Yesterday I took advantage of a break in the weather to do another TGOC training walk in the forest. About two hours and six miles. Here’s some pictures.
As 2013 draws to a close, I thought I’d do a quick review of my backpacking year. While it’s not been a mega year, I’ve managed to get out for five trips, two to the Lake District, two to Dartmoor and one to North Wales, totalling sixteen nights wild camping (plus five at camp sites).
Disappointingly, I missed out on the TGO Challenge. However, family health problems meant it might have been difficult to do anyway. I had intended to do a short trip to Scotland, but various obstacles meant it didn’t happen.
Lake District, March
In March, I had a lovely trip around the less frequented fells of Caldbeck and Uldale. The Northern Fells have a unique character and are well worth a visit. The weather was good for the first day, but not so good for the next couple of days. Stupidly, I left my compass behind, but survived to tell the tale. You can read a full account here.
My next trip was around the north moor on Dartmoor. I love pottering around Dartmoor. It may not have the grandeur of the Lakes, Snowdonia or, indeed, the Scottish Highlands, but the terrain means it’s relatively easy to wander wherever the fancy takes you.
Although the tors are relatively low in height, the moors have a feeling of space and freedom. I’ve been surprised at how few people seem to go much further than a few hundred yards beyond the car park. Once you get on to the moors proper, there’s a real feeling of loneliness and isolation, which I love.
I’ve found a number of superb places to wild camp. On this trip I discovered the Arcadia of South Teign Head, which is one of the best places I’ve camped. The walk up the East Dart onto the moor below Cut Hill is one of the finest walks I’ve done anywhere. I split the trip report into two parts: one and two.
Another under-appreciated area that I love is the Carneddau. The crowds head to Snowdon and the Glyderau, but those seeking solitude head for the Carneddau. I had unusually fine weather for this trip and loved every minute of it.
Maeneira is another favourite camping spot and I camped there two nights but in different places. I was able to take a look at the quarry in Cwm Eigiau for the first time. Despite going over familiar ground like Llyn Cowlyd, it was still a lovely walk. Read the trip report here.
In August, I returned to Dartmoor, but this time I was not alone. Veteran ( ) TGO Challenger, Andy Walker accompanied me. We had a fine walk from Ivybridge to Okehampton and were blessed with generally good weather.
I had wanted to camp at Piles Copse for some time and wasn’t disappointed. The walk up Erme Head to Princetown and then Great Mis Tor was new territory for me. The walk east to Bellever Tor was notable for Andy’s encounter with “The Bog of Doom”.
From Bellever, most of the territory was familiar, but no less enjoyable for that. We were very fortunate that the only rain we had was overnight and that the walk from the East Dart to Taw Marsh was in mainly fine weather. Rounding off the trip with a visit to the cafe at Okehampton station was a fine way to end the trip.
Lake District, September
My last trip of the year was a return to the Lake District, but with the objective of exploring some ground that I’d not been over before. Mosedale near Buttemere is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time. I did a relatively low level walk from Braithwaite to Buttemere and then to Mosedale.
My original plan had been to walk the High Stile ridge with a possible camp at Blackbeck Tarn. However, the weather was poor, so I decided to stay low and walk back the way I’d come. I diverted to a lovely camping spot at Rigg Beck for my final wild camp of the year. You can read about it here: part 1 and part 2.
So that was my backpacking year. It’s a shame I didn’t make it to Scotland. However, in 2014, I have the TGO Challenge to look forward to. The prospect of doing two whole weeks of backpacking in one go is exciting. Before then, I hope to do two or three trips, depending on the weather and circumstances. Hopefully, you will have a good backpacking 2014 as well.
I’ve updated my trip diaries page for my latest trips. There’s over thirty trips, most with accompanying photos on Picasa.
“No plan survives contact with the enemy” Helmuth von Moltke
Well my plan didn’t even survive getting my rucksack into the car. As I reached over to shift it on the back seat, I felt a an ominous twinge in my back. The subsequent 300 mile drive didn’t really do me any favours, but I was determined not to let a crocked back defeat me. When I arrived at the camp site, my back felt stiff and sore but I wasn’t incapacitated. I took care not to aggravate it as I pitched the bomb shelter (F10 Vortex 200). I like to have a “base camp” partly to have a bail out option, but mainly so I know the car is safe.
Scotgate camp site
After securing base camp, I was off to Stoneycroft Gill for my first wild camp. It’s only about an hour’s walk along minor roads and then a track. On previous visits, the bracken has been quite low, but this time, it was quite extensive, which meant pitching options were slightly more limited. I was glad that I had selected the F10 Nitro Lite 200 rather than the MLD Trailstar as the more compact footprint of the Nitro made selecting a flattish pitch easier.
The weather forecast was for high winds, but my pitch was quite sheltered, nestling in the shadow of Causey Pike. About an hour after I’d pitched it was getting dark, so I ate some dinner and turned in for the night. One advantage of camping in autumn is that the longer nights mean you really do get a decent night’s sleep before being woken by the morning light.
Dawn looking east from Stoneycroft Gill
The golden glow outside suggested a photo opportunity and I was lucky enough to see the sun rising from behind a low bank of cloud. While there was a breeze, it wasn’t too strong.
Onwards and upwards towards Outerside
As I hadn’t planned huge mileage, I had a relatively leisurely breakfast and was away by 9:30. As I climbed the track, the breeze became stronger. The track and path to the col between Sail and Scar Crags is very pleasant walking. Just beyond Outerside the views open out to the head of Coledale.
Coledale Hause in the distance
If you ignore the mine workings, it’s all rather spectacular. In particular, I’m always impressed by the precipitous flank of Grisedale Pike and the ruggedness of Force Crag. The track that leads to the col gives a feeling of exposure as you look into the valley. A few hundred metres below the track, there’s a sheepfold with some flat ground. I wondered whether it would make a good high level, but sheltered pitch.
Track to the col (sheepfold just visible on right near bottom of slope)
At the col, the ambience is somewhat spoilt by the controversial restored path to the summit of Sail. I’m not going to post a picture, as it looks horrible. Instead of going up Sail (which I’ve done several times), I descended into the upper reaches of Rigg Beck and then crossed the watershed to Sail Beck. This is fine, but seemingly little used track.
Track down to Sail Beck
Many years ago, I walked over Ard Crags and spotted this track. I’ve fancied walking along this secluded track for some time. By now the wind was a lot stronger and the sky had clouded over. My back wasn’t too bad. It was sore but I wasn’t in pain.
Looking back up Sail Beck
It really is a lovely walk along Sail Beck. The enclosed valley makes it feel remote and the flank of Wandope is suitably wild and rugged.
Eventually the Buttermere valley came into view. At Gyhll Wood I took the path through the wood rather than carrying straight on. It’s a delightful sylvan walk in small gorge. All too soon, the path ended just outside the Bridge Hotel at Buttermere.
Bridge over the river between Buttermere and Crummock Water
Inevitably, the track across the valley was busy with sightseers. After the bridge over the river that drains Buttermere into Crummock Water, I found a suitable place out of the wind to have lunch.
While it doesn’t look it from the photo above, the weather brightened up a bit after lunch. However, there was a strong wind whistling down the valley.
Looking back towards Robinson
At Scale Beck, I decided to cross to the northern side via a bridge to the obvious track below Scale Knott. When I saw Scale Force in the distance, I regretted my choice as I would have liked a closer view of this impressive waterfall.
Scale beck with Scale Force in the distance
Soon the desolation of Mosedale opened up before my eyes. It’s an impressive wilderness. My one concern was that I couldn’t see anywhere obvious to camp. I followed the track on the northern side of the beck until it descended into a bog. Taking stock, I retraced my steps and crossed to the southern side, where there appeared to be a better track.
A panorama of Mosedale
I was still concerned that I couldn’t see where to pitch. However, to my relief, I came upon a sheepfold with some reasonably flat ground inside. The next concern was a water source. Fortunately, about a hundred metres further on was a small stream with clean water.
Sheepfold with Hen Comb in the background
Although it was only mid afternoon, I was not inclined to pass by such a good pitch in the hope of finding another in this wilderness. My back seemed OK and I didn’t want to aggravate it any further. Also, I was ideally positioned to do the High Stile ridge via Starling Dodd if the weather and my back was alright. That decision would have to wait until the next day.
View towards Floutern Tarn
I returned from my Lake District trip yesterday and will write a post this week. Unfortunately it was rather less ambitious than I had planned because I had a problem with my back and the weather was a bit iffy. Actually the weather was better than the forecast with the wind not as strong as predicted. Although I had some heavy rain, it was nearly all at night.
I had three great wild camps and an interesting walk along some less frequented paths. I was glad I used the Nitro Lite 200, as I think I would have struggled on two pitches to find enough reasonably flat ground to pitch on with the Trailstar.
I also found out a bit more about the capabilities of the Nitro, including making one mod while I was out. I’m mulling whether to make quite a major mod which might make a significant difference in strong winds. The picture is from Stoneycroft Gill looking east to Brandelhow, Castlerigg Fell and Great Dodd at dawn.
Here’s the route maps of our Dartmoor trip
Day 1: 14.3 miles
Day 2: 13.6 miles
Day 3: 8.8 miles
It rained heavily in the night, but eased by first light. It was still raining intermittently until about 7 o’clock, when it suddenly cleared. We felt very fortunate that the only real rain we encountered had been overnight. As I ate breakfast, the clouds began to break and blue sky appeared.
Beehive hut (invisible) on the East Dart
As we had walked further the previous day than planned, there was no hurry to set off. We packed and left by 9:30am, by which time we were in glorious sunshine with a fresh, cooling breeze. We climbed the slope of White Ridge towards Fernworthy Forest. At times, it was a bit tussocky and damp underfoot, but not too bad.
East Dart River from White Ridge
After encountering yet another herd of cattle, we followed the track that runs parallel with the Fernworthy Forest boundary. The Grey Wethers stone circle was visible in the distance under Sittaford Tor.
South Teign Head
Our path took us into the hollow that defines the source of the South Teign River. This is a lovely little dell where I had camped earlier in the year. It was no less delightful second time around. After a short, sharp pull up the other side of the valley, Teignhead Farm and Manga Hill came into view.
At the clapper bridge we took a few photos, before heading up to the farm for a snack and a drink. It’s a lovely place but tinged with an air of sadness. It must have been a tough life here and it’s sad to see the tumbledown walls of the fields and the farm. Unusually, there were no cattle or ponies in evidence.
View from Manga Hill looking east
As we finished our snacks, it became more cloudy hinting at rain. We climbed the slope north of the farm, picking up a track that followed and old wall and ditch. A bit further on we encountered the dry stone wall that runs on eastern flank of Whitehorse Hill, crossing a stile and following the path to Wattern Tor
Nearly every tor is different in character. Wattern Tor is notable for the way the granite has been weathered in thin horizontal lines, looking rather like a pack of cheese slices. After a bit of photography, we descended to Walla Brook. Before crossing the brook we sat down for a bite of lunch.
A couple of walkers followed us down and were confounded by the prospect of crossing the brook (which looked quite easy to us). Good Samaritan Andy leapt into action with the offer of one of his trekking poles. The effect was somewhat spoilt by the fact that Andy crossed the stream twice without the aid of the pole to aid the lady
After lunch, it was onwards and upwards to Wild Tor. Actually, we skirted Wild Tor rather than going to the very top. From there, it was an easy walk to Hound Top and Little Hound Tor. While neither was especially memorable as tors, they did provide extensive views.
Stone Circle at Little Hound Tor
At Little Hound Tor we took a short detour to visit the stone circle. We then resumed our climb to Cosdon Hill, which seemed to go on for ever. However, encouragingly, the weather began to brighten. At the top of Cosdon Hill we met a couple who had come up from South Zeal, who were in the area visiting a folk festival.
View from Cosdon Hill looking west
After a short rest on Cosdon Hill, we headed west to Taw Marsh. We followed an intermittent path down. From a distance, I could see a number of people at the ford and was concerned that a group might be camping there. When we arrived, it was just a group of youngsters sunbathing and playing in the river. There was plenty of flat ground on the eastern side of the ford, so we pitched there.
Camping at Taw Marsh
Andy fired up his DAB radio and told me that England weren’t doing very well in the cricket. While he lazed around in camp, I decided to explore a little way up the track heading south. I was surprised at how many places there were to potentially pitch a tent. Next time I visit, I might use one of these more discreet spots rather than by the ford. I reached as far as Small Brook, which looked cleaner for water than the Taw so I retraced my steps to get some water containers. At dusk, the wind dropped and, not surprisingly a few insects came out, so we retired to out tents.
Morning at Taw Marsh
After a calm night, the morning dawned with mainly blue sky. After breakfast, Andy informed me that his tent had become a moth hotel during the night. Clearly his affinity for insects extends beyond midges and horse flies
The Taw near Belstone
After breakfast we packed and followed the track to Belstone passing a horse rider and a dog walker along the way. At Belstone, Andy located the pub, but it wasn’t open. From Belstone we took the track over Watchet Hill to the steep sided valley of the East Okement River. After crossing the bridge, the path down the East Okement follows a delightful wooded gorge.
East Okement River
Andy said that it reminded him of the “Blue Door” walk along the Esk in Scotland. It really is a lovely walk. On our walk into Okehampton, we stayed on the path on the southern side of the river, which runs parallel with the railway. We decided to investigate the station and were pleased to find that the station buffet was open.
Unfortunately, trains only run on Sunday, but it seems to be a bit of a tourist attraction on other days. Andy ordered tea and scones, while I decided something more substantial was required and had ham, egg and chips. While we were eating our repast, Andy leapt up from the table cursing. A wasp had crawled up his shorts. In the act of removing said wasp, it stung him twice on his fingers. I promise I didn’t laugh I’m not sure what Andy’s attraction is to insects, but he’s a good man to have along as the insects all seem to bother him rather than me.
Andy’s new vehicular transport
On the way to the bus stop, Andy was telling me about his trials and tribulations with cars, when I spotted a suitable replacement. After a somewhat circuitous bus ride, we reached Exeter St David’s. After a bit of a wait, we were on the train and on our way home. All in all, we had a great time and were blessed with good weather and stunning countryside.
This was my second trip to Dartmoor this year, and the fifth time I’ve been since 2011. On this trip, I was accompanied by Andy Walker, who many of you will know as a serial TGO Challenger and blogger. I was was sorely tempted to subtitle this trip report “Andy and his adventure with insects” for reasons which will become apparent later.
We met at Paddington outside M&S, so we could get some food for the journey. The journey down to Newton Abbot and then Ivybridge gave us a chance to get acquainted as we’d not met before. By mid-afternoon we had stepped off the train at Ivybridge in glorious sunshine. Ivybridge is a great place to start. Within a very short distance you are on the moor, without having much of a walk on roads.
After a short section along some unmade country lanes, a gate leads out on to the moor proper, near Butterdon Hill. We followed the Two Moors Way on to the disused mine railway track. There were quite a number of people out enjoying the sun, as well as a fair number of cows.
The track makes for easy walking, skirting Weatherdon Hill and Hangershell Rock before following the spine of Ugborough Moor. We nattered away and the miles passed quickly. In fact too quickly, as we overshot our descent point for Piles Copse, where I had planned for us to camp. Fortunately, I looked behind and spotted we had gone too far.
Our descent was a bit tricky as we had to find a path through some bracken and then over some mossy boulders amongst the trees. Piles Copse is a remnant of the ancient woodland that used to cover much of Dartmoor. It looks a bit like the set of the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings.
Trees at Piles Copse
After negotiating the boulders and trees, we emerged into a clearing, which was almost ideal for camping. There was evidence that others had used the site before, with several fire rings. I had been worried that someone else might be using it as a camping spot, but no-one else was in evidence.
The clearing in Piles Copse
We decided not to camp next to the river, as it was quite sheltered and some midges were congregating near the water. We quickly put up the tents and collected some water. By now the insects had become rather more bothersome and I retired inside my tent. Later on Andy popped by for a chat with a buff on his head for protection. The midges formed a halo around his head and it was evident that he had a strong affinity with insects
Camping at Piles Copse
I rose early next morning. After an early morning call of nature, I decided to explore the copse before any insects became noticeable. I walked to the northern end, noting an even better place to camp. I then walked to the southern end. There were more good places to camp, although some seem to be well used by livestock and there were some fire rings.
Southern end of Piles Copse
By the time I returned to the tent, the midges had woken up and beginning to make themselves felt, so I retired inside the tent to have breakfast. After breakfast, Andy appeared and we decided to pack and get going. In the end, the midges weren’t too bothersome. We ascended the the slope of Three Barrows to regain the railway track. On the ascent, Andy was viciously assaulted by a horse fly. A theme for the trip was beginning to emerge with Andy and insects
The track led us past Left Lake, where we stopped to take some photos of the workings and of a mare and her foal. Ahhhh!
Rounding the corner of Brown Heath, we spotted the spoil tip of Red Lake China Clay Works, which was the cue to turn west and join the Abbot’s Way.
Red Lake Spoil Tip
The next mile or so towards Erme Pits and Erme Head was a bit marshy in places, which slowed our progress, but visibility was good, so navigation was not a problem. Towards Erme Head, the path improved. We passed to the west of the delightfully named Great Gnats’ Head, which, thankfully didn’t live up to its name. All we encountered was a small group of ponies.
Ponies near Great Gnats’ Head
At Plym Ford, the most direct track to Nun’s Cross Farm, our destination for lunch, seemed to be a path heading north east. However, it was not clear on the ground so we cut the corner and headed north over some rough ground.
Nun’s Cross Farm
After a modest navigation faff, we reached the farm, which seemed an ideal spot for lunch. The farm house is in surprisingly good condition and can be booked as group accommodation. All the doors and windows were heavily padlocked, but we didn’t mind as the sun was shining and lunch al fresco was more appealing.
South Hessary Tor
After lunch we made our way on the track to South Hessary Tor. Unfortunately, the tor was heavily populated by day trippers, so we didn’t bother to go to the top. From South Hessary Tor, it was an easy downhill stroll to Princetown.
At Princetown, we paid a visit to the pub for rehydration purposes (mainly non-alcoholic!). After a visit to the local store for some supplies, we left Princetown for North Hessary Tor, with its massive radio/TV mast. By this time, the sun had disappeared and it had become decidedly overcast with the occasional spit of rain.
Rundlestone with Great Mis Tor in the distance
In the west we could see some showers as we descended to Rundlestone, crossing the B3357 road. Along the lane, we encountered a flock of sheep waiting to be sheared, blocking the path. The farm hands ushered us past the makeshift sheep shearing platform.
On the climb to Great Mis Tor, the clouds became more threatening. However, as we neared the summit, the showers to the west seemed to thin. I left my pack at the base of the tor, but Andy decided he needed to be macho and climb to the summit with a full pack.
View north from Great Mis Tor
We were getting close to our intended camping spot. We headed over some rough ground north eastwards towards an old settlement marked on the map. Last year I’d camped nearby but couldn’t remember the exact position. I was hoping that I’d remembered the spot correctly. Eventually, I spied the small plateau above the River Walkham.
Camping near the River Walkham
As we pitched the tents, the weather began to clear and an hour later we were bathed in glorious sunshine. As the wind dropped a few midges appeared. Nothing too bothersome, but Andy lit some citronella jos sticks outside his tent. Evidently, the smell was so pungent that it drove the midges into his tent for shelter As the sun set, it lit up the clouds and we experimented with a few photos.
In the next instalment, we encounter the worst bog I’ve ever been through on Dartmoor.
In three weeks time I’ll be off to Dartmoor again. This time I shall be accompanied by veteran TGO Challenger, Andy Walker. Train tickets have been booked. One attraction of going in August is that there’s no firing on the ranges, so we can go where we like. I’ve lined up a couple of new camping spots. I’m hoping that the heat wave might have abated by then. There have been reports of swarms of midges and horse flies, which I’m hoping are exaggerated.
Given the heat, I’ll probably be using trail shoes for the first time in a while. At the moment I’m not sure which ones. I’m going to dig out my Exos 58 rucksack, as I figure that the ventilated back should be more comfortable in hot conditions. I have also joined the Trailstar club and will give it a first outing. I’m hoping that Sean will be able to make a nest for me before I go.