide drainage and give protection from the wind, so I headed over towards Stannon Tor. By this point I had begun to realise that my route was taking me surprisingly close to the southernmost point of my previous Dartmoor adventure‘s hike, and I was keen to keep pushing on North West with the intention of linking up with my last Dartmoor adventure’s route. To that end Stannon Tor seemed a good location to camp the night.

Hand-carved wooden tent pegs
Hand-carved wooden tent pegs

On Stannon Tor, as it had been on Hameldown Tor and Hookney Tor, the wind was at gale force. I spent a little while trying to scout out a good location for my basha, eventually settling on a lean-to set-up alongside the large granite rocks at the very top of the tor. I carved the strips of wood I’d collected along the way into additional tent pegs to make up the numbers in order to build a better shelter and again I slept without a bivvy bag, despite it raining during the night. A little water got onto part of my sleeping bag where water had dripped off the rocks and onto my sleeping mat, but it didn’t get wet enough to pose a problem. Again I was too warm during the night, so the 3-season bag proved to be overkill.

Rectangular tarp rigged as a lean-to
Rectangular tarp rigged as a lean-to
Camouflaged tarp shelter - can you see it?
Camouflaged tarp shelter – can you see it?

The morning of day 2 on the moors saw a transformation in the weather… Continued in Microadventure #8: 3 Nights on Dartmoor, day 2