A bivi on Pew Tor, Dartmoor
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.
Concerns over my back and whether it would cope with carrying a pack for any great distance meant we needed a suitable plan. The car park below Cox Tor is an obvious choice, but the park authority are keen to discourage people leaving cars in remote car parks overnight, so we ruled that out as an option. Buses were investigated, but the stops were not really near enough to be of much use either. In the end we got in touch with the owners of Dartmoor Inn in Merrivale to ask whether they would be happy for us to leave a car in their car park in return for our custom for dinner and a few drinks. So, after a fantastic day of Tor bagging around Burrator Reservoir, we headed to Merrivale for dinner and some much needed liquid refreshment.
The pub had warned us that they had a coach booking in, but the atmosphere was friendly and the service was pretty quick and the food was good value and wholesome. It is worth mentioning that this was the pub which had kept open for us back in 2011 when we called ahead from Great Mis Tor in desperate need of a refreshing cider! After dinner, as the light was starting to fade, we sorted out our packs (whilst being eaten alive by midges) and set off.
As my water bottle contained a pint of ale from the pub (albeit frustratingly leaking), I filled my Sawyer Squeeze from a stream just below the forbidden Vixen Tor. Darkness was creeping in fast, as well as some hill fog, so we decided to cut across Heckwood Tor rather than follow the footpath around. It was hard to find a decent path through the terrain, but eventually we arrived at Pew Tor – scaring a young girl in the process who was crossing our path to return to her family’s camp to one side of the Tor.
Camping on Pew Tor, with Great Staple Tor in the distance (taken in the morning)
I have to admit that we were all fairly disappointed with our accommodation to start with – I am not sure what happened to the lush grassy floor that both Paul and I remember, but the reality was lumpy undulations, scattered with rocks and covered with sheep poo. It was too late (and dark) to head anywhere else though, so we made do and the others began finding flat-ish places to pitch. I had a decision to make – I had brought both my Banshee 200 tent and survival bivi with me…. which was it to be? With no midges on the Tor, a promising forecast of minimal rain, and the discovery of a human sized flat grassy ‘lawn’, the bivi looked the best option.
Decision made, Neil and I shared what was left of my beer and settled down to an argument as to whether the light in the distance was a torch on Great Mis Tor (it was) or a car (it wasn’t) whilst the others settled in for the night. There were a few bright flashes in the horizon, followed by huge booms, which I assume was firing on a Naval range, and we were treated to a rather inferior firework display from somewhere in Tavistock. My chosen sleeping spot had a granite outcrop to my left, a single rock by my head and a sort of rock wall at my feet end, and I settled into my sleeping bag and slid into my bivi and got comfy. It was fantastic to feel a light breeze across my face as a dozed, and even the slight and brief spitting of rain was pleasant (although I was ready to turn over should it get any worse). After an hour or so I woke (from a dream about a nest of spiders exploding in my face!!) and decided I was too hot and cramped in my bivi (which if I was honest is too small for me), so I wriggled out and used it as a groundsheet (with my self-inflating mattress still inside) and drifted back off to sleep.
At just after 5am, after several hours of uninterrupted sleep, I awoke to the amazing view of the sun’s orange glow starting to appear in the horizon behind Great Staple Tor. It was stunning, but as I lay there watching I realised the wind had picked up and I was starting to feel the chill (which presumably was what woke me up!). I squeezed back into the bivi bag, and got my camera ready to take some pictures of the sunrise…. and that was the last I remember until waking again just after 8am to the voices of Kate and Paul (who had been awake for a few hours). It was a fantastic night – I slept as well as I would have done in a tent, but I had felt a closer connection to the Tor giving me shelter and Dartmoor as a whole.
We had a fairly sedate start – enjoying coffee and first breakfast as we greeted early walkers reaching the tor. Eventually we packed up, said goodbye to Pew Tor, and returned to the car to head to Princetown for a second breakfast at the Fox Tor Cafe.
Me asleep on Pew Tor in my Bivi – photo thanks to Paul Buck