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!).