I fucking love Dartmoor, but my basic motor functions? They’re not so keen. We generally try to be on the road by 4am rather than doing battle with the previous evening’s traffic, but have you ever tried cramming a bacon butty into an unwilling stomach which doesn’t understand why it’s required to function at such an ungodly hour? It does mean that we get to Dartmoor at a reasonable hour though, in this case we arrived at the car park at Skaigh Woods for around 8.45am. By the time Tarrant had put her eyes in and I’d done battle with my walking poles which refused to unscrew to extend it was closer to 9.20am by when we started shuffling through the woods towards Belstone. And what beautiful woods they are, with the River Taw bubbling alongside, what an amazing way to start a walk!
I adore trails like this; woodland walks with rocky, uneven paths, and cute bridges over fairytale streams. You could almost imagine a troll launching itself from underneath to try and eat your face. There are stepping stones too but they can fuck right off. Everyone around here says hello and lets you pet their dog, although they may not feel like they have a lot of choice when the pierced, tattooed city girl barrels towards them cooing, “Hey there, little mate!” before remembering that it’s polite to at least acknowledge the human that the dog is with. It’s just a lovely, peaceful place to be though. Once we were through the woods we walked through the gorgeous little village of Belstone where we decided we could probably live here because we liked the look of the pub, then we were through a gate and up onto the moors. Hello again, Dartmoor. I’ve missed you.
On this trip we’d be trying to hit as many tors and trigs as our little legs would permit. We’d only planned a short day today but the fun thing about Dartmoor is, because there’s no set trail, you can take which ever path you choose and even head off-piste if you’re feeling brave and weren’t overly attached to having dry feet. You can add shit onto your day, or take it off if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, or you just really like where you’ve landed. We had an idea of where we wanted to visit and eventually finish up, but we were open to any suggestions the day would throw at us.
We walked for a while along decent tracks, filling our Water To Go bottles from the various streams we crossed. No need to carry a shit tonne of water around these parts, your knees will fucking love it. We ate some lunch, walked some more, and strolled onto the Okehampton Ranges. There’d be no live firing for the next few days, Tarrant checked. Unless she was planning to have me shot. I’m much more use to her alive though, at least until she passes her driving test then my general usefulness is up for debate. I’m certainly no good to her as a navigator, we were too busy chatting and wandered from the trail we were on and in my quest to get us back on track I led us through a marsh. I mean, it’s Dartmoor, we weren’t under any illusions that we’d have dry feet for the duration. Tarrant revoked my map rights.
It wasn’t even 2pm when we got to our first tor of the trip; Black Tor. Hmm. We’d been intending to camp around here but it was way too early. There was loads of day left, it’d be a shame not to cram more shit into it, so after consulting our maps we decided to head up to Sourton Tors where there was also a trigpoint, and we do have massive nerd-ons for obsolete stone pillars, then head from there to Great Links Tor, looking for somewhere to camp as we went. Cool. Good. Plan is sound. Off we went, carefully picking our way through the boulders strewn around the base of the tor as we headed down to the unnecessarily photogenic river. Seriously. Why does everything need to be this damn pretty? I only have a finite amount of photo storage on my phone. How did people cope before digital photography?
We followed the river, crossed at a weir, then instead of following what looked like a series of convoluted trails we decided to smash it cross country up a very fucking steep hill in the vague direction of the trigpoint. My calves were very angry with me. But shitting hell, what a reward for the eyeholes! Sourton Tors are spread out over a good distance but we were interested in the stone pillar which afforded us stunning views as ponies grazed nearby, unperturbed by the panting, sweaty messes that had just dragged themselves over the crest.
That’s it. We’re camping here. Sod going anywhere else today. We were within the permitted camping area, who wouldn’t want to wake up to views like that, and there was no guarantee we’d find anywhere better before we got too tired. Done deal. We sat down to relax before remembering that our original plan had us crossing another stream where we could have sorted out our water supply, and this new plan did not. Bollocks.
I went on a little mission to where a stream was marked on the map but as I approached it became apparent it was dry. Bugger. Then I fell in a hole and found the water. Yay. But that water stank, and the water trickling down the hill wasn’t reachable without taking risks which may have resulted in one or more broken bones and no small amount of crying. Bugger again. Then a cow looked at me funny. I bolted back up the hill as fast as one can bolt up a particularly steep hill covered in gorse, and Tarrant ended up just walking back to the last stream we’d crossed to to up our bottles for the evening. Hero.
The original weather forecast for this weekend promised rain but today was glorious. I have no idea where this weather had come from, I was preparing to break out the winter clothing and stop shaving my legs but suddenly it was hotter than Satan’s flatulence and I was slightly burnt. I’d spent all day refusing suncream and now I was a fetching shade of crimson. I’m not even shitting you. You could see my stupid red face from the fucking moon, and my shoulders felt like goblins in crampons had been doing the Riverdance on them. That’ll teach me. (It won’t).
We’d gone to bed pretty much as soon as the fiery skyball had done the fucking off thing but I was up at midnight, partially because the wind was a little bit crazy, mainly because my bladder was being predictably temperamental and was insisting that it couldn’t possibly go another minute without being drained. Fine. I wormed out of my sleeping bag and rolled outside to be met with a cloudless, insanely starry night. There was nothing obscuring my view of the constellations except more stars. I could barely pick out anything I recognised, it was so busy. The Milky Way was visible, dusted across the sky above me. Amazing, but way too windy for my tripod. This was for the eyeholes only. I appeased my aging bladder, tightened the guy ropes, and enjoyed the sky a little longer before crawling back into my down.
We didn’t mean to sleep in until 7am, it just sort of happened. We’d decided to just wake up when we woke up because I feel like I’ve not had a lie in since 1996 and I was fully expecting to be awake with the sunrise. My body clock usually nudges me (read: violently shakes me) awake around 5.30am anyway demanding I supply it with tea and food before it mutinies but today it seemed it preferred remaining horizontal and wrapped in down. I reached up and undid the valve on my Thermarest and slowly sank to the floor because this was literally the only motivation I had right then to get my lazy arse out of my comfortable pit and start packing away.
It was a stunner of a morning though and it didn’t take long for the day to start heating up. Fuck me, my sweat glands were taking an unexpected beating this weekend. We started the day on some trails barely visible in the grass, and that soon turned into a larger track which the map reliably (I hope… you do tend to just assume that maps are reliable so you don’t end up in bum-fuck nowhere fending off badgers with a stick) informed us was Rattlebrook Peat Railway. There were no rail tracks here now though, just a rocky path leading us to a stream where we filled up our bottles before carrying on, only to veer off at a vague suggestion of a trail to our first tor of the day; Gren Tor.
It’s only a little thing, nothing too impressive, but it did have a squirrel on top of it. Actually, shit, yeah, I forgot to tell you about the squirrel from last night! I mean, there’s not much to tell, it was just scurrying around as squirrels are wont to do, but where the fuck did it come from? Since when do squirrels not live in trees? Where’s it getting its nuts from? It’s not having mine! Not that I could do much about it though if it decided it wanted my tasty cashews in the middle of the night. We definitely made sure all the food was outside last night, lest the little bugger chew through the tent in search of my lunch. I do love their furry little faces but if it eats my food I will eat it.
The next tor, Hunt Tor, wasn’t far, we sort of just made it up as we went along, occasionally convincing ourselves that we saw a trail. But the beast over yonder to our right, that’s where we were headed next. Great Links Tor, and there was also a trigpoint in there somewhere. Neither of our maps showed a path to it but we could see trails worn up to the tor so we figured we’d just go for it across the moor, because it’s not Dartmoor until you’ve smashed out half a mile or so across tits-deep tussocks hiding holes just waiting for your ankles to find out about the hard way.
It was slow going but not difficult, and we climbed up to some spectacular views. Okay, so I didn’t have a top layer of skin anymore but this weather was great for seeing for miles. What a tor, though! Definitely my new favourite. I’d love to camp here sometime. The trig is sat atop a rocky outcrop so we dropped our packs and all but bouldered upwards. Idiots like us are why mountain rescue need to exist. I sat down, clinging to the trig because I do tend to forget I’m scared of heights until I’m balanced precariously on the edge of something my cerebellum doesn’t approve of. I say “balanced”, I think part of the reason I don’t like heights is on account of the fact I have little to none of this balance of which you speak. Drunk giraffes on stilts have more balance than I do.
I eased myself up to standing and took some photos, all whilst maintaining a death-grip on the pillar. I’d also forgotten that, at some point, I’d need to get down from this rock which wasn’t going to be easy given that I couldn’t currently let go of the trig. Tarrant is actually pretty good at getting me out of situations I get myself into before realising that I’m not very good at being in said situation, but as it turned out we’d climbed up the hard way. There was a much easier, much safer route which we took, thus lowering the chances of me faceplanting the granite and sacrificing my front teeth to the Tor Gods.
Right then. Couple more tors before we have to head down to the river. We cross countried back to where the railway used to be, followed that way for a short while, and the good stuff ended where the peat works once were. Not much remains. The way after wasn’t too bad for a while, someone had even seen fit to install bits of boardwalk here and there over the boggier bits. Not the whole thing, mind. Couldn’t have you having dry feet for the duration now could we? Where do you think you are?
We sat on Kitty Tor, our fourth tor, for a while but there were thousands of these flying ants and they’d taken a proper shine to Tarrant. They wouldn’t leave her alone. We abandoned sitting still and bumbled to Steng-a-Tor, picking our way through marsh and tussocks as she fended off the relentless insects. She wasn’t coping. They’d adopted her as their queen or some shit and were eagerly trying to please her by getting into all of her head holes. Even the midge net she ended up putting on wasn’t much help, now she was really hot under the net and couldn’t see properly and was still being swarmed by ants.
My map was adamant there was some manner of trail from Kitty Tor down to a ford but because we’d detoured to bag Steng-a-Tor we now had to go and find the path, or whatever passes for a path in these parts. We stumbled through the terrain, pretty much just embracing our wet feet, as Tarrant wailed things such as, “Where are you heading to?” and, “Are you sure there’s a path?” I don’t know, and no I’m not, in that order. We did eventually get to something that would lead us all the way down to the river which was snaking across the valley floor, so we followed that and tried not to think about the fact that once we were aaaaall the way down there we’d have to climb aaaaall the way up the other side. Yay.
The thing with Dartmoor is, it’s all like, “Come hither, weary hiker, for I have a trail for you!” Then suddenly the trail stops and you’re ankle deep in marsh and it turns out it’s just a ruse for the ground to try and steal your shoes. Wouldn’t change it for the world though. Trail, bog, trail, bog, until we got to Sandy Ford and relished standing in the cool, refreshing water that didn’t smell like my arse after beer and curry night.
Right then. A another nice sit down, shoes and socks off, spot of lunch, then we’d walk up this big bastard hill. Ha. Walk. Nope. Shuffle slowly whilst sweating profusely and questioning all of our life choices more like. Why were we here? What were we doing? Why were we on a fucking hill? My heart had obviously decided life was better on the outside and was trying to make a break for it through my rib cage. We stopped a lot under the guise of enjoying the view but really I was just trying not to die. We laboriously made our way to High Willhays, which isn’t a tor at all. Tarrant suggested that perhaps we skip it, but High Willhays is the highest point on Dartmoor and Devon’s only Marilyn. It’s also meant to be the highest point in southern England but where you draw that line depends on where you’re from (no, Tarrant, it’s not Watford) but anyway, the thing being, no, we weren’t going to skip it.
This next bit would have been three easy bags if we hadn’t just walked up a literal mountain (okay so it’s only 620 metres but that’s still technically a mountain). They’re all in a straight line and a piece of piss to get to but you’ve still got to tackle some inclines. After High Willhays was Yes Tor which is one of the busier tors on the Okehampton Ranges and it also has a trigpoint. We bagged that and made our way down down and down to a stream where we stopped again to fill up our bottles before carrying on up to West Mill Tor.
This is when we decided we probably weren’t going too much further today. We’d started late, the heat was draining, we’d tackled some pretty epic terrain and climbed up a large hill. Plus I’m quite unfit at the moment. Slightly overweight. I have to undo my shorts so I can lean forward to tie my shoelaces. You could probably grab my fat rolls and hook them over my knees. So yeah, we abandoned any plans we might have had of bagging a fourth trig and took the nice paths to Rowtor. We’d decided to head to Scarey Tor as we didn’t think it’d be as popular as Rowtor and it’s only 2.2 miles from the car. It was easy, maintained, rocky trails from Rowtor to Scarey Tor too so we made it in good time and pitched up.
Just because it’s called Scarey Tor it doesn’t mean there will be werewolves. Anyway, it’s spelt Scarey, as in with EY on the end, not Scary as in “might get woken up by ritual demon summoning around 3am.” This is what I kept telling myself. I got up later on for a piss and guys, it was a clear night again so I decided to put my new Sony RX100 vii through its paces. It’s a learning curve, shooting stars with an unfamiliar device. I’d only just got used to my A6000 but that’s to much of a beast to bring hiking. I got Tarrant to illuminate the tent but it was too blown out and I didn’t want to disturb her to do it again. I must have been outside for a while, I heard a little voice pipe up from the tent, “Are you still out there? I thought you’d been eaten by the moor monster.” Great, thanks for the imagination fuel! I looked around for the moor monster before retreating back to the tent.
No lovely lie in for us today. We set an alarm for 6am and were shovelling cereal bars into our chops an hour later as we headed back to the car. We wanted to bag the trig we’d intended to camp at last night before being fat and tired scuppered our plans and there was a car park at the end of a trail that led right to it so we decided to move the car to there.
It’s less than two miles from the car park to the trig but it took half our fucking lives, I swear it. It was a relentless hill in the sweaty heat, I contemplated having my eyebrows replaced with guttering to stop my forehead leaking into my eyes. Whose ridiculous idea was this anyway? We traisped through a stream and I savoured the ice cold water on my poor, battered feet. Even with my trail runners with the mesh uppers I felt like my feet were being slow roasted. Meat would just fall off the bones. Spot of gravy, some seasonal veg… probably not advisable given the general toxicity of my feet on a good day.
I was starting to think this trig was a myth until we finally made it over a crest and there it was. In fairness, we’d been handsomely rewarded with some of the best views of the weekend this morning, in a weekend packed with outstanding views. The thing with trigbagging though, once you’ve got your photos and noted down the number on the flush bracket it’s a bit like, oh. Well that’s done then. And we turned around and shuffle back the way we came to begin the inevitable drive back to Brighton and a nice shower.
Dartmoor National Park, Devon, England
Stayed at: Wild camped on Sourton Tors and Scarey Tor
Useful shit to know…
- We parked in Skaigh Woods at 50.728367, -3.937262 and returned to a fully intact vehicle. Seems like a nice place with friendly dog walkers.
- To bag Cawsand Hill trigpoint we parked at 50.703319, -3.899609. It’s only a tiny car park with room for maybe two considerately parked cars.
- There are more than enough places to fill up with water if you have a filter on this route. I’ve marked a few on the map but there are way more.
- The only village we went through was Belstone and it was early both times. There’s a lovely looking pub called The Tors Inn which I believe does food and accommodation. We’d love to swing by for a pint one day.
- We didn’t pass any shops at all on this route, we carried all of our food and snacks.