Sunday, 5 August 2012

Dartmoor Escape

I was supposed to be walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, far far away from the hype and madness of London 2012. But alas, a situation, at work, totally out of my control had left me with no choice but to postpone summer, resorting to snatching the odd long weekend here and there.

On the weekend of the Olympic opening ceremony, there was nothing else for it but to head down to my beloved Dartmoor. Opulent displays of grandeur don’t impress me, however well choreographed, and so I hoped that when I returned, the pomp and circumstance this insular nation seems to revel in (and I shy away from) would be over, and the seven years of politics and corporate sponsor bullshit would be replaced by the ONLY thing that should be actively promoted and celebrated; SPORT!

The manner in which the games has been hijacked in the run up has raised my blood pressure, so a couple of days of seclusion walking on the moors was just what the doctor ordered.

On Friday, I parked up at Postbridge, and, in the sunshine, took a pleasant stroll to the East Dart Waterfall. I also thought it was a good opportunity for a recce, given four of us would be down here a couple of weeks later for a wild camp.

The ground was relatively dry, and firm underfoot. I found this a surprise, given the summer we have been experiencing; seems Dartmoor hasn’t been affected. What would normally be hazardous boggy areas of sphagnum moss, were traversed with ease, and there was little difficulty today. That said, following the East Dart River track up to the waterfalls has its moments of nimble foot work.

When I reached the falls, the water level was at the lowest I have ever seen it, and pottering around on rocks, where water would normally flow, was a different experience.

Looking at the time, I thought I would venture further into the north moors. I hugged the right hand side of the East Dart up through Sandy Hole Gap, and out onto Broad Marsh.

Exiting the pass, you aren’t afforded a panoramic view of the north, as it is hidden by Watery Down (535m), and the remote Cut Hill (603m). The marsh looked a tricky one to negotiate, so I thought I’d save that particular conundrum for next time. When I eventually got across the river, without getting too wet (note to self; always where gaiters on Dartmoor and carry walking poles!), I returned to Postbridge by a shorter, more direct route.

Made camp at Princetown, out back of the Plume of Feathers pub, and spent an evening with a few beers and a good meal of Ham, Egg and Chips, before relaxing back in my tent to enjoy a pretty good sunset; Who needs an opening ceremony when nature always puts on the best shows?

Saturday morning came, and with it, a change in the weather. So much for “red sky at night..”. The plan had been to stay another night here, but, I decided to move on. One of the great joys of walking alone is that it allows for amendments without having to consult or placate other parties!

After the mandatory breakfast and pack lunch order at the Fox Tor Cafe, I broke camp before the rain started to fall. I was quickly back in the car, heading for the Fox and Hounds car park, at Shortacombe; I figured the weather may be better elsewhere, and I was right.

The previous week in the Chilterns had taught me to not overdo things and respect my fitness levels, so, I chose a familiar route with plenty of escape routes. Crossing a low River Lyd, near Nodden Gate, I made the steady climb up to the saddle between Bray and Arms Tors. Following a deep cut track to Dick’s Well, you begin to reach a point where you can descend to Rattle Brook. I descended part of the way before turning right, gently crossing the contour lines up to Chat Tor. This is a short stumped granite out crop, barely above head height, which says something given my stature!

Sharp Tor is much more impressive!

Climbing to the top of this tor, and you are afforded some great vistas of North Devon and Cornwall.

I continued on to Hare Tor, where I sheltered out of the wind for lunch.

I negotiated the clitter, descending to Doe Tor, and further to a brook of the same name. Having walked Doe Tor Brook before, and remembering how beautiful it was, I followed the route again. On this part of the moor, it appeared that the water courses were in slightly better shape than those further south.

Eventually, I reached a well trodden track which contours around the bottom of Bray Tor. I parted a pack of Dartmoor ponies, before gently descending to another ford on the River Lyd.

No need for either the bridge or stepping stones today, as the water course barely reached my ankles.

From there, a fifteen minute walk back to the car park, and a short drive to my parents house;  a comfy bed, a power shower and my first opportunity to see what this London 2012 malarkey was all about now the preliminaries were out of the way. Well, not quite out of the way; there was still a small shameful issue of no shows in “Olympic Family” seating for LOCOG to side step, and the BBC coverage of the road cycling left a helluva lot to be desired.

Incidentally, I eventually did take a peek at the ceremony, on BBC iplayer. Given the majority seemed to be enthusing how wonderful it was, I thought I better not judge something without seeing it. Suffice to say, my personal taste leads me to confirm I don’t think I missed much by heading for the moors.