Monday, 15 July 2013

Steeperton Tor Wild Camp

Steeperton Tor

If ever there was to be a weekend where Bibbulmun Track acclimatisation training would be perfect, this was it. I was sat in the Fox Tor Cafe in Princetown about 11:00am, and outside it was 27 degrees celsius with wall to wall sunshine.

I had time to kill, I was in no hurry to venture out. The heat wave was no time to push myself too far, which meant if I set off early, I would make camp early afternoon and spend a long day chasing shadows around a tor to stay cool. 

I decided on Belstone village, on the northern boundary of the national park, as the place to leave the car, and it was around one in the afternoon when I stepped out onto the moor.

Self Portrait at Oke Tor

As soon as I passed through the gate, out onto the open moor, I was starting to feel uncomfortably warm. The north moor is not the busiest, but it seemed that even fewer souls were out here, and probably they had elected it was wiser to head to the beach or enjoy the cricket on the television in a pub or, better still, an air-conditioned room.

At Oke Tor, I stopped for some welcome shade and to remove the lower half of my convertible trousers; safe in the knowledge that innocent bystanders were few and far between, I decided it was safe to get my legs out!

I reached the River Taw crossing at the head of Steeperton Gorge and took the opportunity to 'camel up' with plenty to drink, and collected enough for camp. A group of DofE kids stopped here to rest and do the same. They had a fair way to go, whereas I just had a small matter of a climb up Steeperton Tor, where I hoped to find a suitable flat spot for camp.

I left the kids below, and set off up the hill. It was an easy climb; constantly I am reminded of the struggles I have endured in the past, due to my weight. Each hill I return to affirms the decision to get fitter and steels me to not go back there!

River Taw crossing.

Steeperton Gorge

At the top, I found a great area next to the military hut, which served to provide me with shade up against it's eastern wall whilst it was too hot to get into my tent. I also found a welcome breeze!

It was still early, three in the afternoon and I did wonder how I was going to amuse myself for the next seven or more hours before dark, but I needn't have worried; a pair of peregrin falcons provided some entertainment, hovering at eye level, and the changing light as the sun slowly took its course was a constant distraction. I also busied myself with cooking and the odd brew. What I did miss was a radio; I would have been in my element to be lazing here listening to Test Match Special!

One thing was evidently clear when I put my tent up; Going by all the shit around, it was popular with the local sheep, and I was thankful I had brought my footprint!

Sure enough, as the sun began to set, the locals began to congregate around me to take in the final rays of the day.

My neighbours arrive for sunset

Out to the west, as the sun set, the army had woken up, and the peace was rudely broken by a succession of rapid artillery fire that continued well into the dark. Fortunately, with no flags flying, I was reassured I had not stumbled into a live firing practice session. That said, when in my tent, the action did seem pretty close, and I could also hear shouting. They were probably a few miles away but it felt like they were about to storm the tor!

Yes Tor
The sun setting behind West Mill Tor

When the battle had ceased, the silence was golden. There was not a breath of wind, the stars were stunning and the temperature was perfect for a wonderful night of sleep. As  it turned out, I was in agony for most of it, slept little and was starting to get very concerned.

I have mentioned my dodgy shoulder on this blog many times, but with just over seventy days before the Bibbulmun Track, it was starting to prey on my mind that it might derail my challenge. When I am walking, donning a rucksack, I have no real issues with it. When I lay down to sleep, then the problems start and the pain is at its worst. It doesn't take a genius to realise that if I can't get enough sleep, I am in danger of not accomplishing what I am setting out to achieve.

I had already decided to be up at first light and away to beat the heat. It is my intention to do the same in Australia, and complete most of the sections by the middle of the day. I'm usually pretty good at getting moving in the morning and breaking camp, so I didn't see it as a major task.

The sky was beginning to brighten when I crawled out at 4am. The River Taw valley, looked peaceful, the river bank under a thin veil of mist. I bid good morning to my neighbours, put on the stove, made a coffee, ate some porridge, and sat enjoying the morning light. Already, my night of pain was a fading memory and everything was right with the world.

Taw Valley at first light
Military hut on Steeperton Tor
Mist along the banks of the River Taw

I spent longer than I expected, taking photographs, but I was packed and ready to move by 5.45am, when the sun made it's first appearance.


The climb down to the river crossing dipped me into shade again, and it made for easy walking.

Steeperton Tor
Cosdon Hill

The walk up back to Oke Tor returned me to the sun, and already, at just gone six in the morning, it was evident it was going to be another scorcher. At the current temperature, though, it was easy to maintain a steady pace, and enjoy the scenery. 
Oke Tor and Belstone Common
Taw Valley
Nine Maidens Stone Circle beneath Belstone Common

I reached the village by just gone seven in the morning.  With the day done so early, it was just left to head to my mum's for a shower, enjoy the final day of the Ashes cricket (unlucky Australia!), and rest before the drive home to London.

Content with the weekend, but a little concerned by my niggling injury; the decreasing countdown is making a quick fix a priority now. With a physio session booked on Tuesday, it is time to discuss my options.

And finally, the route: