I haven’t been to Dartmoor since I was a kid. Mum and Dad used to take me, and one of my mates there most summers on the annual holiday. In fact it was where I first started to foster an interest in walking, albeit sometimes reluctantly. I was more into girls and Spandau Ballet at the time but have fond memories of pissing about over hillocks, running wild and swimming in the River Dart.
So when I contacted Tony Hobbs a few months ago, asking if he’d like to meet up for a ramble somewhere, I was chuffed when he suggested Dartmoor and my return, and renaissance were complete. Tony has spent a lot of time there and it is one of his favourite parts of the country.
There is also an element of the mysterious about this National Park in Devon, south west England. It’s got the lot; fierce, rampant hounds, strange large cats, standing stones, ghost stories and even UFO sightings. Just the sort of place to spend the night.
Well it didn’t disappoint. As always with the English weather, I bite my lip and pray for sunshine when booking a weekend away but the glorious summer we’re having in England continued and it couldn’t have been any better.
This collection is just named ‘Stone Row’ – You’ve got to love a good mystery
Harford Car Park was the meeting point, a solitary gravel affair at the end of ridiculously narrow country lane where wing mirrors play friends with the hedges either side. The kind of death road where the first you know about a car coming the other way is when you both screech to a halt with eyes a few feet apart and a ‘Crap, that was really close’ look in each other’s eyes.
The plan was loose, just as I like it. Tony had a map which was already far too much organisation for my liking but we had a brief perusal and decided a casual circular walk, toying with a route he knew from previous experience was in order, with the option of mixing in some areas he hadn’t been to. It was agreed that minimal mileage, plenty of breaks and chewing the hiking fat should be taken full advantage of.
We walked a little way back down the road, paused for a look at the River Erme from an arched, stone bridge, took a right through some trees and made tracks up to the summits. My previous visits as a kid centred around Buckfastleigh, on the eastern edge of the moor and a regular B&B stop. The South Moor where Tony and I where was far more open. There were no trees, few landmarks save the obligatory Tors dotted around and crystal clear streams babbled down from the heights.
The Tors are one of the few landmarks for navigation
We stopped at one of these, eager to keep to the regular break philosophy and Tony promptly pulled out his chopper. The Phantom, and other models, is a quad copter which has seen a popular rise amongst video bloggers, amongst others in the past couple of years. Aerial footage was not so long ago only obtainable by hiring a helicopter or other means of transport, now it’s in reach for all of us. The Phantom is relatively compact, Tony had it strapped to his pack and either comes with a built in camera, or the facility to hitch up something like a Go-Pro which is what he had brought. It shot up in the air in no time, amazing to watch and the range is an incredible two kilometres, not to mention the height. Basically, it’s entirely possible that it can disappear from view.
By now the heat was stifling. I had forgotten my sun cream but thankfully remembered the umbrella which was utilised as a sun shade. The loose plan was panning out well and we navigated from one Tor to the next, fully engaging Tony’s preference of walking off trail through grass and negotiating an endless obstacle course of tussocks. I scoured the map longing for a footpath or bridleway. I don’t do off trail very well.
Tony drinks straight from the source without treating. Not something I’d recommend but he’s doing OK for it.
It would appear that the Trail Designs Sidewinder was favourite for both of us – and why not?
Hen Tor seemed a reasonable point to turn onto an easterly bearing towards Langcombe Hill and further on to our designated camping area somewhere near a stone circle by the Erme Plain.
I was amazed at the number of stone circles dotting the map and I have to admit to getting a little excited. I don’t know what it is about these mysterious structures but they fascinate me, probably because of the mystery surrounding them and that we haven’t reached a definitive conclusion to who built them or their intended use.
On a two week trip some years ago I was just driving around the British Isles on no particular route when I noticed the amount of stone circles shown on my road atlas and the trip rapidly became a stone circle bagging fest. Between you and me, I plan to write a book on the subject, we all love a good mystery.
After accumulating enough grass seed in my shoes to start a small nursery, we eventually crested Langcombe Hill and homed in on some settlement stones facing us from the opposing hill. Tony had camped around there on his last visit but admitted to being a little hazy about the location.
It was approaching 19.00 and we were both knackered. More aerial footage was called for as well as setting up camp, eating, relaxing, chatting and taking the piss out of how bad our camp site turned out to be.
Due to the diminishing light and no better offering, we chose to camp near a stream in a small hollow. Having expressed a preference at the start of the day for a camp spot away from water and up high to escape the inevitable midges which Dartmoor is famed for, and any damp air in the valley bottoms, we ended up with neither. Throw in a disturbing lack of flat spots, the occasional rock and ground so hard we nearly resorted to hiring a pneumatic drill to get out tent pegs in, we both agreed it was not one of our better decisions.
Despite the unfriendly locals and less than perfect ground at camp, at least the location was memorable. My ZPacks Hexamid Solo is in the foreground and Tony’s MLD Trailstar behind. Both exceptional shelters.
Sure enough, shortly after managing to pitch both Tony’s MLD Trailstar and my ZPacks Hexamid, the annoying drone of those airborne little fuckers started. Our heads seemed the preferred landing spot, along with the apparent amenities this offered such as ears, eyes, mouths and hair. I tolerated it for an hour and then dived in my tent to devour a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle, praying that the falling temperature and rising breeze would be enough to see them off. Tony stayed outside and donned his head net, shovelling in mouthfuls of a lamb casserole, occasionally remembering to actually life up the head net.
I eventually figured out that standing up just about put my head in the passing current of air that was actually moving and before long the midges went off to keep warm somewhere. Just in time for Tony to whip out his chopper again and start playing with it. If that wasn’t enough, as I retired for a well-earned sleep, he said not to be concerned if I heard talking coming from his tent for an hour or two. He explained it would be because of his video commentary but I think it was just an excuse and that he does, actually, talk to himself.
Bearing in mind I left Sussex at 3am to meet Tony at the car park, I wasn’t surprised when I woke up at gone 8am. It was another gorgeous day, made even the better for an occasional cloud bank to provide some welcome shade. We only had a couple of hours back to the cars and after I expressed a very strong preference for a tussock escape in favour of a nice, compacted footpath we agreed to take a quick look at another nearby stone circle before hopping over the stream. Climbing for a few minutes we bisected the Two Moors Way just shy of Quickbeam Hill and there it was, one of those stone surfaced, compacted path things I hadn’t seen for a day. Footpath, that’s it, a footpath, I nearly forgot the name.
The weird thing about our little foray into the Moors was the lack of other walkers. We passed maybe six the previous day and guessed it was the fact that most of them stuck to the footpaths. Sunday was pretty quiet also although the odd dog walker crossed our paths.
Harford car park loomed, now packed with Sunday walkers and our walk had come to an end. Memories rekindled and a return to this unique part of our country is bound to happen again at some point.
Tony proved excellent company. He’s clearly got a passion for our outdoor spaces and we shared a good few hours chewing the hiking fat, covering everything from his love of Dartmoor, gear and equipment, his chopper, the best freeze dried brand, why he prefers not to treat his water and why he should be an ambassador for MLD. I think he’s managed to keep Ron Bell in business over the last few years just on his own. He’s a top chap and we shared a thoroughly fantastic weekend. He also provided the quote of the weekend:
I was going in the right direction. I was just 180 degrees out.