First camp and swim of the year: Swelltor and Wellsfoot Island

Starting a new year is always a good opportunity to reflect on the previous year and make plans for the next. Last year certainly had some highlights, what with moving into our new house and getting married, but there was less outdoor adventure than I would prefer. This year, the plan is to get out and do more camping and swimming.

For January, we nearly failed at the first hurdle. Sarah had been nursing an injured foot which is stopping her running and the weather forecast for the only day in the entire month we could get out for a wild camp was looking atrocious – cold temperatures and heavy rain all afternoon and evening. In the end, we decided on an easy to access location on Dartmoor after a pub lunch allowing us to sulk damp in the tent with snacks rather than needing to cook anything on the stove in the rain.

After a late lunch and a few pints of the excellent Dartmoor Brewery’s Dragon Breath (apparently the same recipe as their Jail Ale but brewed with treacle!), we headed out from Princetown along the old railway line. There were a few rain showers whilst we were in the pub,  but the rain held off as we walked – albeit with a cold wind on our backs. Swelltor is easy to access from the track – an easy climb following an obvious path upwards as the railway track continues off to loop around Kings Tor, the other Tor on the same ridge.

Kings Tor is usually my preferred ‘easy’ wild camp spot from Princetown however, as the spot of my last wild camp, I wanted somewhere different. There is not much of Swelltor left thanks to heavy quarrying (stone from the site was used to build much of Princetown), and it is a Tor I usually skip past to get to the more interesting Ingra or Kings Tors.

It is actually quite an interesting site – there are remains of buildings, platforms and walls, spare corbels from an extension to the old (new) London Bridge in 1903, and other granite leftovers like a shallow trough and a bollard. The quarries themselves also look worth an explore, but not this evening – the cold wind was biting and the sun was starting to set, so we quickly found an excellent, albeit exposed, pitch on an outcrop of one of the spoil heaps.

Inside the tent it soon warmed up (in fact I ended up using my sleeping bag as a duvet), and we spent the evening eating snacks, reading and drinking whiskey. Due to the shape of the chosen outcrop, the tent was pitched side on to the wind – despite a forecast of fairly mild winds, the tent was battered on it’s structurally weaker side resulting , at one point in the night, with the main hoop partially collapsing in on us with the stronger gusts. Eventually, an adjustment to my rucksack (between the inner and the outer) gave sufficient support to stop this happening so we could get a few more hours sleep.

There were a few small showers overnight, but it was dry when we awoke and packed up camp, albeit with the cold wind still coming in from the East. There was even the hint of sunshine as we made the short walk back to Princetown for breakfast at The Old Police Station (our usual haunt of the Fox Tor Cafe was closed for a refurbishment).

After breakfast we got in the car and drove back across Dartmoor towards the A38 Devon Expressway. After Poundsgate, the road drops down to the River Dart and an always busy carpark by ‘New Bridge’.  Always busy with kayakers, this is also usually a very busy spot for swimmers in Summer – we usually avoid it, but we hoped it would be quieter in Winter. As expected, it was busy with kayakers – we crossed at the bridge and headed up stream.

River Dart near Wellsfoot Island, Dartmoor

There are a number of swimming locations – we passed Salter’s Pool and Horseshoe Falls which were busy with walkers (the later does look like a good spot for swimming through) and headed to Wellsfoot Island. With hindsight, it might have been better to come at the island from the other bank, but we swam (bobbed about in my case) tantalising close to the sandy beach on the island (our entry point was a bit rocky on the other bank). According to Qwackers (the temperature duck) it was 7-8 degrees in the water. Although quieter than upstream, we were passed by a group of kayakers.

Overall an excellent start to the year and I am really grateful the forecast rain held off 🙂

The next wild camp will be more tricky due to prior commitments in February, but we have a few ideas for something more local.

2 Replies to “First camp and swim of the year: Swelltor and Wellsfoot Island”

    1. Thanks Andy. We ‘cheat’ slightly and have swimming socks and gloves which, as well as giving extra grip on slippery rocks, takes the edge off the cold! Otherwise it gets easier with practice!

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