Halfway across Dartmoor – a Backpack in Less Than Ideal Conditions

Lulled by a “not too bad” forecast and fresh from a more local walk that didn’t fully hit the spot, I headed to Dartmoor for anything up to a week of backpacking – depending on how long that forecast stayed ok.
There was one problem though: the Saturday night had a forecast of 50-60 kph winds, so there was a possibility that I might prefer some more secure accommodation for that one night. But then the forecast improved. If it stayed ok, Paul would come out to join me for that night, although he did joke that he’d bring his Quasar in anticipation of a rough night.

I headed up onto the moor on the Wednesday afternoon, with only light to moderate winds forecast – potentially the lightest I’d see until the on-off apocalypse of Saturday was behind me. So a high(ish) camp seemed like the thing to do: get one in while I could.

Paul met me at the station to walk with me up onto the moor: any excuse to get out. Tired from an early start and weighed down by a combination of provisions for 6 nights and some beefier cold weather gear, I insisted on using the road past Okehampton Camp and then tracks to do as much of the climb as possible. This got us to just below West Mill Tor, where I filled up with water and then headed off directly up onto the tor.

Camped at Little Tor, West Mill in the background

Tiredness from the early start and rigours of the long journey saw me through the night, which was still a lot breezier than I’d been looking for. It was a slow start, not setting off until 9:30 or so. With a worse forecast for night 2, I’d already decided where I was going to aim for: a spot by the Walkham sheltered from the westerly winds. Having camped there before, it was a spot I could be pretty confident in.

Previous camp by the Walkham…

Furthermore, while waiting for overnight rain to stop as I was packing up, I’d also come up with a cunning plan to have as sheltered a day as possible. I’d follow river valleys south for the most part before a dash over more exposed ground to my pitch.

This turned out not to be the best exchange. I swapped cold and wind for quite a lot of bog. First though I re-joined the track and climbed up onto High Willhays before dropping down again to Dinger Tor. Every time I visit Dinger Tor, I am reminded of how much better it is than I think. I also seem to forget to take photos of it every time!

My route to the shelter of the rivers took me past Lints Tor, so close that it would have been rude not to walk the extra 100m or so to the tor itself. So I did, finding the tor itself acting as a superb wind break. But 11am was a bit early to stop!

Lints Tor

I dropped down to find a way across the west Okement, managing it without getting too wet, although the significant amount of boggy ground I had to cross to get there was another matter.
The route up the unnamed tributary of the West Okement brought me to Amicombe Hole, and a new tor for me. I’ve passed close to here before, but not quite enough to bag these rocks. This was a small recompense for a boggy trudge.

Broad Amicombe Hole

The squelch continued as I handrailed the Amicombe Brook before cutting the corner across the flank of Amicombe Hill to get to the Tavy where Western Red Lake empties into it. Crossing the Tavy was a big problem, with no obvious spots, and the river clearly a lot higher than last time I attempted it.
I found a spot where the water seemed to be slower and I could see something of the river bed, and made my way across. It was knee deep in the middle. I was quite moist by the time I hit the east bank of Western Red Lake to ascend following the range poles.

It was important to keep moving. I tend to generate a lot of heat in my feet as I walk, and this would help greatly with drying out.

Lynch Tor

The trudge following the range poles to Lynch Tor was another one of soft wet ground, although not unexpected. Paths were indistinct to continue to White Barrow – a lot more so than I remember. It was a relief to arrive at White Barrow, knowing that a gentle climb over Cocks Hill was all that stood between me and the end of the day’s walk. Moreover, I’d walked this bit before.

I dropped down into the Walkham valley and searched for the best sheltered spot I could. Eventually I ended up on the exact spot I camped in summer 2020. There was virtually no wind which was very welcome.

…and a return to a previous camp spot

A nice chilled evening was spent in the tent, but sods law that after bedtime the wind would pick up and veer enough to make its presence felt. Around 4am, the weather gods unleashed their full fury: wind and rain lashed the tent. People I bumped into the next morning remarked on how they’d felt this same squall, safe in their houses. It was a poor night’s sleep.

With no mobile phone signal, I couldn’t even occupy my insomnia with much in the way of planning for the next day – no latest weather forecast, no planning where to head for. All I could do was think through the scenarios in my head – from continuing as planned, through bear it for another day or two, to bail today.

The tempest eventually died down as daylight approached, and some belated sleep was had. I eventually dragged myself out of my pit to pack, and then waited a while longer for a rain shower to pass before emerging to strike camp.

10am came and I was only just setting off. With no real plan, the immediate aim was simply to climb straight up onto Langstone Moor behind me until I got a phone signal. Then I could decide what to do.

Perched on a rock, the signal arrived and I knew instantly the decision: bail.

Friday’s weather, although fine right now, was going to be worse than the night I’d just faced, and Saturday’s was madness. The wind didn’t drop down to more tolerable levels until about the latest I’d have stayed anyway.

All thoughts now were of the best way to end the trip. At this point a direct line to Princetown seemed like the best bet and I looked at the Walkham with a view to crossing it – a detour over the Staples would cost too much time if I wanted to exit today (I’d looked at coach availability already on my rock).

Just after I’d decided that wading the Walkham was a fool’s errand (it was halfway up my trekking pole near the edge), a message came in from Paul offering rescue. I didn’t need to ask twice. I’d somehow not received his message the night before saying our Saturday plan was a no go, and offering extraction.

Roos Tor
Great Staple Tor

All I now had to do was get to the Dartmoor Inn at Merrivale – I could almost see it. It was a pleasant walk over Roos Tor and Great Staple to descend to the quarry and the inn. I got a pint of overpriced lukewarm non-pale pale ale and sat on a bench to await my lift.

I looked at the forecast a few times in the 24 hours after this, and every time I did so it just confirmed the right decision. Each time the wind speeds moved further away from green towards red markers on the mountain-forecast forecast. Totally the right call.

It was disappointing to end the trip so early – to the extent that if I’d known that’s how long I’d be out, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. But I needed some proper time in the hills, and it was an opportunity to try a few things out ahead of the main backpacking “season”.


Video of the Trip

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