Dartmoor. A lovely place, rolling hills, tors-a-plenty, hikers, wild-campers, ponies, sheep…. This is all true but it’s also the place with impassable swamps, enormous open plains with impossible terrain, routes that need significant deviation, a place where the worlds finest train in survival. A hard place, a tough place. A place that will test you and break you.
I wasn’t really sure how to title this piece. How to? Good gear? Dartmoor?? A diary? But i ended up with a mixture of the lot…hopefully.
After some training and preparation we set off for 3 days. An early start meant we needed lots of food and the predicted hot weather meant we needed even more water. I chose dehydrated food and a packet of bacon as I know its high-calorie efficient and actually pretty tasty.
We set off from Sourton church and up and up we climbed. I was using my Osprey Atmos AR 65. I’d tried to pack lighter but was still tipping the scales (including a litre of Guinness at 23 ish KG. This is and was a lot of weight, but to hand it to the pack it was brilliant. I really really got to love it. It’s durability, its consistency and above all its reliability. The shoulder straps at the end had stretched a bit and were thinner than when I had started, but not much. Just a little bit thinner. My shoulders did feel the weight however, there was no bruising after the event. The bag really stood out when I fell in a bog. I say bog but swamp/bottomless pit springs to mind. I was scared, the ground dissapeared and i was treading water holding on to a reed. I was worried my bag would be lagged and would drag me down. It repelled the water and after a few minutes of swimming/jumping and panicking I was free. The bag did well, and there was no water ingress. This really was impressive. I had to strip and change all items of clothing before I could get going again . The bag saved my bacon(literally-there was a pack in there). Dartmoor demanded more and more and the terrain, a-likened to a bowling ball hidden in long grass. Every step was a gamble-did you get a bowling ball or a flat piece of land. This terrain was hellish. My ankles aren’t great and my friends were even worse after his double open fracture a year ago. The pack stayed secure even though I fell a few times- and the pack stayed brilliantly where I wanted it. It was part of me, it felt connected not simply clipped on.
The route was up and down tors, over and through marshes. My Jetboil was a very welcome piece of kit. I opted for a new small canister as it would fit within my stove to save weight and storage. The jetboil I bought years ago and it is a game changer. Feeling shattered, need a pick me up- a Jetboil lets you get a hot drink in you within 3 minutes. It’s incredible, and it also broadens ones horizons-a marvellous morale boost. Remember when you needed to wait 30 minutes for water to boil (unless hellishly windy then…never) well… Jetboils are awesome. I chose a Sol titanium stove as I’m a polar explorer(in training-check out #LASTPOLE)and cold weather is a necessary option thus the SOL(a different fuel valve). I’ve yet to use it in winter. When training in the Arctic we use an MSR whisper light that runs on petrol. But still, the Jetboil has proved brilliant. I purchased an MSR canister and its 10g heavier and I’m guessing bigger than the Jetboil as it meant I could not fit the orange canister legs in the Jetboil and had to elastic band them to the Jetboil’s outside, not really a problem-simply a minor annoyance-TAKE NOTE. It won’t all fit unless you buy the Jetboil canister.
We walked and walked and walked. Up and over, over and up. Down around and back up. One corner we turned we were greeted with a Scotsman screaming and then the sound of gunfire. Looking over the valley we saw the army training, and to the other side-above our heads-we heard more troops in training. This is normal on Dartmoor. Ensure you check out the military firing times so you don’t walk through live gunfire-this was training with blanks. We stopped and had a cuppa and watched whilst the gunfire was going on and took the opportunity to check the military firing times again. We were ok so on we walked and soon we were approached by a very attractive military lady who told us to walk where we needed and everyone would stop if needed. We were offered the opportunity to join up-then left the military and headed up the hill the other side. The gunfire echoed into the distance as the wind howled the higher we climbed.
Dartmoor continually opens up different views and unexpected treats. We hiked and kept stumbling upon old settlements, old farmhouses and bronze age remains. It’s truly amazing when you come across something and the OS map has no mention to it…..and yes I was in the right place and yes I know an old settlement when I see one. When I happen across these things I always try to stop and take a moment , and consider the people that lived there hundreds if not thousands of years previously. Those people, the place they chose. Their homes, their communities. Often I think how life there would of been tougher than tough-and then I think of some places I’ve traveled to-far off the beaten track. Places where people had to fight to survive and where value was in community-not money or wealth but sharing, making life better for others. I try to think myself-do I make others lives better…. I struggle with this. I could be so much better…..I wish I could. Anyway I digress. Dartmoor is a truly fascinating place. Hiking is brilliant, spending a night is ace-2 nights is fantastic. A (IT MUST BE WATERPROOF) tent over you and sleeping in the wilds, waking to a sunrise of unparalleled beauty is worth its weight on gold. Some people look but not many see. A hot drink and a view….A day of walking-what is there not to be happy about.
We walked on and on and on-Rays’ feet were broken-but there was no stopping. We had to return-we were almost out of food (I had emergency supplies, but….why eat them if you can get to the car and get something tasty-save emergencies for emergencies). We came across another lovely stream where we dunked our heads and filled up our bottles. I use a travel tap water bottle that is AMAZING. By far one of the greatest things I’ve ever purchased. We stocked up and were on our way again. Up and over and up and over. In the distance we saw Sourton church poking out in the distance. Our spirits were high. 2 minutes time we were back at the car. Hot, happy and very tired.
What I learnt
I can continue long distance with wet feet and boots.
I was once taught never take of wet socks and put on your only dry pair. This trip I tried that, My feet were sodden, but I stopped, i aired my feet, and onwards my feet and wet socks took me. Amazing.
Dry things at every opportunity
My wet socks and boots meant every opportunity I had I whipped my boots and socks off(inducing insoles(I use Supafeet)) and aired and wrung out everything. My socks are merino blend so they are able to take some punishment. Air, wring out, shake out-its so much better to have your feet in fresh air than in stagnant boots.
Don’t forget bacon
I took breakfast rolls and bacon for morning one….I forgot my bacon. This was very demoralising. Check Check Checklist. Ensure you have everything.
I weighed things. Searching to save ounces. Which knife, what torch, what coat etc etc. I really thought about what I would and wouldn’t need. I left my solar panel as nearly 2 kg, but did take my Fuji camera-2KG. Search and research weights. Be simple. TAKE WHAT YOU NEED!