Dartmoor April 2011 part 1

Monday

The inspiration for this trip came from various bloggers who have written about Dartmoor recently. In particular James’ recent visit with his atmospheric pictures piqued my interest. My previous experiences of Dartmoor were limited to driving through it on the way to Cornwall as a kid and a geography field trip in Chagford as a student.

Rather than drive, I had decided to use public transport, getting a train from Paddington to Newton Abbot, and then changing to another to Ivybridge, a total journey time of 3 hours 12 minutes.

I elected to get the midday train as it avoided getting mixed up with rush hour travelling across London from home. I arrived at Paddington ridiculously early and had nearly an hour’s wait for the train. Once aboard, I located my reserved seat and was surprised at how full it was.

Our much maligned public transport system worked perfectly, depositing me at Ivybridge exactly on schedule. The weather on the way down had been mostly sunny but the clouds appeared to be massing in the west and there was a stiff wind.

Ivybridge station

After a quick photo pose by the sign to the Two Moors Way, I followed the path and then the road to the bridge over the railway line leading to the moor. After a few yards up the country lane, there was a track on the right, which is the Two Moors Way proper.

The Two Moors Way above Ivybridge

The hedge and trees on either side of the lane gave some shelter from the insistent wind. After about half a mile, the lane opened out onto some grassland leading up to Butterdon Hill. Here there was no shelter and the view to the west revealed grey, roiling clouds.

The view south from below Butterdon Hill

Rather than follow the remains of the old narrow gauge railway the Two Moors Way uses, I climbed Butterdon Hill for my first view of Dartmoor proper. To the north, before me, lay rolling moorland largely devoid of colour. On the western flank was the Erme valley and to the east, Brent Moor.

I headed due north to Hangershell Rock and then rejoined the old rail track. The going was easy under foot heading towards Piles Hill, past numerous standing stones and mounds. When I reached Sharp Tor, the weather seemed to be deteriorating. The wind was stronger and the clouds darker.

Hangershell Rock

My intention had been to camp at Left Lake, another mile and a half further on. However, the westerly wind suggested that it could be an exposed pitch and that it might be wiser to camp on the eastern side of the ridge.

On the eastern side of Sharp Tor there is a tributary of Glaze Brook. About half a mile down, a “homestead” was marked on the map. I reasoned that if there had been a dwelling, there must be some flat land and water.

The tributary of Glaze Brook

Initially the tributary was dry, making me doubt my assumption. However, eventually, a stream appeared. By the time I reached the homestead it was a babbling brook. To my delight there were some flat spots in amongst the humps at the homestead, so I pitched my tent there. To the east there was a copse, making it a rather pleasant place to be.

Unpacking the tent, I discovered some stitching had come adrift at the end of one of the zips on the fly and that there was a small stress fracture at the end of one of the pole sections. I wrapped some duck tape around the pole to strengthen it and hoped it would last the trip.

My camp site

Even though the spot was reasonably sheltered, there were some strong gusts that shook the tent. I was glad that I had decided to take the Scarp. After a meal (Pasta Provence), I texted home and had a look at the weather forecast. The Met Office was suggesting rain overnight and clearing in the afternoon.

Tuesday

Well the rain started in earnest at 2.30 in the morning. For about four hours it was like having a hose trained on the tent. However, I felt quite safe in the knowledge that the tent was well up to the test and that there was no way that the site I had picked would flood.

As it became light, I had a look outside the tent. The world was grey, enveloped in mist. Although the intensity of the rain had lessened, it was still spraying the tent. I lay back and waited for a pause. Eventually the rain lessened and I made a quick dash out of the tent for a call of nature.

The only picture of the day!

After breakfast, I opted for a waiting game. I didn’t fancy walking in strong wind and rain with little prospect of shelter. If the weather forecast was correct, I could get going at lunch time and make some progress.

The rest of the day was incredibly frustrating. Every so often the rain would pause and the light would brighten, but the hillside remained resolutely shrouded in mist.

After lunch, I decided I needed a plan B. I straightened my intended route slightly and decided that a reasonable objective would be Teignhead Farm. A rough calculation suggested this would be about 16 miles (actually 20 miles!).

As long as I got within striking distance, it would mean that getting to Okehampton for 3 o’clock to catch the bus would be feasible. The major drawback of using public transport is the deadlines it imposes, which made me feel a bit stressed.

By around 5 o’clock the rain finally stopped, but the hillside was still shrouded in mist. All I could hope for was that the weather would clear on the following day and that I could get an early start.

 

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9 thoughts on “Dartmoor April 2011 part 1”

  1. Thats a bit of a bummer to hear that your scarp stitching has started to unravel and you have a stress fracture on the pole. Any idea how that could have happened? At least the weather was predictable blogpackinglight backpacking weather! Public transport can be stressful when it dictates the timing for a backpack. Nice not to have to drive though.

    1. The stitching is easily fixable. It’s where the linelok is positioned to tension the flysheet next to the pole arch. I suspect I might have pulled too hard at some stage. I’ll do a post on it when I do the repair. The pole fracture is the similar to the issue I had with my Marmot Thor, except at an earlier stage. An easy cure is to swap the sections around so the fracture is at the end of the pole. That way it is unlikely to fail completely, especially as it is taped. Alternatively I could just get another pole section. I’m also toying with cutting down to size one of the DAC poles left from the Thor to use. It is a slightly larger diameter and stronger. All flexible poles are subject to a lot of stress and it pays to keep an eye on the joints.

  2. I thought of you last week and wondered if you’d stay up on the ridge. It’s a shame you didn’t travel 24 hours later and catch the resumption of the heatwave. Teignhead Farm the Duchy should build a toilet block and charge that many people camp there! 🙂

    1. If I’d started a day later I might have been in a worse position as I would have started in mist and rain and wouldn’t have known where to camp!

  3. The TMW sure is open and exposed on that section, no shelter at all, but that pitch looks reasonably shielded. It’s always a toss-up whether to set out in mist/rain or stay put and give it chance to brighten up.
    Using infrequent public transport for the return is really stressful, years ago I vowed never to do it again. It’s ok on the outward journey, but as you say the feeling of a looming tight deadline can ruin the experience.

    1. At least using public transport you don’t have to worry whether your car has been broken into! Okehampton is not a bad place to end the walk as there is a reasonable bus service to Exeter and there’s a fast hourly service to London. I guess its swings and roundabouts. I’d be interested to know what car parks you used on Dartmoor as it was difficult to find any information on charges and tolerance of overnight parking from the internet.

  4. That’s certainly true about the car risk, which is why I’m such a fusspot over parking.
    On the Tops Tour last year, the Belstone car park is on the edge of the village and close to nearby houses. It is free and there are no restrictions at all (I use Google StreetView to do a virtual drive-by and actually see the car parks, extremely useful for planning).
    For this recent trip from Princetown, I contacted the Visitor Centre and told them I was planning to leave the car for 3 days, and they suggested the car park there at the VC. No restrictions regarding overnight, no formal charge but there is a donation box for the National Park.

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