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.

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Nocturnal Adventures on Dartmoor with the Ranger Ralph Club

Ranger Ralph Membership Pack

One of the benefits of moving to Taunton is that Dartmoor, previously far enough that visits needed to be overnight, is now near enough, not just for day trips, but to ‘pop to’ for a few hours. This has finally allowed me our 5-year old to join the Dartmoor Ranger Ralph Club, and on Wednesday in the late afternoon we headed to Hound Tor for her first session – ‘nocturnal adventures’.

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Plan B, retraced steps and a proper castle – continuing #CountyCastleCaper

Okehampton Castle, Dartmoor

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?

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Sun, sea, storm Katie and a mis-calculation – the start to #CountyCastleCaper

Myself, Sarah and Kate in front of Lydford Castle

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.

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Snow ‘fun’ from Princetown, Dartmoor

Matt and Paul trying to find shelter on Rundlestone Tor

.. 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.

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Exploring the roof top of Devon (Tor and ‘365’ bagging) and a Halloween wild camp on Rowtor

Unnamed outcrop of East Mill Tor, Dartmoor

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).

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Shilstone and the tors of North Teign River valley, Dartmoor

Tolmen Stone, North Teign, Dartmoor

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.

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Exploring the Tors and antiquities of Walkhampton Common

Black Tor falls and evidence of the stamping mill

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.

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Revisiting the waterfalls of Afon Mellte and Afon Nedd Fechan in Brecon Beacons

Warming up with a coffee after swimming in Sgwd Gwladus's plunge pool

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’.

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Moving to Dartmoor (her seduction is complete)

Paul on Rabbit Tor

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.

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