My biggest Dartmoor challenge EVER - Blog 37

June 10, 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 25 – Two Bridges Loop

As it happens this turned out to be a rather less interesting and shorter day than expected. This is the last week before I am intending to up the distance to a minimum of 25km carrying the 30 kilos on the march to making a full 30km in a single day.

Starting at a layby by Parsons’s cottage the first section on the face of it shouldn’t be too taxing. Over the style up the short hill to Crockern tor and a straight line all the way to Brown’s house ruins.

On arrival the mist was already rolling in and out across the moor, but at least Crockern tor was still visible. It felt a bit cold in the damp breeze when I got out of the car so made an early decision to put the full waterproof gear on to avoid being caught out by the ongoing wet misty stuff and getting wet.

By the time I kited up and locked the car Crockern tor had totally disappeared in the fog/mist. Looks like the number one Dartmoor devil had played his card, the devils mist!

Some styles also present some interesting challenges to climb over, this one looked straight forward but every time I swing over the top it seems the bag wants to drop me over the other side in a very unceremoniously way! The I noticed I could have gone through the gate, doh!

Anyway, up the hill to Crockern tor, a compass bearing just to be sure of my line, straight can easily go of course when you have 50 meters visibility and absolutely no reference point.

At least it will challenge my navigation skills as this fog/mist looks set to hang around all day.

On a sunny day the map and compass stay in the bag, it’s a very simple route to undertake. Just follow those big lumps of rock and walk between them. On a foggy day it’s a bearing from and to every tor, get that right and despite the fact you see nothing until you practically fall over them, it remains pretty straight forward.

All the way out to Lower White tor and looking toward Brown’s house ruin the mist was a little, less thick, which just about gave visibility of Brown’s House ruin. Picking up tracks down the hill it wasn’t too long before I was settled in amongst the ruins taking a snack break, largely before I started up the hill to Rough tor.

The mist still thick and rolling the hill on the opposite bank of the West Dart river rotated between visible, slightly visible and totally lost in the mist. The good thing was the path leading to the river and up the other side is pretty clear and easy to follow.

Water levels don’t appear to be massively high at the moment so finding a crossing point proved easier than expected and I quickly crossed over. Now that long rather steep hill to Rough tor. Head down and a deep breath, bag pumped up onto the shoulders as high as it would go, 45 degree lean and away I went. Small steps maintain a momentum proved for me to be the best way forward, but a couple of mini stops were still needed.

It wasn’t until I got within fifty meters that Rough tor came into sight and provided confirmation of my school boy error that had crossed my mind as I snacked at Brown’s House ruin. Were they firing in Merrivale?

Well, a whopping red flag blowing horizontal in the wind provided the answer, of course they were and I would have known if I had looked it up. Stupid boy!

Never mind, plan B, whatever that was. Always have a plan B I say, better make one up quick then! As I closed in to the hut, I realised the shutters were down and looking through the window there was someone sat inside! I think it give them a bit of a jump!

I never realised these were manned when firing was taking place. A nice chap inside and a chat later, yep, they are, for the duration of the firing. Clearly, they command a good position to scan the area ensuring no one strolls into the zone. But not today, you couldn’t see “Jack”. He asked where I was heading and had to explain it was where I was heading but not now. Firing had been delayed due to the weather and he wasn’t sure if it would take place at all but as it was still not confirmed, the zone, remained off limits.

After exchanging pleasantries and “stay safe” we parted company as I headed for Crow tor following the boundary posts that were not visible but did lie in a line on a reasonably well-defined track. Easy enough to follow as some of the mist thinned out the further down the bank and closer to the river I got.

Over the river close to Foxholes I decided to stop for lunch part way up the other side. Now some may think this would be strange. It’s not an everyday occurrence the fog drops to this level and I happen to be out walking in it. So just sitting there enveloped in a thick fog/mist drifting in and out, looking and listening, you get a very solitary and almost spooky feeling.

Generally, if you experience something in a relatively controlled way, when you come to experience it in some more challenging conditions it appears, less scarry. Almost conditioning yourself to the environment to help remove any sudden occurrence of fear and preventing your mind and fear taking over.

These are after all training walks, so every different experience I can get will help remove any doubt or fear, that’s the theory.

It reminded me of the first time I went out in the fog and became misplaced, suddenly the realisation and momentary fear took over. It's very scarry if you don’t realise what’s occurring and get a grip of it. Luckily then the fog lifted just enough to allow me to position myself and sort it out, but it was a real and valuable lesson. I would recommend everyone trying it, under a controlled environment of course.

Hard to believe the bag in the picture is a total weight of 30 kilos! Everything I need from toothpaste to fourteen days food, from spare socks to GPS. How do such small weight items create such a weight?

Oh yes, plan B, what is it?

Rather than go to Bearsdown tors and drop into Two Bridges I decided, as I have never gone to Holming Beam, I would track the boundary posts and head in that direction. The mist was still thick on the top of the hills and each consecutive post was lost in the mist. A great opportunity to see if I could successfully navigate the line of posts on a bearing. The answer was yes which was good!

Although due to the visibility I couldn’t tell which post was the last and when they did a 90 degree right turn. What I did know, if I kept a straight line, I would hit a boundary wall that would lead to a corner with a right angle turn to the right following the Cowsic river.

I guess I could have worked out the last flag if I measured and paced it but wanted to go with a certain amount of known logic, map referencing and intuition.

That all worked out pretty well and everything I expected to come across duly appeared. Along the river are two footbridges, what I didn’t know was what sort of footbridges, were they granite slabs or a full-blown bridge? And, would I even see them in the mist. If I were to stick to the “keep out of the MOD zone” approach I needed to make the first bridge as the second ventured into the zone. I would use it if I really needed to!

Now, the question of, would I have seen it with no one around can’t be answered. I hope so, but what got my attention first was someone in a high viz jacket spending some time reading something. I thought he may be lost until I saw a second person. Clearly, they weren’t lost, they were doing water checks and levels and obviously knew exactly where they were. As they were next to the bridge it didn’t take much to spot it.

Moving along the wall, luckily, I found the point to get over the boundary wall allowing me to reach the bridge. A right flimsy wooden fence that made climbing over “messy” with the weight of the bag. A quick chat about what they were doing, I’m nosey like that, and then up the hill to Holming Beam. I have to say I was a little surprised by the hill, it was a lot steeper than I had given it credit for.

 

I could hear the droning of machinery or something a fair distance away so I knew I was in the right direction. Reaching the top, I was welcomed by two excitable dogs that ran out from the large shed/out building. I also noticed the red flag was missing from the flag pole. Guess what that could mean?

The two chaps inside popped out and approached as if they knew me, how odd. You must be the bloke wandering around the edge of the zone then! How on earth do they know that?

Seems like they all have a radio chat going on between the flag positions as the chap at Rough tor apparently gave them a heads up I may be coming over in that direction and look out for me. Well, I guess that’s kind of reassuring and very proactive. I did tell him roughly what my plan B would be.

The slightly annoying thing was the firing had been postponed due to the weather and I probably could have made plan A in hind sight. Oh well, I’ll just have to defer that to another day. Another weird thing was the mist thinned out along the tree/wall line but thickened up again when I reached the main road.

What I did get told in the conversation that I didn’t previously know is Wilsworthy is the only one that can, if required fire on a Monday as the other two are on Duchy land where Wilsworthy is on MOD owned land. Plus, Okehampton has a longer summer break than the others from last two weeks of July to the second week of September, apparently. I’ll keep an eye on the times to see.

Not far left to go now, the long walk down the road to the main road to Two Bridges and left up over the hill back to the car at Parson’s cottage. The last concern of the day with the mist still heavy was how safe would it be walking along the main road back to the car.

Last short stop before the car on the bridge at Two Bridges, the hotel is there somewhere. Maybe you have better eyesight than me?

While I did have a bright lime green cover over the roll mat for some visibility the only other add on was to fix my head torch to the back of the bag and leave it on full power. Hopefully that would shine bright enough to be seen before any cars were almost on top of me.

It obviously worked well enough as I’m sat writing this account!

 

Once I realised the original route was off, I knew it would be a shorter trip and wasn’t expecting much in terms of distance and time. What did surprise me was my averages held up, apart from total trip time, extended by having those chats I suspect.

The average of all trips so far remains just over 3 km per hour while my moving average across all terrains and bag weights is holding at 4.8, that’s between 4.5 and 5 km per hour.

So, the challenge is, less stopping and chatting, maintain my average walking speed and I could make my 30 km per day carrying 30 kilo. Now that would be an epic result.

Just need to do more back-to-back trips and extend the number of consecutive days!

 

I may yet pull this off!

Stats,

Total distance 15 km

Total trip time 6 hours duration

Average trip time 2.6 km per hour

Average moving speed 4.8 km per hour

 


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