Dartmoor: navigating with Nigel

The original idea of meeting Nigel was to have a Twitter meet, but it transmogrified into a navigation course. There were going to be two pupils, but in the end it was just me. Nigel runs his own navigation school: New Forest Navigation. Although I’m reasonably experienced at navigation, I’m a bit sloppy and tend to dig out the Satmap if things get tricky. The intention of doing some training with Nigel was to become a bit more structured in the way I navigate.

Looking east from below Yes Tor

The start to the day was glorious sunshine, although accompanied with quite a stiff cold breeze. I was packed a bit more slowly than Nigel. After giving me some basic instruction we were off to conquer Yes Tor and High Willhays. I was keen to climb both as I had been unable to do so on my previous visits. We did a gentle bit of orientation, pacing and timing , which meant we didn’t break sweat getting to Yes Tor.

High Willhays from Yes Tor

Although the walk from Yes Tor to High Willhays was hardly a navigation challenge, it provided an opportunity to judge timing and distance. Normally when I’m out, don’t bother with time and distance, but Nigel showed me how useful it is to be a bit more disciplined, particularly in poor visibility. Of course, the time to practice is in good conditions, which is what we were enjoying!

Okehampton Range

From High Willhays we aimed for Dinger Tor, then we made for the impressive anvil shape of Lints Tor. The idea was to have a relatively easy but structured wander around the area, concentrating on navigation techniques rather than cover much distance.

Lints Tor

We faced a decision at Lints Tor about whether to go down to Sandy Ford to camp early or go further afield. Given how perfect Sandy Ford looked as place to camp, I couldn’t resist stopping there. Before we reached Sandy Ford, we could see a group of backpackers taking a late lunch at the ford. Fortunately they were on the other side and didn’t give any indication that they wanted to pitch there so we bagged the spot.

Sandy Ford

Although it was still quite breezy, it was lovely and sunny, so we had a rather enjoyable and lazy afternoon. The one dampener was that I discovered that my Exped Synmat UL had sprung a leak. Fortunately I always have a long piece of thin foam which serves as a back pad for my rucksack. Although it doesn’t provide much padding to sleep on, at least it provided a decent amount of insulation. I was very glad that I had taken it as a backup mat.

Looking north east from below Lints Tor

Morning dawned grey and cloudy and the wind had swung round. We were away by 9.00 and made for Kneeset Nose along the valley using a terrace above the river. However, we had to go back down to the river to find a crossing point and had to negotiate some marshy sections. After crossing the river, we made a dog leg to Great Kneeset. As we gained height, the wind became stronger.

Nigel striking a heroic pose

From Great Kneeset, we aimed for the peat hags of Black Ridge, then followed the peat pass northwards. From West Okement Head, Nigel decided that I should practice following a bearing to Okement Court to pick up a track. It was quite hard going over the tussocks, but we managed to arrive more or less where we had intended.

Peat hags on Black Ridge

By now it was obvious that the weather was starting to worsen. The cloud base was descending and the wind was picking up. My original intention had been to camp overnight and to return home next morning. However, it seemed pointless to spend an uncomfortable night without a decent sleeping mat. The forecast was for heavy overnight rain as well.  As Nigel was going to pass close to Exeter on his way home in the afternoon, he agreed to give me a lift to Exeter St David’s.

Rather than try to do much more navigation, we headed back to the farm, where Nigel had left his car. In the lee of Oke Tor, we grabbed a bite to eat. When we crossed over the East Okement River, there was the odd spot of rain. Fortunately, it remained dry on the way to the farm. We reached Nigel’s car about 14.00 and were soon changed on on our way to Exeter.

It had been an enjoyable little wander around the north moor over the past couple of days. If you want to sharpen up your navigation skills, it’s well worth contacting Nigel. He’s happy to tailor courses around what you’d like to do. I certainly benefited from his expertise and shall be putting into practice the techniques he showed me.

4 thoughts on “Dartmoor: navigating with Nigel”

  1. cracking weather on the first day grommet! Funnily enough I remember walking across Dartmoor with a (different) navigation instructor 5 years ago. Oh how they like to make you squirm 😀

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