My biggest Dartmoor challenge EVER - Blog 46

July 04, 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 walk 34 – 2 day Belstone Loop and first wild camp

So, with 4 weeks to go I thought it was about time to take the plunge and complete my first wild camp ever. Just as well go for it big time and camp at, what is possibly the toughest one to get to? Maybe I should have done this earlier but the truth is I had a training plan that was deferred by covid, better late than never I guess!

I wanted to test my stamina, and boy this was truly a work out. I was aiming for 25 km on day one and around 27 km on day two. With the route planned there was going to be some punishing terrain to cover as well as some easier tracks. Starting at the Belstone car park a walk through the village and keeping right passed a small chapel we’re heading for Watchet Hill. Continue until you reach a gate leading onto the moor access land, there is also a house on your immediate right called “Watchett” surprisingly. The village is a cracking example of a Dartmoor village and no surprise it is very popular. It has it all, some small shops, pubs, church and a green providing stunning views up to Cosdon Hill and surrounding area. On a warm sunny day there is no better place to spend the day.

Through the gate and take a track left, there are a couple of tracks, I take the one leading to the flag pole which provides a clear track up to Belstone tor. Yes, I had checked this time there was no firing so no surprises when I saw no flag up the pole! If you have never been to this area Belstone tor looks like it’s split into two. You reach the first outcrop and think you’re there and typical of many tors on the moor, you find the real top of the tor another hundred meters on and still higher.

Don’t feel too down hearted because when you reach the top the views are amazing. You have a huge panoramic of the area and in good visibility you can see for miles. It’s a great tor to visit without any doubt.

There is quite a bit packed into this area and continuing roughly South you soon reach the Irishman’s wall. There is an interesting article on Legendary Dartmoor to find out more https://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/irish_wall.htm

A little further on and you’re on top of Higher tor, strange really as it’s lower than Belstone! There is a clear path between Belstone tor and the next target Oke tor. The terrain is easy walking and in summer can get busy. Due to the relatively easy walking with tracks, military paths and in places easy moorland you can cover quite a distance without massive effort.

Reaching Oke tor take some time to look around, this is another tor worthy of your time. Sat on the hill it towers above the East Okement on one side and the river Taw on the other. Another impressive tor. A quick water stop, but today there’s not too much to see as the mist and fog keeps rolling in then clearing and rolling back in again. When the sunny intervals did appear, there were some terrific views to be had.

Sunny spells, that reminds me, like a chump I charged up the GPS the night before only to find when I took it out the bag it was dead flat! Oh bugger!

Good job I have the Garmin as a second device, you know the saying, two is one and one is none! Anyway, there’s always an upside. Now’s the chance to put the solar panel to a real field test. For those interested I tried some that were no good at all and then spotted this one with some interesting reviews, like it even charges in cloudy weather. Not a commission-based view, just me passing on my findings! Strange name, it’s called the Big Blue 2.

It comes with four clips to place on the back of the pack, sits perfectly on my Osprey bag. All set up and I could see via the ammeter it started to draw power and start charging the unit. I’ll check in a couple of hours.

Ready to move on I headed for Winter tor and then Scarry tor, both accessible by following a military path most of the way. Back down to Gulliver steps and following another track up toward Rowtor. There was a good number of tents by the field system, which I later found out was a group of teacher/parent led school children out for a Dartmoor experience. Got to take my hat off to them, giving up their time to educate the next walking generation, great stuff.


Rowtor is not difficult to reach, just a smallish incline from the track. Oh, the bag weight, nearly forgot!

This was a two day and overnighter walk, I packed everything I would need for the two weeks plus a bit more. I wanted to test a sleeping bag liner, highly rated they said. I wondered if the liner and thermals would be enough to keep me warm overnight. It could remove one kilo of sleeping bag weight which would be great. That meant for this trip a total of 32 kilos, I know, completely nuts, and I would agree on this occasion. Four weeks to get the weight right!

West Mill tor is navigationally straight forward but it is steep and took a few mini stops to reach the top. Yes, it took a bit out of me, but all good training, isn’t it?

A small group of youngsters were sat at the top probably wondering what all the difficulty was about as I clambered up the hill, they were heading for Yes tor and clearly enjoying it despite the mist.

Next West Mill tor, I decided to follow a track and pick up the path below. The mist was down now and the sunny spells were long gone. A bearing was required, I was aiming just to the left of the intersection of two paths, follow the road to that point and then drop down to a boundary stone just above New Bridge.

First glance couldn’t spot the intersection, I have to be close, walking a few meters right and crossing the path, another check. There it was, bending to the right which is why I couldn’t spot it right away, that felt good picking that out in the mist.

Pretty much a straight line to the boundary stone and down to the bridge. I tried this in an attempt to cut off the bending path, don’t bother! It’s a clumsy stretch, boggy, full of clitter (Curtery Clitter should have given it away!) and time consuming as the direction takes you into what looks like an old quarry area before you reach the bridge.


No matter, I’m at the bridge and starring up the hill to East Mill tor. A fleeting visit this time, get to the top and turn round to descend. This time sticking to the path, a little bit longer but so much easier to walk.

Yes tor is the next target, previously I have taken a straight line but this is not surprisingly quite tough on the ground and again very time consuming picking your route and jumping between tracks.

This time I’m trying the military path from New Bridge, right at the bridge, stick to the path and next left, up the hill and right at the next path junction, then left at the next path junction. This is then a long haul following the path all the way to the top between Yes and High Willhays tors. I’ll decide on the day on my challenge which route to take but certainly in fog the path option provides an almost fail-safe route to Yes tor.


Yes tor, in the mist. Time for lunch and give the body a rest. Sat on the floor against the bag it was so quiet, almost eery, but great! No one around, just me listening to the birds and the wind blowing through.

Time to check the solar panel. Wow, now considering the GPS was flat and no more than an hour of sunny intermittent spells, the rest of the time in mist, panel had delivered 48% of charge into the GPS. I thought that was pretty amazing, just as the review had said, it will charge in the most demanding of conditions. I’ll leave it charging and see how much it will take and how long.

As most will know High Willhays is a short distance via a connecting track and reaching the highest point on the moor takes no time at all. I wanted to be at Fur tor before seven in the evening so didn’t hang around, walking past and heading straight for Dinger tor.

More mist and safety says a bearing is required as there was nothing to see in front of me. It’s funny, could be just me, how your internal compass puts you at odds with the compass bearing. Called being disorientated obviously!

Put your trust in the map and compass I kept brain washing myself with. I’ve previously paid the price walking on instinct in the fog so, compass bearing it is no matter what it feels like.

Half way to Dinger tor and the mist lifted for a while, of course the bearing is accurate, Dinger tor dead ahead.

As I approached, I saw a large group walking toward Dinger tor, then realised it was a school party. I mentioned earlier how great it is that teachers/parents are willing to give up their time to get children out on the moors walking. They were totally buzzing and loving it, three days and two nights camping. What a great experience for them.

Even better, one of the teachers was following my progress, what more could I ask for!

After a good chat I started off toward Kneeset Nose, Great Kneeset followed by Little Kneeset before reaching the base of Fur tor towering above me.

Getting to Kneeset Nose wasn’t difficult, had to detour around some cows that wouldn’t move off the track, who do they think they are!

The climb to Great Kneeset was challenging, a long slow climb up the hill, at least I was low on water meaning the weight was reduce a fair bit. I was aiming to refill at Fur tor ford. A tent at the top, I had planned a brief stop here and as I approached a chap popped out. We had a great chat and had a laugh about putting my progress on a big screen, you had to be there to appreciate the humour!

Getting to Little Kneeset was a much more messy affair, no obvious track, just tuft and hole hopping, down to the Black Ridge Brook, it was getting a bit wet and boggy now. Thankfully I spotted a sheep track following the brook, ahead I noticed sheep crossing the brook, they appeared to do it very easily. I headed for that spot and no surprise, sheep are not going to struggle, a nice easy step across via some nice big boulders.

Up to Little Kneeset and down the other side to Fur ford, much easier walking for this stretch. Now out with the Geo filter for a real field test and see if my nervous stomach will cope. There and half litres of water filtered, it worked just as advertised, a bit of effort pushing the filter element into the container and to separate to repeat the process but not too bad.

Just the climb to the top of Fur tor left. Head down I tried not to think of the steep hill in front of me. It was so much easier following the boundary posts from Cut Hill. It was slow and needed a few stops, the added weight of the filtered water for meals and drinking water the following day made a huge difference in weight. Three and a half kilos were very noticeable!

Made it, the top of Fur tor the hard way, and I felt every step, not the last section of challenge after nine hours and twenty-four km walking you want.

Not a full stat as the Garmin has a smaller break down on detail.

 

Now just the issue of my first ever wild camp!

Another new bit of kit to try out. I’ve used a pocket rocket for some time but now decided I’ll upgrade to the same model but with an electronic ignition to make it easier, using matches as an emergency backup.

It became very quickly clear I needed to change the way I pack my bag. Everything out to get what I needed and then repack, if it had been raining, I may have been in trouble!

One thing I do know is my tent, easy to put up and quick, five minutes max and all set to go.

When I arrived, I was the only one there, brilliant I thought, the place to myself. Surely that would be unusual based on the FB posts I have read, being selfish I hoped no else would turn up!

The dehydrated food I packed was great, a very long way from what I remember experiencing many years ago. It actually tasted really good.

Ah, a cup of coffee, I have allowed myself the luxury of a coffee with dinner and breakfast, after that water all the way. I may take a flavouring with me next time, water does get a little boring after several hours and on this day three litres of water.

Fed and watered I knew the following day was going to be a tough one so tidied up, everything in the tent and bedded in at 8:30. I know sounds ridiculous but I was actually done for the day! Hmm, an hour later and struggling to get comfortable, I need a pillow, I need a mattress! Footsteps, someone else had turned up. Well, it is a free world, but why set up so close to me? It’s like cars in a car park, you park in the middle of nowhere and someone ignores all that space and parks beside you. Why?

At least they settled quickly and were very quiet so fair play.

Another hour, more people, only this time not so quiet. When it did fall silent, me still struggling to get comfortable, snoring! Noooo, I’m being brainwashed, once tuned in that’s it, it just won’t go away.

I’ve got a lot of adjusting to do clearly.

Despite being desperate to sleep I managed to snooze a couple of hours but nothing more. Not the experience I was hoping for and would make day two very interesting.

Waking at 5:30 in the morning I decided to get up and take a look at the weather. What a spectacular view toward Kneeset. Rolling mist in the valley with the sun already starting rise burning it off. For a while I stood there taking it in and snapping away, I could have stayed for hours, it was simply magical and the overnight irritations disappeared.

Time for breakfast and see how quickly I could break camp.

Answer, not that quickly but I did get walking by 7am which was my latest target time to be on the move so no disaster.

 

Day Two, the loop back to Belstone.

The sun was already rising and feeling pretty warm for such an early hour. Visibility was great and took the time pressure off regarding any map reading away from Fur tor. My second visit to Fur tor, all the challenge, fear and mystery now banished from my head. I’ll be back and next time with my camera.

The plan was to drop off the tor and follow the MOD posts across Cut Hill, through the North West passage, down to Cut Hill water and stream. Then turn left over the East Dart River then right and follow the posts toward Sittaford tor.

Having done this route before I knew what to expect, I hasn’t changed. I would say the first section down to Cut Hill water is not particularly difficult if you follow the “sort of track” between the posts. A few awkward spots but with care straightforward. Following the posts left and heading for Cut Hill stream is a little bit more difficult, the track is not quite as clear and some tuft hopping is needed along with negotiating some big holes in the ground. Approaching the stream, it does get a bit boggy but again with care and looking ahead you can get through reasonably well. There are a few spots where the holes and grass are deep and tall enough that if you go wrong, you could be in a hole with the grass in your face! Did I land in one, surely not, but how else would I know? I’ll keep you guessing on that one.

Turn right at the end of the line of posts and following the posts heading away from you. Interestingly the East Dart River, ahead of you, wasn’t that difficult to cross if you take a short time to locate a good crossing point.

Just keep following the posts until they veer off up the hill left toward Quintin’s Man, at this point take a bearing to Sittaford tor and it’s a straight line walk to the top.

This is not easy going by any means, high grass and tufts with deep holes, all traps just waiting for the clumsy walker to enter and snap their ankles. It is very slow, enormously sapping on the legs and every step has to be carefully placed to avoid injury.

Add that with an area full of cows and you have the potential for a very challenging bit of walking. After some hours on what felt like an eternity walking from Fur tor to Sittaford tor the latter finally came into view, and about time. On top of a tired start due to poor sleep this long section took a lot out of me, feeling exhausted I had to take a break and get that weight off my shoulders for a while, water and snack break included at no extra charge!

Wow, it felt good to sit and stare with the bag on the ground. Looking back, I consoled myself that I had walked a pretty good distance and what was probably a very respectable time. I could see a farmer herding a large herd of cows down onto the moor. Thanks goodness I got through before that happened, it would have made trying to detour around the cows almost impossible.

Conscious of time, break over I took the diagonal path from Sittaford to Long Ridge skirting Fernworthy reservoir. A surprisingly long section of track and path, I must have crossed Whitehorse Leat without even realising such was my desire to get to Kestor rocks, the next target. A couple of smaller stops and the route skirting the forest was straight forward albeit another long section of the days plan. Follow the forest all the way round to a gate that opens to a wide path ahead which is clearly visible. There are other tracks but take what looks from a distance a lawned grass track/path, this will take you all the way above the Three Boys standing stone, not to its position but you get to a crossroads of tracks and the stone is visible on the right.

I decided to turn left and a few meters further on turn right on a track all the way to Kestor rocks. Another break required.

Overall, I think at this point I was doing pretty well all things considered. The bag is always heavy but I was managing it, legs were tired but still moving, body was aching a bit and the head managing to control unwanted thoughts popping up and trying to avoid answering the question, why the hell am I doing this?

Had a chat with a really nice lad who was genuinely interested in the challenge while I took a break. I probably looked worse than I felt!

Time was moving on so on the move again, this time down to the North Teign, time to filter some more water, I was drinking a lot today as the weather although starting off warm and humid was now cloudy and humid. I needed to replace a lot of water as the heat took charge with little or no breeze. I was on my way to drinking four litres by the time I finished.

A quick walk up to Scorhill tor, an abrupt turn around and on my way to Rival tor via the Scorhill stone circle. Walking through the middle a choice of tracks to take. It wasn’t until later I realised, I hadn’t approached Rival tor from this direction before, I had taken the path higher up. It came as no surprise when the track I chose turned into a narrow track and not the one I expected. A group of horse riders rode passed just below and decided if they are on a track toward Rival tor it would be good for me, so I followed it!

It did get me back on the expected track but then I tried to be clever and short cut the path for a more direct route to the tor. I never learn. A cow trodden path made it very uneven and difficult before I turned uphill and straight into overgrown gorse and bracken. This was getting frustrating now. How can I be so stupid just to satisfy my curiosity?

 

Finally, I made it to the top and could clearly see the route back to the “main” track.

Next target Shilstone tor via Kennets Hill. If only I could make it to the top of Kennets hill I knew there was an easy path to get me onto Throwleigh Common, then a short detour around the gorse and streams in the area and I could drop down to the tor. Simples!

Only getting to the top of Kennets Hill wasn’t a stroll in the park. A wide track that started up the hill soon disappeared and once again I was struggling through gorse and bracken picking up the odd track. Another time-consuming section that sapped more energy from the legs. I really couldn’t expend any more energy tramping through this stuff.

Checking the map when home, I do that a lot, it turned out despite the challenge of getting to the top I had landed bang on the top of Kennet Hill at the point I joined the clear path across the hill from West to East. Just the easier walk down the other side. Shilstone tor, at last, another break required, it’s a great spot to sit back against the tor and gaze over the immediate area.

I could now start to feel like I was finally making progress and from a map/distance perspective didn’t seem too far from the finish. It wasn’t going to feel like that.

From Shilstone there are two options to get on the path next to the river Taw leading back to Belstone. One, head for Cosdon hill and down the other side or two, follow the road to Stickle path. It had been quite a day already so exploring a route over Cosdon hill was not a good choice today and actually works out longer than following the road. Stick to plan A then, the road it is.

Apart from being a very long road there was nothing of any great interest for me, head down and totally focussed on getting to Sticklepath.

Once reaching Sticklepath the road crosses the river, there is a footpath sign pointing left just before the bridge. Take this path and follow the signs to Skaigh. To reach Belstone simply continue on the path, you can’t really go too far wrong.

 

Into the woods and follow the path along the river. Stopping briefly, a family crossed over the footbridge asking if I was OK, I guess I must have looked shattered, they appeared a little concerned!

Having convinced them I was good to go and just taking a breather we parted and I carried on, over the next footbridge and now on the right-hand side of the river.

This time however, rather than pass back over the river I decided to stay on the right and follow the path all the way to Belstone, it’s clear and mostly easy to walk. A short steep section but generally not too bad. Follow it in to the green at Belstone just below the pub, I was glad to get there, oh look a bench, a final stop and some water before I go up to the road and back to the car.

 

Nearly forgot, how did the solar panel do? Incredibly well in my view. With hardly any direct sunlight and in mostly mist and fog it charged the GPS unit in about six hours, I think that is impressive as it virtually guarantees the ability to charge devices. I’ll continue testing as it could mean I can reduce the weight further by leaving the battery packs behind.

And the sleeping bag liner? Well, it certainly added a good deal of warmth to the sleeping bag but I would say it falls short of doing away with the bag all together. Not enough to keep you warm overnight with just the liner and thermals. Looks like I’ll be taking the sleeping bag then.

 

Done, and I was!

Now for the moment of truth, despite feeling tired I wasn’t down and out, so just how well had I done considering the terrain and challenges of the day.

29 km in ten hours and forty minutes with an average walking speed of 4 km per hour. Blimey, I’ll take that any day. That means I would probably have made the thirty kilometres in around or under eleven hours. With a bag weight of roughly thirty to thirty-two kilos over the weekend I ‘m pretty happy with that.

Just need to keep that up over fourteen days!

Now to start planning the next training day!

 

Stats Day One

24 km distance

9 Hours duration

Average trip speed 2.5 km per hour

Average walking speed 4km per hour

 

Stats Day Two

29 km distance

10 Hours 40 minutes duration

Average trip speed 2.5 km per hour

Average walking speed 4km per hour

 


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