I peeked out of the tent door – the rain was still lashing down, and the nearby tarn and the top of the mountain behind it was lost in a shroud of fog, the tendrils of which were blowing nearly vertical in the storm. After putting up the tent in the rain, I had napped for bit on my damp mat (as, it turns out, my damp dog also napped against my previously dry sleeping bag!) waiting for the rain to ease before heading back out to find some mobile signal to text my partner my exact location. No such luck. Light was fading, so I braved the storm, retreating my steps back to the footpath and the outcrop high above the valley where I remembered having signal earlier. The signal proved elusive initially, but, after clambering up some slippery rocks, a bar finally appeared. Message sent, I tried to return to my tent, which seemed to have disappeared in the fog. I could feel the panic rising before, thankfully, a change of direction revealed it in the gloom. I collapsed on my (still damp) mat and, for the first time, started thinking a SPOT device might be a good idea.
Feeling suitable reinvigorated from the cider and scampi at the aptly named The Tors pub after my hellish descent to Ivy Tor (part 4), I retreated to Fox Tor Café in Princetown to plan my next move (and charge my phone!). I wanted a pub dinner for my last night on the moor, and the Dartmoor Inn in Merrivale seemed an obvious choice. Previously, the inn’s owners have been happy for customers to leave cars in their car park overnight and I quite fancied a night on Great Mis Tor, which towers over the pub. As I had a few hours to kill, I would also have time to finally track down the illusive Prowtytown Rocks, accessible from a car park just down the road from the pub. First though, I had more immediate concerns… I stank. It is perhaps testament to the quality and professionalism of the staff at the Fox Tor Café that no one had mentioned it, but I was definitely omitting an odour. Before dinner at the pub, I needed a bath.
After abandoning our exploration to the west of Princetown, Paul and I returned to main base camp (his parent’s house just off Dartmoor). We had always planned to pop in so I could do my tri-weekly injection (kindly being kept at room temperature in the house), but Paul was clearly unwell and he made the hard, but sensible, decision to call it a day and rest. My heart went out for Paul – his joy and love of Dartmoor is infectious, and the reason so many of us have re-discovered the moor, and he was clearly disappointed to lose time amongst his beloved tors. As my bivvy dried in the sunshine, he talked me through the route he had planned for the day, the horseshoe around Taw March, and I bid him farewell and set off to Belstone.
It has might have been four months since the last installment of my trip report of a week on Dartmoor (and six months since the actual trip!), but some of the excitement, joy and pleasure from the trip still remains despite the subsequent months of ‘indoor time’ (albeit topped up with two subsequent weekends on Dartmoor). In the last part, Paul and I had returned to the Fox Tor café for refreshments after an enjoyable wild camp on Lower Hartor Tor…
In 83 days I, as part of Team Social Hiking, will be on a mountain somewhere in the Lake District taking part in the 10in10 challenge to raise money for MS Society. Actually as it is 6:13pm, I should hopefully be off the mountains and in the pub celebrating with the team after a job well done. But honestly? I am scared, very scared in fact, that I am going to struggle and ultimately fail to complete what on face value seems like a fairly straight forward challenge for a hiker.
You may have noticed that things have been pretty quiet on this blog for the last few months. I am in the middle of a large work project and it is quite frankly proving difficult, after long and repeated days in front of a computer screen, to conjure up any interest to turn the damn thing on for the handful of leisure hours I have!
Sadly the work load is also keeping me from the outdoors far more than I would like. Other than an enjoyable (albeit damaging) snowy weekend on Dartmoor in January with some of the lovely Social Hikers (blog post pending), I have had to content myself with shorter local walks with the dog (and once with the horses). The dog is happy about it though – her mountain days are sadly behind her, but she still loves a good walk. In fact my daily lunchtime walks with her, only a mile around a local field, is a lifeline for me – a fleeting moment of outdoor time to clear my head from the lines of code.
Another year done! As usually at this time of year, I am torn between thoughtfulness and contemplation as I mull over the highs and lows of the previous year, and excitement for the new year to come. From an outdoor perspective, 2014 was not quite what I had planned, yet it was still full of some fantastic experiences. My resolution was, as well as the regular dog walks, to have at least one outdoor day or trip each month. Unfortunately ongoing back problems meant a good chunk of the year was spent at stretched out on the sofa, yet, according to Social Hiking, I still managed to walk 184 miles (with about 31000 feet altitude gain) and bag 129 peaks (mostly Dartmoor tors) over 24 hikes across the year (excluding regular dog walks). Here is a summary of my outdoor highlights in 2014, a few 2014 favorites (an idea inspired by Matt – @hillplodder) and some plans for 2015.
With hindsight, walking 11 miles around Dartmoor in sandals (albeit hiking ones) might not have been a particularly wise move. Bits of dust and dirt had got trapped between the strap and my feet, slowly rubbing them raw. In my defence, I did not have much choice (not walking on Dartmoor was not an option!). It had been over three years since my last pair of hiking shoes, a pair of Keen Targhee II. They had served me well for over 1000 miles, but the deteriorating heels progressively got worse until even a few miles would lead to blisters forming (and they had started to leak). A new pair was long overdue!
The much needed replacement came in the form of a pair of Merrell Moab GoreTex hiking shoes. My previous experiences of Merrell has been from their casual range, but I have always been impressed with their comfort and quality (albeit with a price tag to match), and I was curious to try out a pair from their hiking range. How best to break in some new hiking shoes than another trip to Dartmoor!?
Exploring Tors to East & South of Princetown and a wild camp on Lower Hartor Tor [Dartmoor Trip – Part 2]
I sat on a bench outside the Fox Tor Café enjoying the last of my coffee in the morning sunshine. Breakfast had been eaten and it was almost time to set off with Paul (@paulgbuck) on a ‘bagging’ odyssey. The planned route was my first concoction since I decided to copy Paul and visit (or ‘bag’) every single Tor and notable rock (and a few hills) in Dartmoor National Park – 425 at the last count. I had taken my OS map, drawn on (in pencil) each one to the east and south of Princetown, then played join the dots – the result was a 20 mile route with 19 of them to ‘bag’ (as an aside, Paul has written a brilliant article for Active Dartmoor on The Art of Tor Bagging)
A wild camp in Cranbrook Castle and Tor / hill bagging near Castle Drogo and river Teign valley [Dartmoor Trip – Part 1]
It turns out that a lifetime of watching horror films does not mentally equip you for being alone in a bivvy (the hoop is no consolation) within the fog shrouded earthworks of an Iron Age hill fort. As I lay unable to sleep in the moonlit stillness, my mind drifted to thoughts of long dead warriors rising from the damp ground to extract their revenge on the person rudely sleeping on their graves! Not that I know anything about Cranbrook Castle, let alone what is buried underneath the ferns – the internet acknowledges its existence but that’s about it, but it was not history that brought me to this spooky place. It met an exacting set of criteria for my first wild camp of my week on Dartmoor: it is the nearest bit of Dartmoor to me where you can legally camp (the fact it is a short walk from a pub and a peak you can ‘bag’ on Social Hiking was just a bonus!).
Back in July, several outdoor bloggers and writers were approached by the outdoor retailer Field And Trek to submit their favourite walk in the UK. I nearly did not bother until I remembered the fantastic waterfall walk I did back in 2011 in the Breacon Beacons. It is a forest river walk with a difference, as both rivers are crammed full of waterfalls, including Sgwd yr Eira which you can usually walk behind! Rivers in a forest with waterfalls, the chance to feel the spray on your face, some nice views as you drop down to Pontneddfechan, a convenient pub halfway and even a chance for a quick outdoor swim – it is my idea of the perfect walk! [I would also once again like to thank surfnslide, who originally shared the route on his blog and inspired me to pay the area a visit in the first place]
I couldn’t possibly sleep. The full moon we had watched rise from beyond the sea was making its steady progress across the sky, lighting up the cliff top around me. I was surprisingly comfortable in my plastic orange survival bag with the breeze gently gusting across my face and Gareth’s last minute warning about adders, as he zipped himself up in his hooped bivvy-tent, had quickly faded from my mind, replaced by the intoxicating thrill of being part of the outdoors.
Pew Tor is just south west of Merrivale on the western edge of Dartmoor National Park. I first visited it in 2011 at the end of a walk around some of the Western Tors (a route borrowed almost entirely from Backpackingbongos) and it was my favourite Tor of the day, with fantastic views south down the valley to Yelverton and Plymouth, east to Tavistock and beyond, and north across to the higher Great Staple Tor and Great Mis Tor. In my post from the walk, I describe Pew Tor as “like a ruined castle with lush grassy floors” and suggested it would make a great place to camp. As it happens Paul, who had joined myself and friends Neil and Kate for a weekend on Dartmoor, agreed and it was to be our ‘hotel’ for a night.
“How about another trip to Dartmoor?” suggested Neil, one of my best friends, during a rare (not even annual) phone call.
Dartmoor has always had a permanent grip on my soul. Every summer when I was a kid, my family and I would head down to Devon for our annual holiday – staying with my grandparents who lived on the edge of Plymouth Hoe. I do not remember many specific trips to Dartmoor exactly, although I am sure there were many, but the brooding mass of moors were ever-present looking down over Plymouth and the surrounding countryside.
The last five months have been frustrating. Back in February I pulled my back, triggering a bout of painful sciatica which left me unable to get outdoors. By the end of April, things seemed to be improving and I managed a few short local hikes, but subsequent relapses meant I had to pull out of the 10in10 and have not been hiking since.
Over the last month though I have started noticing an improvement and my back survived a week of hard labour ‘poo picking’ a couple of horse fields whilst my partner was on holiday. So, with a planned trip to Dartmoor next weekend, it seemed a good idea to get out on test hike to see if it could cope. Adrian (@turbostream) offered to travel down from Birmingham-shire to accompany me on a walk in Salcey Forest.
Like quite a few people, I have been noticing this ‘Liebster Award’ thing appearing throughout my social media timelines recently. Turns out it a nice blogging community chain-letter thing, where you are nominated by a fellow blogger to answer a series of questions, then set the challenge for a few other bloggers to answer your questions. A big thank you goes to Tookie Bunten (@tookiebunten on Twitter) (he designed the Social Hiking logo by the way) for nominating me in his blog post: http://walkwithtookie.com/the-liebster-award-pay-it-forward/. As a bit of fun, here are Tookie’s questions with my answers:
Like all good ideas (and indeed most bad ones, but we will forget about those), this occurred to me over a beer.
In a way I do not envy people who live in or near a National Park. They do not get that amazing feeling I get when the outline of big hills and mountains first appear in the distance. Whether it is Snowdonia from M54 (it might just be Wales generally to be honest) or the brooding mass of Dartmoor from A30, it never ceases to take my breath away. Last Friday it was The Lake District (and looking at the map probably the tip of Yorkshire Dales) from the M6. I was sitting in a car with Paul (@paulgbuck on Twitter and @walking4charity on Social Hiking), who was kindly giving me a lift up to Rosthwaite, just south of Keswick in the Lake District, for the 10in10 challenge.
I am not sure it can take too much of the overall blame, but it all started with a hiking sandal. On 17th February, as I was removing said sandal before heading to bed I felt my lower back ‘go’ and my sciatic nerve down my left leg ‘twang’ – I collapsed in an agonising heap on the sofa, from where I have not really moved from since.