At the moment (touch wood) my Multiple Sclerosis does not really stop me getting out and enjoying the outdoors too much. Beyond the additional fatigue that follows a weekend outdoors, some balance issues as I tire during a hike and some interesting nerve buzzing when ascending a hill (and post river swims), the outdoors is still accessible to me. Positivity is really important when you have an degenerative disease, but it is sometimes really hard to shake the pangs of fear that my future MIGHT* involve significant reduced mobility and the impact the resulting loss of outdoor time would have to my physical and mental well-being. Because of this, the accessibility of the outdoors for people with different abilities (both as a place and the activities within it) is increasing a topic I am interested in (albeit with currently zero knowledge or experience).
Whilst I am sure the National Trust would disagree, Castle Drogo, the last castle built England, is not really a castle. Finished in 1930, this stately home, with mock medieval and Tudor castle features, was always a bit of a contentious choice as Devon’s representative in our County Castle Caper. We only really choose it so we had an excuse to cross Dartmoor as part of our challenge! Having been forced back off Dartmoor earlier in the day, and after fire-side food, beer and good company in the Warren House Inn (near the bunkhouse we should have walked to rather than getting a lift to) a new plan was needed. Neither myself or Sarah had much inclination to re-attempt our planned Dartmoor crossing the following day – Dartmoor is our regular stomping ground anyway and logistically it would be challenging. There are a few decent castles south of Dartmoor but that would put us much further away from Exmoor – a requirement of our caper thanks to the ‘visit every National Park’ rule. Paul, a resident of Okehampton, suggested his local castle was a ‘proper castle’ – should we return to Lydford on foot then get back on our bikes and rejoin NCN 27 to Okehampton Castle?
Last weekend myself and Sarah once again made the (now very familiar) journey from Bristol to Dartmoor. Rather than the usual mix of hiking, camping, tor bagging and outdoor swimming (and beer) our trips to Dartmoor usually involved however, this trip was a little different – we were attending a two day course in Outdoor First Aid, run by First Aid 4 Life, at Powdermills near Princetown.
Day 1 – Tintagel Castle, Cornwall to Lydford Castle, Devon (by cycle)
Considering the level of logistical planning required for the first leg of the #CountyCastleCaper, I could have made a bit more of an effort to check the tide tables! We arrived at Trebarwith Strand ready to get our Cornwall swim in before Tintagel Castle, just up the coast, opened, to be greeted by the sight of the sea smashing into the cliffs just below us. Trebarwith Strand is apparently an excellent swimming beach at low tide – sadly in a few hours time! Our plans already beginning to unravel, we retreated to Tintagel to enjoy a coffee and a second (light) breakfast in the unexpected sunshine as we killed time before the castle opened and the tide retreated.
To a greater or lesser extent, most people write clickbait (‘clickbaiting’ perhaps?) when posting content online. We want people to look at, like and interact with our stuff, so we are bound to write tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook statuses etc. in a way that will attract attention.
If you have a blog, run a small business, or work for a large corporate, you are probably also guilty of writing linkbait (or ‘linkbaiting’) (subconsciously or on purpose). This is content designed to be linked to by other websites. I will not bore you with the details, but the more your site is linked to, the better it probably ranks in Google (and the more people that will find the stuff you are trying to sell).
We do however have a responsibility in the language we use to describe the outdoors!
Dartmoor, when she is at her harshest, is particularly good at revealing any shortcomings your kit may have. Over the last few months, hikes and camps in strong winds, cold temperatures and very wet conditions has reveal a number of issues and, with the County Castle Caper starting next month, now seems as good a time as any to review some of my kit.
I love castles and, for quite a while now, I have day-dreamed about the impossible challenge of walking to at least one in every county in United Kingdom…. in a continuous loop…..
It is clearly ridiculous but it kept my inner mind amused at a time when I started having to accept that, thanks to the temperature requirements of my tri-weekly injection for my Multiple Sclerosis, I would not be able to undertake anything longer than an overnight camp anymore.
I am not sure what I expected when I told Sarah (@PascallSarah) about it…. I certainly did not expect her to say ‘let’s do it’….. with those three words the ‘County Castle Caper’ went from dream to reality.
Six months. That is how long it has taken to review the Target Dry Element Jacket I was sent. Much longer than usual (and I am sure much longer than Target Dry would have hoped!) Why did it take so long?
Firstly the lack of rain over the late summer and early autumn months made it fairly tricky to test a waterproof jacket (although sadly the recent rains and the resulting flooding has more than made up for it).
Secondly I hit review fatigue – reviews are tricky and take a surprising amount of time and with three products to review at the same time I struggled (so much so in fact that I am not intending to review anything in 2016!).
Thirdly I was slightly intimidated by Matt (hillplodder) with his excellent detailed (and timely) review of the Element Jacket. Show off.
Finally (and most poignantly) I was stuck pondering whether there is such a thing as a perfect waterproof jacket – a jacket that can hold at bay hours of torrential rain whilst removing every drop of moisture your body excretes without costing the earth.
.. continued from ‘Exploring the Tors and antiquities of Walkhampton Common’
With snow falling outside, we (Matt, Paul, Rich and Neil) gathered around a table in the warm Plume of Feathers pub in Princetown, stuffed from a hearty dinner and with Dartmoor Brewery ales in hand, to discuss the following day. The original plan, before snow was forecast, was to walk around Fenworthy forest and reservoir, bagging a good yield of tors in the process, however, with more snow forecast, we decided driving was not an option and planned an alternative, more local, route instead.
Like most outdoor bloggers, I sometimes get offered products to review. Often I turn the offers down, usually when the product in question is not something I would use (like the one season sleeping bag with arms and legs!) or I do not think that much of the brand. Just occasionally however the offer really resonates and it seems like destiny! This was the case back in July when a representative for Grisport got in touch on Twitter asking if I wanted to review something from their range. It did not take long to spot ‘Dartmoor’ on their website…. a pair of ‘Dartmoor’ shoes just before I move to Dartmoor?!! It was surely meant to be!
With a surprisingly promising weather forecast, we (myself and @PascallSarah – @moorlandwalker decided to spend the day doing diy) decided to take advantage of a mild autumnal day and headed to the car park above Cullever Steps with the intention of exploring the rooftop of Devon – the highest point of Devon (and indeed the south of England).
It is always nice to get a tor ‘bagged’ (the act of registering your visit to a tor on Social Hiking) on a walk before you have even had a chance to get out of breath. The tor in question, Shilstone Tor, could probably be classified as a ‘hillplodder tor’ (in other words, you could probably ‘bag it’ within the site’s margin of error without even getting out of the car) and it was immediately above the small layby Paul and I parked in ready to begin the day’s walk.
Tor bagging, the act of visiting (and ideally sitting on) hunks of granite (or other rock) on Dartmoor, was, it turns out, just the start. Inspired by the plethora of Dartmoor themed books I received at Christmas (not too mention the ones I bought myself), I decided to make my next hike a little special and mix Tor bagging with visiting other historical curiosities. The hike in question, back in January, not only finished off the last few publicly accessible Tors on my list on Walkhampton Common, but proved to be a major turning point in how I experience and enjoy Dartmoor.
With my move to Dartmoor happening in a few weeks time, it seemed sensible to take advantage of temporarily living in Bristol to pop into Wales for a hike. On Saturday, Sarah (@PascallSarah) and I left a foggy Bristol (the view was non existent from the old Severn bridge) heading towards the surprising near Brecon Beacons to walk one of my favourite walks in ‘waterfall country’.
Curiosity got the better of me when an email landed in my inbox asking if I wanted to review a new head-torch – the Sunix Ultra-Bright 120 Lumens (sold by XC Source in the UK). Since I reviewed it back in 2011, the Petzl Tikkina 2 has been my head-torch of choice, but with an impressive list of bells and whistles for a similar price tag the Sunix sounded interesting.
In September, I will be leaving Northamptonshire and moving south west to be nearer to Dartmoor National Park.
My passion for Dartmoor, a forgotten childhood flame, was rekindled back in 2011 on a walking weekend with friends. At first we kept it casual but, after discovering Tor bagging, things soon started to get serious. Dartmoor has seduced me, with her stunning scenery, her magical tors and her unpredictable weather.
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.