This blog is all about our hike across Dartmoor – my friend, physio, and fellow Dartmoor Hiker guest wrote this blog for us, and it’s well worth a read!
Well… I totally under estimated that challenge!! When I looked through Nicks list of challenges, I thought,
“Na, don’t fancy running… Not a fan of cycling… I like swimming, but only if there are waves to play in… AHAH – WALKING, I can do that!!”
This is what I expected:
But this is what I got:
Incidentally, Nick & Cat have always called me Samwise Gamgee and there were a lot of times where I felt like a hobbit on an epic adventure across the Moor’s of Dartmoor. Let me start at where most stories start, the beginning.
Leaving Hobbiton (Okehampton):
I’ll by-pass the 8 hour drive from East Sussex to Dartmoor, just know that it was wet and there were a lot of people making the same journey apparently. We parked one car down at the finish in Ivybridge and travelled up to the starting point of Okehampton. Nick had booked us in to the YHA campsite and here was our first challenge: putting up 3 tents in the rain in pitch black with the clock ticking, every minute that passed was wasted drinking time and I hadn’t driven 8 hours all the way to west country to not try some local ale! When we found the pub, I reflected on the first of two things that I learnt about Nick & his challenges; 1)that he & Cat don’t get enough credit or recognition for the distances and effort he is going to in order to complete these challenges. We have the 3 peak challenge coming up in August and he has scouted and climbed all peaks already just in preparation for the challenge. All this petrol, food and accommodation adds up. I felt that needed mentioning.. anyway back to the desperate Lord of the Rings analogy.
The following morning was beautiful. Clear blue skies and rolling green hills awaited us. It honestly felt like that comfortable, warming part of Lord of the Rings where Gandolf rides into Hobbiton. Everyone was in good spirits and smiling.
The aim of the trek was to hit 10 checkpoints from start to finish, including some of the famous “10 Tors of Dartmoor” with the Tors (prounced tours) being granite masses on the top of hills (roughly 170 in total on the moors). Straight away we set a rule: anyone who says “Tor” has to a shot of rum. So naturally, Tors became “away trips”. The first “away trip” was the longest to reach but on reflection, was the easiest. From this point on we had some difficulty. Anyone who hasn’t been to Dartmoor, it is bleak. Despite 170 Tors, the horizon looks very similar in all directions. It became a running joke that our next landmark should “just over this ridge” only to be confronted by more grass and hills. There had also been a lot of rain in the build up to our hike and clearly not many people were walking these paths (we saw 5 people in our two day walk, and they were all close to Ivybridge at the end).
This combination of weather & lack of people activity meant that paths that existed on Nicks map didn’t exist in real life. When the terrain wasn’t marsh land, it was shin-high dense grass. In either case, you never quite knew what you were putting foot onto. Things that you thought were solid, were soft, and things you expected to give way under your foot, didn’t. So every step was tentative and this created the biggest challenge of the weekend – the amount of concentration required to not roll your ankle.
Our first day took us 10 hours. A little longer than expected. We estimated our bags weighed about 15-20kg with tents, supplies and cooking equipment accounted for. By the end of the walk, everything hurt. We finally found the path into Princetown, our halfway point. There was a discussion about calling a taxi from Princetown to meet us on the B-road and save us the last 2-3 miles into town. By this point my shoulders were solid and I couldn’t turn my neck, Hugo had a sore knee and Nick had struggled with his previous ACL injury – a taxi sounded like a good idea for the sake of a couple of miles – besides, we had walked further than we planned. This is where I learnt point 2 about Nick: None of these challenges are going to beat him. I am confident of that. He refused to call a taxi saying “I’m not doing 98% of these challenges, that’s a failed challenge. I’m walking the entire way.” So we walked. In hindsight, I’m glad we did because he was right. But at a point where it was very easy to give in, he didn’t.
Originally we planned to eat in Princetown (accompanied by ale) and then walk another hour onto the moor to camp. As soon as we sat down, we didn’t want to move. The forecast for Sunday was hideous, strong winds and torrential rain were due from the early hours of the morning and if we found it difficult to navigate with clear blue skies, we were certainly going to struggle tomorrow with the weather closed in. So we stayed in the pub and negotiated with the manager about leaving 3 of our 4 bags there to lighten our load for the next day. Anyone foolish enough to do this trek, make the Plume and Feathers, Princetown a fixture of your trip. A large selection of local beers and incredible food. I was quite happy to wait there on Sunday for Nick and co to come back and pick me up. It certainly wasn’t the Prancing Pony that Tolkein had described. Silly Tolkein.
Day two: the dead marshes
We got up early on Sunday and set off with one bag, packed mostly with water, pear drops and some blister plasters. I insisted on packing foil blankets, convinced we would need them!
The pictures don’t quite do the weather justice. The rain was coming in sideways and it didn’t matter what way you turned, it hit you in the face. Again we were faced with the same problem of non-existent paths. Or they would exist and would then suddenly just stop, being replaced by a vast marsh or newly formed river.
Despite making huge efforts to keep our feet dry, we were all sodden within the first hour. We were literally getting wet from all directions. Despite this, we kept laughing and joking. Don’t get me wrong, we moaned like a group of grumpy old bastards but we took great pleasure in doing it.
We had crossed a couple of rivers on day one, all with relative ease. But day two seemed to have a lot more water obstacles to face. After crossing one river in particular we laughed about our triumph. I wish I had taken a picture of it to emphasise how pathetic it looked. But what wouldn’t come across in a picture is the context. The rivers are dark and you cant see the bottom, so walking across them would be too dangerous. The other challenge was the river banks, due to the rain they were very soft which made pushing off them difficult and we had no idea what we were landing on the other side.
The fatigue from day one set in quite quickly, and I personally suffered from a lack of concentration and impatience. In a haste to get through a particularly boggy area, I twisted my ankle. Meaning I had to hobble the last 8 miles, increasing my moaning levels and slowing everyone else down. As Nick would say [sarcastically] “you hid it well.”
We had one significant milestone (other than the finish) to aim for. A made path called the Two Moors Way. Again, it was surely “just over that ridge.” Reaching the top of one hill, we had a crisis of confidence. The map indicated a path, but we found a river where there was no river mapped. Suddenly, we realised it wasn’t a river – it WAS the path. And so, the final decent into Ivybridge, we could have kayaked if it wasn’t for Nicks damned determination to “walk” the whole way.
We finished the trek after 18 hours, 65,000 steps (Hugo had a pedometer) and a lot of ridges full of empty promises. Nick threw his ring into a volcano and we all lived happily ever after.
Thanks for reading, Samwise Gamgee.