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.