If you go to Dartmoor and don’t end up tits-deep in tussocks hell bent on demonstrating which way your ankles aren’t meant to go before depositing you in a bog, did you even go to Dartmoor? We’d decided not to do battle with the bank holiday traffic because we’re not complete masochists and instead left Brighton at 4am on Sunday morning. Yeah okay, I retract that last statement, apparently we are complete masochists. Tarrant isn’t very au fait with the whole 4am thing and even I was questioning all of my life choices as we drove west towards Devon at an hour even the sparrows would mutter a “just five more minutes, mum” at.
It wasn’t long after 9am when we finally rolled up to the car park we were eyeing up which was predictably full with the cars of campers who were starting to filter back to their vehicles after a night at the obnoxiously popular Foggintor Quarry. We bagged a parking spot a bit further down the road, locked up and shrugged. Well, as always, we relied on no-one wanting to nick a bird shit adorned 1998 Vauxhall Corsa and hoped we’d still have a mode of transportation with its full complement of wheels and windows when we got back the following day. We started towards Foggintor Quarry to see what all the fuss was about.
I think part of the fuss is on account of the sheer accessibility of it. It’s only a half hour shuffle from the car park and it’s not even a difficult trail. Well, I say half an hour. Everything takes us a little bit longer on account of having to stop to take photos, take a layer off, put the layer back on because ooh that breeze is a bit chilly, and y’know, generally faff. As we made our way there loads of people were heading back with kids in tow and piles of camping equipment. It didn’t look like it would have been a peaceful night at the quarry. Once we got there a large quantity of the fuss was glaringly obvious; shit me, Foggintor Quarry is utterly beautiful! It’s definitely a place you’d want to throw open the door of your tent to, probably as about fifty other tents in your immediate vicinity do the same thing. I’d love to camp here one night, but perhaps midweek. During term time. Possibly in the winter. Yeah, minimum humanage.
We continued on and the path we’d chosen turned out to be an easy one on defined trails. Nothing traumatic enough happened to our legs to stand out, we were perfectly comfortable hauling everything we’d need to not die during a night on a moor on our backs. Dartmoor is very beautiful though, this was my second time here and it never ceases to blow me away with the scenery. Having said that, we’d been very lucky with the weather both times we’d been here. Like, “sacrifice a virgin to the sun gods” lucky. I’ve been reliably informed that, all too often, if you can see ten metres in front of you through the fog and mist then you can consider it a good day. Last time we were here it had been pretty dry for a while, this time we were expecting a lot more squish.
Yeah so I have no idea what possessed us to want to gawp at one of the main beauty spots on Dartmoor on a bank holiday weekend but that’s what we’d planned. We were heading to Burrator Reservoir along with, it seemed, half of bloody Devon. We started following a small stream along the trail and as we got closer and closer to the reservoir, more and more families were chilling along the bank, setting up picnics, enjoying the uncharacteristically good weather. We passed through a car park and into some woodland, then followed the west side of the reservoir towards the dam. There are little openings leading down to the edge of the reservoir, perfect places for a spot of lunch. You can see why it’s popular here, it’s a little bit gorgeous.
It was utterly packed out at the dam though, cars strewn everywhere, some of them parked less than considerately, causing queues to back up. I bought an ice cream to break a tenner so we’d have change for the toilets, but then found out the toilets were closed due to vandalism. Seriously guys, who drives out into the moors just to fuck up some toilets? What is wrong with people? Humans are literally the worst. Fine. We made use of the bushes up the bank on the side of the road then headed back towards a waterfall we’d passed slap bang on the side of the road to have lunch as people pulled up in cars, snapped photos of the waterfall and buggered off to do whatever it is humans with smaller humans do on a bank holiday. Go to B&Q to argue over light fittings? No idea. But this chaos wasn’t why we came here so after we’d shovelled a sufficient quantity of noodles into our chops we headed off.
The last time we were here I’d been completely thrown by the concept of a right of way on a map not having an actual, defined path on the ground. We’d stumbled our way through tussocks, trying not to lose the use of one or both of our ankles in the process, wondering of we’d gone off trail before realising that no, the trail was the bog we were currently calf-deep in. It was arduous work, so slow going, and it was exhausting. I wasn’t prepared for it when we’d planned the route and on our second night we ended up chopping three miles off the day because we were so mentally and physically drained the thought of the last slog up to our earmarked camping spot was not a pleasant one. This time around though, as we left the reservoir, I found myself craving it. Whilst the walk we’d done so far was beautiful, albeit full of humans, it was far too flat and easy and I wasn’t satisfied. If the end of our walk was near I would have wanted to tag a bit more onto the end because it’s not a proper hike if you don’t start questioning all of your life choices about an hour before the end.
Things got a bit quiter though after we strolled through the very tiny village of Sheepstor and made our way towards Ditsworthy Warren via Gutter Tor trig point. The trail became more of a vague imprint in the grass and we only saw the occasional cyclist. We started heading uphill into the sparse moorland, looking back over the farmed land and the woods. This was more like it. A woman was sat at Ditsworthy Warren when we rocked up, she was talking to a couple of cyclists and as we wandered through she remarked that it was getting busy. Yeah, this is my kind of busy. Didtsworthy Warren is very cool, according to the mighty Google it used to serve as the rabbit keeper’s home. Apparently is used to be the largest commercial rabbit warren in England. It’s right out in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere, you can probably get here by ATV but not much else. I wonder who delivered his mail? I could live here y’know. Well, as long as I had reliable broadband and a Netflix subscription.
We knew we’d have to cross the River Plym after Ditsworthy Warren and there was a ford marked on the OS map but that didn’t mean it’d be a casual stroll through a shallow stream. I mean, it wasn’t a raging waterway of doom, we could definitely get over it, we’d just have to accept that we’d be knee deep in really cold wet stuff to do it. We paced up and down the bank for a little bit, trying to decided if any of it was narrow enough to jump over, or if there was a shallower part before deciding that we’d be more likely to complete this without injury if we were just to take our shoes and socks off and make our way gingerly over the stones at the ford. We’re from Brighton, we’re used to walking barefooted over pebbles. Doesn’t make it any less painful though, but we easily made it across and sat down to let our feet dry off a bit.
We had one more trig point we wanted to bag before setting up camp but once we were over the river we were pretty much into the permitted camping area so the plan was to start looking out for a flattish, non-squishy area that’d be ideal for pitching a tent on. The bracken started and quickly gave way to tussocks aaaaand there you go, this was what I wanted. This is what I’d been craving the whole day. Hello, Dartmoor, I’ve missed you. We veered a little bit too close to Hen Tor itself, ended up clambering over rocks and had to shuffle our way to the side because scrambling isn’t my strong point unless we’re talkings eggs. I really do make fantastic scrambled eggs. In fact, eggs are probably the only thing I can bring to an edible state without needing a full risk assessment and a team of firefighters on standby in case I burn the kitchen down. But I digress. The act of scrambling over rocks would probably result in a minor head injury so we made our way back into the tussocks and labouriously picked our way through, aiming for the trig point we knew was at the top.
The tussocks thinned out and we made mental notes of a couple of ideal camping spots not too far above the tor, we bagged our trig, then headed back to the spot we’d decided to camp on. I was sufficiently bollocksed. Exactly what we were aiming for. Just enough energy to pitch the tent, boil water to rehydrate whatever crunchy delights lay within our expensive backpacker meals then watch the fiery skyball do the sinking thing over the horizon. Probably my absolute favourite way to finish a day that doesn’t involve trying to see how much cheesecake I can fit into my digestive system.
I slept through that night and probably missed an epic starry sky but after spending hours driving followed by hours walking I was even able to resist the prodding of my old-lady bladder. It’s usually that tempremental bag of piss that gets me up in the night to gawp at the stars but even that didn’t wake me. It was a bastard cold morning though, it must have dropped to around 8°C, as soon as I let the air out of my mattress I could feel the ground leeching my body heat. We packed away and checked the route back and ah shit, I forgot about that bloody river. It could have passed as refreshing yesterday given that we’d walked several miles in the sunshine but I really wasn’t looking forward to getting back across it this morning. I mused that maybe as it was cold the water would feel warmer. Tarrant just laughed at me. Yeah, wishful thinking.
Anyway, we had to get back past Hen Tor first, back through all that tussock and by the time we’d done that we’d be soaked from the morning dew anyway. Hiking is so glamourous. Well, if we weren’t awake before this morning’s crossing of the River Plym we certainly would be afterwards, not a single one of my nerve endings was pleased with me. We gingerly made our way over the stream and sat down to filter some water for the hike back to the car. We’d planned a deliberately easy route on account of the fact we still had to drive back to Brighton that afternoon too, and a section of it we were already familiar with from last time. North Hessary Tor was our first Dartmoor tor and trig point, we consider it ours, and you can see it a bloody mile off on account of the sod off great big mast next to it. That’s where we were aiming for. It was an easy enough walk, we only had to double back once to get around a particularly squishy expanse of bog, then we were onto a footpath which led up into Princetown before we headed to our tor and onward to the car park.
Dartmoor, Devon, England
Stayed at: Wild camped near Hen Tor