About this time last year, I went on a rather wonderful pre-TGO Challenge “Daunder” in the sunny Chilterns. Today, I had planned to join the 2016 Daunder in the northern Pennines. Unfortunately, my wife is struggling with her health, so I’ve had to stay at home. The weather looks like it’s going to be a chilly and possibly snowy Daunder, in contrast to last year. Even so, I was looking forward to going. Hey-Ho! So this year, no Daunder, no TGO Challenge. Due to various commitments, the next window for a walk is the end of June. All a bit disappointing ☹️.
About fifteen hours after it started, the rain finally let up at around one o’clock in the morning. At dawn, we were greeted with what looked a perfect day: glorious sunshine. The contrast with the previous day was stunning.
We were packed by nine o’clock and headed up to Cocks Hill and then to White Barrow to meet the path leading down to Willsworthy. At the Barrow, we met a couple of Ten Tors leaders who informed us we were likely to see several groups practicing for the event. A few minutes later, their group arrived and we left them to it.
Path to Brousentor Farm
We took the path down to Brousentor Farm. At first we walked on moorland, reaching a lane further down. When we reached the River Tavy, we turned north towards a footbridge marked on the map. We were treated a beautiful, short walk along the river amongst trees.
We made a brief stop at the bridge for a bite to eat before continuing along some lanes to the car park below Ger Tor. Originally my plan had been to walk up Tavy Cleave, but we decided to go up Ger Tor instead on the basis that it might be a bit drier.
While the path was OK, it was quite boggy in places. However, we were compensated by the extensive views westwards. At the top we also had a good view of Tavy Cleave. Some day I’m actually going to walk up the Cleave!
From Ger Tor we made our way to Hare Tor. On the northern side there are some boulders which made convenient seats and a good spot for lunch, sheltered from the wind. There was also a splendid view of Fur Tor and Cut Hill.
Chat Tor with Great Links Tor in the background
The path up to Kitty Tor was quite tricky with numerous pools and boggy patches to negotiate. Although some places had stepping-stones from the masonry of the mine, other stretches required diversions and a few jumps across peaty pools.
On the way down to Sandy Ford we encountered some Dartmoor ponies. Initially they were a bit camera-shy, but eventually we managed to catch them. The path down was quite rough and we were glad to reach the ford. Alan decided to swap to trainers to cross. Fortunately, I’d packed my trusty waders, although I probably could have got across with just gaiters.
Wading Sandy Ford
Camping at Sandy Ford
We knew the forecast for the next day was poor, but it was a surprise that it started raining at around two o’clock. There were some very brief breaks as it got light, but we had to pack in the rain. The wind was quite strong, so rather than go over the tops, we decided to walk down the West Okement River.
West Okement River
In other circumstances, it would have been a pleasant walk, but the strong wind and driving rain made it a bit of a trial. The only saving grace was that the wind was at our backs. At Vellake Corner, we crossed the bridge over the weir and made for the ridge along South Down. The wind was ferocious, but at least the lane gave a modicum of shelter. We felt the true force of the wind at the Meldon Viaduct.
Cake at Meldon Viaduct
At the far side of the viaduct, we decided to make use of the buffet in a disused rail carriage. Although the rain abated a bit, the wind rocked the carriage. After a bite to eat and some tea, it was onwards via the cycle track to Okehampton Station. Despite some shelter from the wind, it started to rain harder. At Okehampton station, we switched to the footpath which took us to the East Okement River. At least we were sheltered by the trees.
However, crossing the bridge over the river, we had to climb up to the open ridge, where we were assaulted afresh by almost hurricane force wind and rain. It was unpleasant mile or so to the car park. Getting changed to drive home in the rain was fun (not)!
Despite the weather, we had a good trip. The rain and wind came on the right days for us and at least we had two good days of walking and enjoyed some good camping.
Overnight the wind had swung round to a more westerly direction, but it wasn’t raining yet, despite an early touch of hill fog. After breakfast the cloud base lifted a bit and we packed away. Before leaving, I did a bit of Wombling, clearing some orange peel and tea bags which had been dumped by a rock.
East Dart River
Looking down the East Dart River
East Dart waterfall
Lower and Higher White Tor
Although it was a bit of a slog to Lower White Tor, the conditions underfoot weren’t too bad and we managed to pick up a few tracks. The path over Lower and Higher White Tors is more heavily used and consequently more boggy. By now, the wind was quite strong and cold, so I had to put some gloves on.
Despite the deteriorating weather, the cloud base was still above the tops and the walk to Longaford and Littaford Tors was enjoyable. The descent to Two Bridges offered a modicum of shelter. Nevertheless we were glad to make our lunch stop at the Two Bridges Hotel.
Lunch at the Two Bridges Hotel
The Two Bridges Hotel is a fine establishment and is very welcoming to walkers (a sign outside states “muddy boots welcome”). The staff weren’t fazed by two dripping wet backpackers. We had a superb lunch and I’m definitely going to include the hotel on future walks on Dartmoor.
As you can imagine, it was difficult to get going again. However, we struggled back into our wet weather gear. By this time, the rain had intensified and the cloud base had lowered. Originally, I had planned to go over Beardown Tors, but had also plotted a more sheltered route in case the weather was poor.
Given the conditions we took the easy route. After a short walk up the B3357, we turned north up a newly tarmacked track. Unfortunately the shelter belt of trees which would have given us some protection from the wind had been largely cut down.
At Holming Beam, we turned onto the path leading to the delightfully named Black Dunghill. The track was badly churned up, presumably by squaddies on exercise.
Somewhere near Black Dunghill
We made our way across Blackbrook Head to the River Walkham and then to our intended camping spot opposite Greena Ball. Unfortunately, because it was so misty, I couldn’t spot the grassy terrace where I had intended us to camp. Fortunately, Alan spotted a reasonable alternative near the old settlements marked on the map.
The wind and rain were now ferocious and it was quite a struggle to put up the Duomid, especially as the ground was a bit uneven. Eventually, I got a reasonable pitch. I filled my Platypus water bladders and collapsed into the tent.
One final indignity was my freeze-dried dinner (Mountain Trails Beef Risotto), which was totally tasteless. The rain and wind continued until about one o’clock in the morning, but the Duomid stayed firm. At least I was dry and warm and the forecast for the next day was much better.
I didn’t manage to go backpacking on Dartmoor last year. So I thought I’d put that right with the first trip of this year. The biggest issue with walking any distance on Dartmoor is coordinating it with the Army firing schedules on the North Moor. I spotted that the week before Easter, there was no firing scheduled, so a plan was hatched for a four day walk from Belstone to Two Bridges and back.
I invited Alan Sloman along for a bit of company, so on the Tuesday before Good Friday, we rolled into Belstone.
One for Alan Rayner!
The path to Taw Marsh
We spotted a group of around ten walkers near the ford across the River Taw. I was slightly concerned about how deep the ford might be, but it was quite low. However, I did put some gaiters on just in case.
Camp by Small Brook
There are lots of places to camp at Taw Marsh. There are some good spots by the ford, but we decided to explore a bit further. We walked a little way up Small Brook and found an excellent spot on the bluff.
Looking to Steeperton Tor
It was a pretty cold night and we woke up to frost. The sky was clear, so hopes were for a good day. However, the clouds soon started to build and the sun disappeared. We enjoyed a fairly leisurely start as we only about 15km to cover.
Walking up Small Brook
Great Hound Tor
At Great Hound Tor we sat down to enjoy the views. As we lightened our packs by eating some of the contents of excessively large food bags, the weather began to brighten. Next stop was the impressive rocks on Wild Tor
By now, there were some decent patches of blue sky. From Wild Tor we headed to Hangingstone Tor. Although Hangingstone Hill has possibly the ugliest Army observation post in Dartmoor, the views are wonderful.
View north from Hangingstone Hill
Alan wanted lunch on Whitehorse Hill, but there’s no shelter, so I persuaded him that Quintin’s Man was a better spot. Having been this way before, we avoided the boggy peat channels by staying to the eastern side of the hill. We passed the peat pass and gained the path to Quintin’s Man, where we had lunch in the lee of the stone shelter.
After lunch we followed the path and wall to Sittaford Tor. This is a pretty easy stroll. So far we had been surprised at how dry it had been underfoot. Even the streams in Little Varracombe were easy to cross.
Little Varracombe from Sittaford Tor
Although the cloud seemed to be building again, we still had extensive views from Sittaford Tor. From there we headed north-east to Teignhead Farm. Along the way we bumped into another walker racing down from the tor who asked us if we had seen a walking pole that he had lost at the top. Unfortunately not.
After crossing the river, we dropped our packs and headed to the ruined farm for a look around. It’s sad to see the desolation of what once must have been quite a substantial farmstead. Even now, the gate posts and walls show the effort that must have been taken to build it. The wood lot at the rear has suffered badly from fallen trees as well. Although it’s a great place to camp, we had decided that the beehive hut on the East Dart was a better place for us.
The Grey Wethers
After retrieving our packs we climbed up to the Grey Wethers stone circle (actually two circles). On the way down we met a lady with the most gorgeous collie, Kes. Her husband was thinking of doing the Cape Wrath Trail, so Alan gave her a few tips about the route. She told us that the bottom of the valley was quite boggy but there was a good path on the eastern flank.
Dropping down to the East Dart River
Just below the beehive hut, there’s a lovely shelf above a tributary stream. I’ve camped there a couple of times before. It’s an almost perfect pitch. We were just in time, as a small party of hikers rounded the corner and looked disappointed that we had nabbed the best pitch. There are other places to pitch but they walked on. Feeling a bit guilty, I caught up with them and told them about an excellent place to camp by Fernworthy Forest.
Camp near the beehive hut
By now, we could feel the weather starting to change. The wind had picked up and the clouds had thickened. We knew the forecast was poor for the next day. We hoped that the rain would hold off until we had packed.
For the last two years I’ve had the focus of doing the TGO Challenge for my backpacking year. This year I was vetoed from going again because my wife didn’t want me to be away for two weeks at a time. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking what to do this year.
The Cambrian Way has been on my mind for about three years, but doing it in one go entails too much time. It might well be beyond my physical capabilities as it is probably the toughest long distance walk in the UK, stretching for 291 miles with nearly 24,000m of total ascent.
I started to look at doing it in sections. Tony Drake’s guidebook divides it into three sections: Southern (Cardiff to Llandovery) 108 miles, Central (Llandovery to Dinas Mawddwy) 78 miles, Northern (Dinas Mawddwy to Conwy) 88 miles.
The trouble with trails is they feel like straight jackets, so I started playing around with the route. I didn’t fancy Cardiff to Abergavenny that much, so I decided I would start at Abergavenny (good rail link). Next I decided that I’d skip the Black Mountains and go from Abergavenny to Crickhowell to pick up the Cambrian Way proper there. This gives me a nice introduction of around five days to Llandovery over the Brecon Beacons. Llandovery is a good break point as it has a railway station.
I think I will extend the Central section to Barmouth rather than stop at Dinas Mawddwy. This makes the section about 100 miles. While I’ve mapped it, I’ve not divided it up into days, but expect it to take about 7/8 days. Barmouth is a convenient break point as it has a railway station. It also makes the next section a convenient block.
The Northern section from Barmouth to Conwy is about 68 miles, but is the toughest in terms of terrain and ascent. My rough plan at the moment is to do this in six days, but possibly to add an extra “slack” day. I shall save this for the last of the three sections, probably in August.
If I get the urge to complete the whole Cambrian Way and nothing but the Cambrian Way, then I might do the Cardiff and Black Mountains section in September. I’m not really a box ticker at heart, so I’m not that bothered. On the other hand it would be nice to complete the whole walk.
One significant advantage of doing the Cambrian Way in stages is that it gives me some flexibility in timing. I had pencilled in a couple of trips to Scotland but travel takes more planning. Unfortunately my mother is seriously ill, so I need to be sensitive to what is happening with her.
At the moment my tentative plan is Abergavenny to Llandovery in June, Llandovery to Barmouth in July and Barmouth to Conwy in August. I’m also hoping to camp all the way. I need to do some more detailed planning, particularly on the central section, which looks logistically challenging (8 days food?). I’ll do some more posts later in the year to let you know how I’m getting on.
Make a cup of tea, sit down for five minutes and watch my slideshow of Dartmoor with music by Harold Budd and John Foxx ☺️