Post #292

Walking on Dartmoor

11th March 2004, early evening | Comments (25)

A Dartmoor pony
A Dartmoor pony

I don’t know what you did last weekend, but I spent my two days off in a little piece of British heaven.

Dartmoor National Park (along with the Lake District, Wales’s Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands) is one of the few remaining bits of ‘wilderness’ left in the UK. Its gentle, gorse-covered hills, picturesque streams, and soggy bogs, make it a lovely (and easily accessible) place to go walking in the South West of England.

The four of us (James B., James S., Chris, and myself) were fortunate enough to find the moors in glorious condition, with sun shining, and ground firm under foot. Our two day walk was to take us only nineteen miles (thirteen on Saturday and six on Sunday), but we’d be seeing some of the nicest scenery the area had to offer.

Previous trips (The Lakes in mid-winter, the French Alps in September) had been tests of endurance and hill-climbing ability. This trip, however, was to be a Nice Weekend Away, nothing too strenuous, nothing too primitive.

On Friday night we convened at an edge-of-the-moor pub (built in 1477) for food, drink, and comfy beds. Supplies were dished out, new kit was ooh’d over, and curses were issued as we remembered mugs left in dishwashers, and coats left on hooks. Our bags were packed, unpacked and repacked.

How many eggs do we have? I’ve brought ten.
Who’s got a medi-kit?
Holy crap! My bladder’s leaking!
How many tents are we carrying?
I think my bag must be miles heavier than anyone else’s.
Oh dear. I think this has been in here since our last walk…

Preparations complete, we finally took to our beds around twelve-thirty.

Day 1

Four boys with hiking gear on
James B., Chris, James S., Dunstan

Alarms rang at 0700 on Saturday morning, and after the usual Who’s idea was this stupid trip? I wanna stay in bed we were up and about; peering out at the surrounding hills, commenting on how nice the weather looked, and making last minute changes to our kit.

After a cooked breakfast we strapped on our bags and headed off to the moor: to adventure, excitement, and hopefully to see James B. fall waist deep into a hidden bog again (as had happened on our previous trip to the Lakes).

There’s not much to say about the actual walking on Saturday — the sun shone, the wind was cold, the going was easy. However, what is worth talking about is our ever improving prowess at making camp, and the delicate art of outdoor cooking.

Our spot for the evening was found at the junction of the moor and the hilly pasture land that surrounds it. We walked down through steep fields, climbing over their dividing dry stone walls, and stumbled into a beautiful, sheltered dell. A big stone set into one side of the dell made a perfect reflector for a campfire, and the view into and across the valley below was glorious. The only section of horizontal land for miles around and by good fortune our route had led us straight to it.

Three boys hiking up a hill
James S., James B., Chris

When the tents were up and the lanterns lit, our thoughts turned to food. The evening meal — steaks, sausages, potatoes, and Spanish omelette — was cooked over a roaring fire. The steaks were done to perfection on hot stones (heated to super temperatures in the heart of the blaze), the sausages were cooked in a wire basket (fashioned from a derelict section of fencing and suspended above the flames on a stick), the potatoes were re-heated in silver foil on the coals, the omelette was fried in a saucepan, and our two bottles of red wine were kept delightfully warm on the stone ‘mantelpiece’ above the fire.

Our weary backs were rested against the reclined seats we’d fashioned from large, flat stones, and, late in the evening, when Chris discovered sparklers in his bag, we leant back and ooh’d and ahh’d as we each wrote our names in the smoky air.

Perfect food, fine wine, pleasant company, the warmth and adventure of an open fire, the chill of the night air, the relaxation of tired muscles… I don’t think we’d have swapped our spot for anywhere else in the World. England truly can be God’s Own Country when the fancy takes it.

Day 2

As always when we camp, I’d hardly slept a wink, tossing and turning, sitting up and rocking in frustration at my inability to slip in to unconsciousness. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that I’d shared a tent with Mr Beverley — a man who starts snoring some fourteen-thousandths of a second after his head first hits the pillow. By morning I was exhausted and so droopy-headed that Chris provided a caffeine pill to perk me up. (It was rather obvious when it kicked in as I started talking non-stop, naming everything I saw.)

For Sunday breakfast we knocked up sausage, bacon, beans and scrambled eggs, before going to wash up in a lovely little waterfall. Good planning meant we were able to dump a great deal of kit in a car, and spend the day walking with a reduced load. Always nice.

People walking alongside a river
The river we followed

The hours preceding Sunday lunch saw us following a river through a wooded valley, the rocks and trees covered in an unbroken carpet of thick, green moss. Every few minutes one of us would say My God, look at that pool and we’d all stare in wonder at the natural, crystal clear depths before us.

We have got to come back here in the summer.
*open-mouthed nodding*

Eventually the cover of trees gave way and we climbed out of our valley on to moorland again. Excepting a few distractions and diversions (such as Chris testing his trousers for water-proofness by sitting in a river), it wasn’t long before we found ourselves back at the car. And that was that.

A short, easy, wonderful little trip completed. And already talk is of our next foray into the wild…

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Comments (25)

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  1. Nicole:

    Looks wonderful, the river especially with so much riparian forest surrounding it.

    But, then, you make me jealous as I look out at the snow here.

    Posted 10 minutes after the fact
  2. Andrew:

    your day 1 menu sounds good - i only wish i could eat like that on my upcoming trip ( ) on the appalachian trail in the US. wine would be nice too, but im going to settle for a beer or two, since i start my 5 month walk on st. pats day... pasta, rice, more pasta, more rice, candy bars, beef jerky, then more pasta and rice...

    great pics - excellent way to spend a weekend IMHO.

    Posted 33 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  3. Dunstan:

    Andrew, your trip sounds wonderful, and is something I've wanted to do since I read Bill Bryson's book on the Appalachian Trail (read it if you haven't already).

    Good luck, sir!

    Posted 1 hour, 6 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Andrew
    Inspired: ↓ Paul G
  4. David:

    Are those ponies or miniature horses? I met a couple who raised miniature horses in Kentucky but were very clear that they were not ponies - they were full-grown horses.

    Posted 1 hour, 28 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan, ↓ Sian
  5. Dunstan:

    They're fully grown, just very small. An awfully cute.

    Posted 1 hour, 36 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ David
    Inspired: ↓ Sian
  6. Paul G:

    Ah, how I would have loved to be there. I love hiking.

    I heard that the Appalachian Trail can be quite daunting, and although I've never hiked it, I have hiked the area of the Smoky Mountains that it passes through in North Carolina/Tennessee, and can definitely attest to the difficulty of the area.

    Oh, and Dunstan (or anyone else for that matter), if you ever happen through Great Smoky Mountain Nat'l Park (which the Appalachian runs through), it would definitely be worth your while to hike/climb up Chimney Tops. Although it gets quite vertical during the second part of the journey (the final part of the path is a climb to get on top of the rocks. Not difficult, but a bit disconcerting if you're not used to it), you will not regret the hours of toil once you are sitting atop the rocks taking in the view.

    Posted 1 hour, 38 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Dunstan
  7. Sian:

    I haven't followed the link yet but the Ponies seem very similar in contour and proportions to Shetland Ponies, although I believe Shetland's are smaller again. I wonder if there's a genetic link between them?

    You make me more determined than ever to show everyone how beautiful my surrounding area is. Most people think it's an industrial area and forget about the countryside and areas of natural beauty.

    Posted 2 hours, 50 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ David, ↑ Dunstan
  8. Phil Baines:

    Your 'stone circle pano' is so very nice!!

    I was also in the Lake District at about September time. We found a great camp site that overlooked Lake Windermere, and I woke up to the most beautiful views in the morning. I think I have some photos online somewhere. Yep here they are:

    That reminds me, we also went to Snowdonia in the same week. As you can see from the photos, I got some great ones from the top of Snowdon itself.

    Although, this is nothing in comparison to you photographic prowess!

    Posted 4 hours, 32 minutes after the fact
  9. Chris Vincent:

    What incredible landscapes... An absolutely beautiful wilderness. I need to go camping more often.

    Posted 5 hours, 40 minutes after the fact
  10. DarkBlue:

    Looks and sounds like you had a great time Dunstan. Terrific photography (again, damn you).

    Posted 11 hours, 11 minutes after the fact
  11. Kitta:

    Your pictures make me want to go camping again. I haven't cooked on an open fire in years.

    Posted 11 hours, 17 minutes after the fact
  12. Sarah:

    Beautiful, Dunstan. As the kids are getting older (no. 4 in the series is 6 now) I have great plans to kit them out and drag them up to the top of Penyfan, a peak in the Beacons. May not sound like much to you, but they are Sky TVaholics so will be an immense achievement just to hit the "off" button...

    Today I shall mostly be watching some fool in a flatbed trying to transport a JCB past my house in 8" of snow.

    Posted 12 hours, 55 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Phil Baines, ↓ Sian
  13. Phil Baines:

    Penyfan! That's not far from where I live. That is Cwmgors, near Ammanford & Pontardawe.

    I went up to Penyfan area sledging in the snow the other day.

    8 inches of snow you say you have? Gutted! We only had a couple of inches when I left for work this morning.

    Posted 14 hours, 31 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Sarah
    Inspired: ↓ Sian
  14. Jim Mcsporen:

    Thats nay real wilderness, bonnie Scotland is yer place fer that.

    Posted 16 hours, 24 minutes after the fact
  15. Taffy Lewlellyn Daffodil:

    Scotland, ha! If you want real wilderness you go to the valleys where the sheep are friendly and the locals are smiling. Mind you boyo it looks like those boys found some fun of their own on dartmoor. Did they struggle my boy?

    Posted 16 hours, 28 minutes after the fact
  16. Andrew:

    Sounds like a fun weekend. Haven't done anything like that in quite some time. Pictures, as always, are fantastic too. So basically what everyone else has said.

    Just one thing though (and I don't think anyone else has pointed it out yet) - you woke up Sunday morning on Day 1, and then again on Day 2. Groundhog Day?

    Posted 16 hours, 56 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  17. Dunstan:

    Whoops! Good spot, Andrew, thanks.

    Posted 16 hours, 59 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Andrew
  18. Mark Bell:

    I spent a lot of time on Dartmoor while studying photography at college... I can't imagine there are many places more beautiful on a crisp winter morning.

    Nice article!

    Posted 17 hours, 15 minutes after the fact
  19. Tom Dell'Aringa:

    What I am wondering, what do you do
    When it comes time to use the loo!
    And of course number one is not the screw
    It's when you've got to go number two!


    Posted 18 hours, 3 minutes after the fact
    Inspired: ↓ Dunstan
  20. Dunstan:

    In the Lakes... I sat on a gate and hung my bottom over one side.
    In the Alps... I went behind a bush.
    On Dartmoor... I didn't go for two days.

    Well, you did ask :o)

    Posted 18 hours, 9 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Tom Dell'Aringa
  21. Sian:

    Enough to keep Sarah at home but I managed to get into work without too much of a problem.

    Sledding up the Beacons, that brings back memories for me. My Dad would take me to Storey Arms at the mere sight of a few snowflakes, and I remember one particular year we invested in a new red sleigh and were determined to get a good fast pace out of her. We belted down the hillside letting out whoops and shouts until we saw the stream at the bottom. Needless to say we hit the stream at a fast speed, flew a few feet in the air and landed in a heap of twisted bodies, arms and legs. We made our exit very quickly.

    Taffy: the Scots have one advantage - the Sheep don't hear the sound of a zipper.

    Posted 23 hours, 41 minutes after the fact
    Inspired by: ↑ Sarah, ↑ Phil Baines
  22. [m]:

    "Our two day walk was to take us only nineteen miles"

    Only nineteen miles. Only?! A few weeks ago I whent on a hike with my sister for 17 kilometers (that's a little over 10 miles) and we were exhoasted. Ok, so I don't know how to spell ecshousted.

    It was slippery with all the left-over snow and mud, wich made the journey a lot harder, but I still awe you Dunstan. The fact that my ass doesn't do very much, is probably the main reason for that.

    Hmm, maybe it's spelled exhousted? I think I'm on the right track here. Exhausted?

    Aaah, scrap that. I mean tired.

    Posted 1 day, 20 hours after the fact
  23. James:

    This all brings back memories of a school organised hiking/climbing/fooling trip to Dartmoor I ventured on about 4 years ago. It rained the whole weekend and we all had awfully shoddy equipment making the whole experience rather scarring.

    I would love to do something similar again, but more in the style of the above, with quadruple redundant equipment (the car drop off sounded like a plan) and some decent forecasting. If only to dispel the demons...

    Of course, your account paints a rather romantic picture that I will have a hard time living up to in my state of (un)fitness but I guess it's worth a second shot :)

    Thanks for yet another truly enjoyable read Dunstan, you spin a ripping yarn.

    Now to rope some pals up.

    Posted 2 days, 3 hours after the fact
  24. Jim:

    I miss the hills and valleys of England. Everything in Ohio is so flat. I remember one time on Dartmoor I almost fell into a cave, having tried to jump between two boulders with a heavy rucksack on my back. I also remember looking down into the darkness at one point and feeling warm air coming up from beneath, quite eery.


    Posted 2 days, 13 hours after the fact
  25. Chris B:

    Hey Dunstan

    Excellent write up sounds like u had a wicked time its all good for story telling at a certain someones wedding comin soon! By the looks of things they will have an excellent photographer.

    See u soon


    Posted 3 days, 21 hours after the fact

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