Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Dartmoor Weekend – May 2012

Some weekends we can be blessed with weather which really showcases why this country is such a cool place!

Dominique, Jim and I had travelled down late Thursday night, to enable us to get out for a walk on the South Moor, from Princetown, the next day.

The idea was to give Dom some navigation practice, now that she is training to be a Mountain Leader, and Dartmoor is perfect for just that purpose. I chose some, what I think, are interesting points in the landscape, some obvious (tors), some not so (stone rows, hut circles, cairns and cists).

First cairn, we failed to find, which is a valuable lesson in navigating anywhere, but especially on Dartmoor; what is on the map, might not necessarily be on the ground. With all the granite lying around, each one starts to resemble a man made structure!

Dom took us down to the Devonport Leat and into the Norsworthy Plantation with no problems.We stopped at Leather Tor Bridge to cool our feet, stock up on water and have something to eat.

Then, we made our way up to Leather Tor, and Sharpitor, with great views of Burrator Reservoir, if a little hazy.

From Sharpitor, we headed to locate another stone row and cist, which we found despite being distracted by the welcome sight of an ice cream van parked close by!

After, Dom took a bearing up and over Leeden Tor and then down to the disused tramway, which we followed back to Princetown.

Back in Princetown, we set up camp outback of the Plume of Feathers pub, and spent the evening with a pint or two or three…

Saturday, and we met up with Hannah in Belstone, just outside Okehampton. Tonight, we would be wild camping. Again, it was a beautiful day, but it wasn’t exactly a stroll in the park.

The pictures don’t tell the whole story. Strong winds made negotiating our way through the clitter on Rowtor, West Mill Tor and Yes Tor more hazardous than normal. I guess the mane of the pony Hannah was chatting to gives you an inkling that it wasn’t a calm day.

The ridge to High Willhays is flat and wide, and so the winds were at their strongest here. Sun and wind burn were a big risk on the “Roof of Devon”, so we didn’t hang around and by Fordsland Ledge, I welcomed the descent to the West Okement Valley, where we could stop for some lunch and respite from the buffeting.

By now, we were a short distance from our camp spot, next to Black-a-tor Copse, below Black Tor, my favourite of the granite outcrops. We were all set up by  about three in the afternoon, which gave us ample opportunity to relax. Dominique and Hannah even took the opportunity to enjoy a natural jacuzzi in the West Okement River. Jim and I chose to just dip our feet!

After dinner, when the sun was starting to set, it was the perfect time to wander into the woods for some photo taking. Black-a-tor Copse is a small pocket of Alpine Oak forest, one of the few remaining in the UK.

It’s gnarly oak trees and moss carpeted rocks give it a magical “Lord of the Rings” atmosphere, and it really is a special place. Despite it’s proximity to Meldon Reservoir and it’s appearance on the BBC programme “Secret Britain”, it is still possible to find seclusion here, and in all our time here, we only saw four other people.

With the sun setting over Sheldon Tor, the wind had dropped, and the midges began to appear. Being so close to a river suddenly becomes less idyllic, and we had all retreated to our tents by 9pm!

I must have slept, because I don’t recall it being dark. I awoke to the patter of rain on my flysheet about 4.30am, and took a peak out to see the clouds had rolled over; it didn’t seem possible given the two days of unbroken sky we had just had. Managed to dart out to the loo and get back to my tent before the rain began properly, and I went back to sleep.

By the time we were all up, the rain had abated. We were on our way by 8.45am, Dominique taking us back to Belstone, getting in some valuable compass work.

We took about two and a half hours to reach the car, and get to Belstone Services for a welcome breakfast. As we sat in the restaurant, the heavens opened; perfect timing!