My biggest Dartmoor challenge EVER - Blog 21

April 29, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

A big challenge deserves a big target, if you would like to support the Dartmoor Search and Rescue team Tavistock visit the link below. Thank you for your support.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mybiggestdartmoorchallengeever

Target - Raise £20,000 to help fund the new operations vehicle.

A 400 km hike across 170 tors and rocks on the Dartmoor OS OL28 map raising funds to replace their failing operations vehicle.

 

Training day 9 – Harford Church Loop

This was going to be an interesting walk for two reasons. The first because the terrain wasn’t going to be too difficult but it involved a couple of stretches that were long and likely to test my staying power. The second because one section was across a piece of the moor that I hadn’t really navigated in any detail.

 

Today’s starting point was Harford church which meant the first job was to walk up the hill to get on the moor, then a simple job of following the track up to a path just below the two moors way. On any other day this probably would have been relatively straight forward, a case of head down and stomping up the hill. Only today Dartmoor decided to throw one of its elements straight in my face, what felt like 30 to 40 mph gusting winds.

It seemed it was blowing right down the hill. From the moment I got out the car it felt chilly and extremely windy making the walk up the hill hugely more difficult and time consuming then it should have been.

Hunched forward at 45 degrees I slowly, step by step made my way to the top. It must have been bad as the cyclist that set off just before me seemed to be going slower than me! Plus, a runner ahead looked like they were on a tread mill and going nowhere!

It wasn’t much better taking a 90 degree turn left toward Sharp tor, I could feel the wind taking my bag from left to right and forcing me to adjust my pacing to avoid being blown over.


 

Passed Piles Hill and onward to Sharp tor, this took far too much time and energy. I was glad to make it to Sharp tor and decided I had earned an early coffee stop. Just needed to find somewhere out of the wind!

Bagged up and ready to continue I headed East toward Ball Gate. All I had to do was make sure I stayed between the Glaze head and the hill at Hickley plain. I knew there was what track made by a farmer’s quad bike, so walking roughly a straight line I also knew I would cross it at some point. This would make getting the Ball Gate pretty easy.

At Ball Gate I stumbled across Bob Martin who saw me coming down the hill and said he knew who I was, “there’s only one person I know wearing red with a pack that size” he replied as I greeted him. Fantastic, someone is actually following my progress. What a boost!

After a chat I continued along the footpath toward Bela Brook and along the road to Shipley car park. There were a few cars and the coffee van but quite I thought. Up the road toward the Avon Dam, which I thought was definitely quiet, the river was also incredibly low from the last time I saw it. You could almost wade through the water to the other side it was so low.

At the bridge half way up, a sharp left turn up the start of a path and then a sheep track to the top of the hill to Black tor. By now or at least at this spot the wind had dropped a bit, it was the perfect spot for lunch! The sun was out, it was so deafly quiet with just the birds and some sheep to be heard. I could have easily stayed there for a couple of hours soaking up the view.

Now I haven’t worked out why yet but whenever I descend from Black tor, I always seem to drop down from the back of the tor in the Hunters stone direction and then have to follow a track back to pick up the way I climbed up. Four times I’ve done that, you would think I should have worked it out by now!

Back to and just over the bridge, a right turn to take a path/track to Shipley tor. In the summer this can be very overgrown so my own rule is, if you want to navigate amongst the bracken and gorse, find a track and follow the poo! That’s right, this works every time for me. I reckon if anyone/thing knows how to get through that mess sheep do. So, I followed the poo and ended up almost at Shipley tor bar a couple of adjustments.

Along the path I also saw my first Adder snake of the year slithering across the top of the dead bracken plus a couple of lizards darting between the undergrowth. Way too quick for me by the time I took my phone out to snap a couple of pics!

Now the next target is Puper’s Hill. This turned out to be very long, timely and basically a slog. Where there are long “legs” I try to find points where I can take a positive bearing, just in case the fog is down. The area is thick with gorse so getting a direct line is not really an option.

So, in steps, first follow the wall from Shipley tor to the first gate in the wall, take a bearing to Dockwell Ridge and pick your way through the gorse. Again, there are tracks that will meander their way to the top! Next a bearing to Grippers Hill, there is a cairn at the top so a positive bearing can be achieved. However, if you walk North you will come across the Abbott’s Way. I then turned right and followed it to a large boundary stone. Taking a bearing to the ford points you in the direction of a track which turns into more of a path after a couple hundred meters, just follow this all the way to the next ford/stream.

Worst case scenario, which is what I did to see how it would work is follow a path that practically handrails the boundary walls on the right until you reach the Two Moors Way path.

At this point turn left up the hill until you cross a distinctive path up to Puper’s Hill.

Now while this worked reasonably well in good weather it would be very interesting if it would work as well in really bad weather or fog!

 

I’m now picking my way through boulders and gorse down to the river ford across the Western Wella Brook and heading around Huntingdon Warren and down to the clapper bridge over the river Avon.

The weather in the valley without the wind was really nice and sunny making it very tempting to break at the clapper bridge. But not today, I had a deadline of ten hours so up that very steep hill following the Two Moors Way. Boy, it’s a tough old hill to get up with a decent weight on your back, but surprisingly, I seemed to get to the top with some degree of ease. Sometimes I even impress myself!

Once I’m on the Two Moors Way navigation is essentially zero, just follow the metalled path. On, and on, and on, you get the idea. This is mid blowing and serves as a great test to see if the mental stamina can keep me going. Head down, one step in front of the other and repeat for two hours, urgh!

Honestly, if a cyclist had passed me on the track, I’m pretty sure I may have knocked them off and nicked their bike to get a ride back!

The path was easy to follow but really hard on the feet. I had anticipated this and have to admit I succumbed to taking a couple of pain killers to get me back over the last couple of hours. They really worked a treat and walking became so much easier again. Still mighty boring though!

I bumped into the last people I would see, Simon and his friend (sorry, I think Bob but shamefully forgot his name!) and had a chat about the challenge. They seemed mighty impressed which translates to me thinking, what the heck am I doing?!

As I approached the intersection of paths near Spurrell’s cross above Harford Gate the evening had turned into a glorious sunny evening with a light breeze, with nobody around it was beautifully quiet and deserved a last coffee break before I headed for the gate and down the hill to the car. That was it, another training day completed with some interesting and varied things to overcome. Overall, I finished the day feeling really good, legs held up extremely well and the bag weight although still a bit heavy was becoming very manageable. I could have even gone a bit further if required!

Distance, a total of 32km in ten hours with an average overall speed including stops of 3km per hour and a moving average of 5km per hour. So, times, distance and bag weight all coming together. Not a bad day after only nine training walks on the moor with a 40lb pack!

 


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