Last weekend was the first trip to Dartmoor of the year, as a combination of illness and uninspiring forecasts made me decide to forego the now traditional Dartmoor New Year. Consequently I was itching to get out to camp somewhere I didn’t have to hide, both overnighters so far this year having been in lowly Essex.
I arrived at Paul’s midday Thursday, dumped the car and headed up onto the moor by way of the East Okement and the Tarka Trail. Not having come this way before, it proved to be a pleasant way up onto the moor.
An ascent onto Belstone Common brought me to the familiar run of tors from Tors End – Bel End (my name) – Belstone – Higher – Lower. Having seen that I was safely out of reach of shelter, the weather chose this moment to unleash a hailstorm on me, followed more welcomely by a decent quality rainbow. None of this was forecast.
Passing Higher Tor, I happened to look back and saw 3 camo tarps nestled in among the rocks – I’d walked really close to them and not seen them, so I guess the camo was working. A further group of 3 tarps was seen at Oke Tor. No signs of life from any of them. Maybe they were lying there, guns to shoulders lining me up in their sights. That certainly wasn’t forecast.
From Oke I turned towards Steeperton Tor to ford the Taw, the idea being I’d then contour around, cross the Steeperton Brook and head up to my planned camp spot on Wild Tor. However, the Taw proved that little too wide to cross safely, and I ended up going upstream before I found a safe place to cross, by which time I was a decent way up the gorge. So I carried on before climbing over the southern end of Steeperton Tor and taking a more direct route to Wild instead.
I rocked up at Wild with the light fading and spent a quarter of an hour surveying for a decent spot to pitch. Last time it was easy as everything was covered in snow and there was no wind, so anywhere pretty much worked. Today, the wind was strong enough that I wanted whatever shelter I could get. Sod’s law that the good sheltered pitches were rubbish ground, and the decent ground lacked good shelter. Eventually I opted for a spot surrounded by rocks and got the tent up. No sooner was I inside than the rain began. It barely let up all night, and neither did the wind. None of this was forecast.
A poor night’s sleep was had courtesy of “first night in the tent” syndrome and the weather, and a middle of the night wakeful period ended up being balanced by a long sleep-in. So it was 10am before I was off.
With a couple of hours of potential walking time lost, ambitions had to be scaled back slightly and so I contented myself with a walk up to Hangingstone Hill and a drop down to the Stone itself, before looping back around onto wild Tor, then Hound Tor, Metherall Hill and finally climbing along the side of Cosdon Hill to find Ottery (Ladybrook) Tor. Paul, feeling under the weather, had come to pick me up from Belstone and walked a little way onto the moor to meet me. This was most welcome, but not as forecast.
Friday night we had a date with Burns Night (ok a day late, but I guess that’s due to time difference between Scotland and Devon), for which I’d set my expectations quite low, but which actually turned out to be good fun with decent food. Again not as forecast.
Saturday again wasn’t quite as forecast, and damp weather had a similar effect on spirits. There seemed no point doing the bus-out-to-Lydford-and-walk-home overnight route we’d talked about, and Paul wasn’t really feeling up to camping out either, so we parked the idea. Paul discovered that the forecast looked marginally better to the east of the moor, so we piled into the car and headed east, meandering our way around in the hunt for clearer weather. Near Hexworthy, Paul hit on the plan of tackling Gibby Combe that we’d jettisoned from our backpack over the South Moor last April. This seemed like an ideal occasion to pick this tor off. More ideal still was the fact that it gave the excuse to pop into the Holne Community Tea Room first!
We headed up to the tor, sliding on mud and wet leaves/bracken and eventually appearing above the moss-covered rocks. Too slippery to descend at the tor, we dropped down to the Holy Brook a little way off and walked back to the base of the tor. Yet another example of a decent pile of rocks tucked away in some obscure woodland – Dartmoor’s speciality.
The tor ticked off, we headed back to Holne, feeling that we’d justified a return to the Tea Room. It’s pretty much a Dartmoor rule that walks must end with a visit to one (or failing that a Willy’s ice cream).
Sunday was homeward day, and so a short walk only was in order. Paul hit upon the cunning idea of combining a walk with breakfast, and so we headed up to Ashbury Tor, where I explored it properly this time, before heading over East Hill and down to Okehampton Station and the cafe there. A return along the Devonshire Heartland Way to a by now familiar crossing of the East Okement, and we were done.
A pretty modest trip in terms of distance walked and new tors visited, but good to get out all the same.