Dartmoor 2014

22-26/06/14 – First camping outing in the van.
An overnight trip with bivvy on North Dartmoor to High Willhays.

Tarp over van

I found a great car park in Belstone, plenty of space and no signs prohibiting overnight parking.   Left the van about 6 pm and squashed bivvy bag, sleeping bag and mat into my rucksack, along with a bit of food, water, a can of Hobgoblin and a hip flask, and headed out of the village on a bit of the Tarka Trail.  Followed tracks (farm, or MOD, or both) around East Okement Farm (which took me across ‘Irishman’s Wall’, could still see the remains of it) through New Bridge and up to Yes Tor.   Amaing views, the sun was lowish and sending rays through the clouds.   I could see as far as the north Devon coast.

View north from Yes Tor Trig point on Yes Tor Cairn on High Willhays

Went on to High Willhays, not as nice bivvy spots as at the Tor but I dislike back-tracking.  Later I spied some other people on the tor (how very dare they!) and I was quite happy alone.  The sun poked through the clouds a bit before it went down as a red disc.  I found a great sleeping spot which was sheltered under an over-hanging rock, but not needed this evening.  Settled down in a little less sheltered position in order to see the sun coming up.  It was almost cold; dry and still.  I had my thermarest inside the bivvy bag and it was a bit of a squeeze.  I woke a few times in the night, it was never particularly dark, I could see lots of stars in a blue/grey sky.  Woke a bit before 4 am to find a crescent moon and summoned the energy to take few pictures.  I finally got up with the sun respectably high in the sky, which felt like about 9 am but turned out to be about half six.


High Willhays; 621 m, Marilyn, Hewitt, County Top

Yes Tor; 619 m, Nuttall


Early morning on Yes Tor

Next morning I walked off-path to pick up a track near Dinger Tor, then followed it to Okement Hill and on to Hangingstone Hill; no gibbet, but a military hut at the top.  To the west is the source of the East Dart, the West Okement and Taw.  There is a letterbox marked on the map and I didn’t know what these were at the time, so I tried to find it to find out.  The area is marked as marsh, but it was very dry.  Even so, it became impossibly tussocky, with lots of soft mud.  Very glad of the walking poles.  In places there were 5 ft drops where the water had worn through the peat, definitely a place to watch your step.

I retreated back to the track and headed north.  Crossed the Taw next to the dead sheep your mother warned you about – I’d taken some water further up so was lucky on this occasion.  I followed the path to Oke Tor; a great spot, flat sheep-cropped grass at the top and some shelter from the stones.  I started to meet a few other people now.  Followed the Taw back to Belstone and the waiting van.

river Taw Oke Tor Oke Tor

Hangingstone Hill; 603 m, Dewey



van and tarp in princetown

Camped at the Plume of Feathers pub for a couple of nights.  There is a new visitors centre in an old hotel where Arthur Conan Doyle stayed when researching and writing The Hound of the Baskervilles.  They had a small exhibition including some letters that he had written at the time.  In this hot and sunny weather it was hard to imagine the mists that he talked of, but I know this isn’t typical.  Bought a copy with accompanying notes to read over the next few days, and as it turned out, to inspire some walking.

I visited the prison museum, a mind-boggling array of pieces and text in no particular order.  The personality of ‘the curator’ was closely felt.  They had an old bike that was claimed to have belonged to one Mr MacKie.

I set off for a walk at 4pm but it was still hot.  I saw one other person, a guy on a mountain bike going the other way.  There’s a bridleway straight out of the campsite to South Hessary Tor, which then takes a straight line to Nun’s Cross, and a nice if deserted-looking farmhouse.

nun's cross, dartmoor devon leat, dartmoor devon leat, dartmoor

Then over the Devonport Leat and across a bit of the Abbot’s Way before heading to Fox Tor, past another cross.  This is a great viewpoint and overlooks Foxton Mires, which became the Grimpen Mire for Holmes.  Downhill to Childe’s tomb (familiar from a Seth Lakeman song) and then a bit of compass use to aim for some Cists which were marked on the map but I had no idea what they were – I found some circular patches which must have been them.

fox tor, dartmoor childe's tomb, dartmoor

To get back I had to cross the Swincomb River, which flows into the West Dart.  I spotted an animal crossing and waded through in my boots – it was actually quite pleasant.  Again the poles were useful.  A bit of a slow tramp up a tussocky and featureless field to eventually come out onto a road back to Princetown, in time to watch the sun setting behind North Hessary Tor.  Returned to the campsite after 10 pm: they never close.

spider, dartmoor sunset, dartmoor princetown, dartmoor

South Hessary Tor; 454 m, Tump



Left Princetown and drove north east via Postbridge to Bennetts’s Cross.

Bridge at Postbridge, Devon Old bridge at Postbridge, Devon

Took a path south towards Soussons Down Wood, then around the edge of Challacombe Down.  An old village is marked on the map, visible was a wall including some massive stones, and ridges in the ground.  Later on I saw that these extended around the hill, and there is a field system marked, which looked like terraces.  Followed a road south for a mile to Blackaton Cross, then a bridleway uphill to meet the Two Moors Way.  This was a nice viewpoint, of other tors, craggy hilltops and crazily steep roads.

Wall at Challacombe Down, Dartmoor Bonehill Down, Dartmoor

Then I took the Two Moors Way north, over Hamel Down.  It connects a number of cairns and barrows, which are marked with a stone each with what looked like ‘DC 1853′.  From Hameldown Tor (529 m) it is downhill fairly steeply, during which the settlement of Grimspound comes into view, the inspiration for Holmes’ hideout on the moor.

grimspound01 Grimspound, Dartmoor View from Hookney Tor, Dartmoor Hookney Tor, Dartmoor

Up once more to Hookney Tor, then back to the van to head towards Buckfastleigh.



After being slightly lost I followed a campsite sign and ended up at Beara Farm, which was delightful.  The other campers seemed fairly resident, either in vans in varying states of repair or teepee-shaped canvas tents full of children.  The very friendly farmer called John pointed out the way to the River Dart if I fancied a swim, which I thought was mad but did in fact take a quick dip in lieu of a shower.  It looked calm but the current was respectable and it was of course freezing.

river dart van_buckfastleigh01

The following day the rain came, and I had a cycle around the place mainly because I had brought my bike and thought I ought to use it!  Got to Buckfast Abbey which was busy with coach trippers.  The Abbey Church was odd, being clean and new yet traditional ‘church’ in style…the money required to rebuild it must have been considerable.  The only place open in the town was The Seed cafe, which turned out to be staffed by a guy from the campsite who had cycled there in bare feet.  A very nice cafe/shop although the anti-vax stuff was a little scary.

The rain stopped by the evening, my last before heading home.  The Buckfastleigh to Totnes train line is on the other side of the river…a steam train is just puffing past.  Holmes and Watson could be on it, on their way to Baskerville Hall.


Derbyshire Dales 160k


I expect Noah was told to expect ‘sunshine and showers’ too. To be fair there was some sunshine, but the showers were what kept my phone inside several waterproof coverings at all times apart from here at the second control (Wyaston Village Hall). I was impressed by the cheap emergency waterproof I got from Decathlon, I don’t think I was any sweatier than I would be in anything else and it did keep me pretty dry and (more importantly) warm.
Cakes at an audax control
A nice ride, the wind was mostly kind apart from the final stretch, which was at least flat although I still found it hard going. Quite a clever route, spot on 100 miles and the two killer hills were just before controls. Most of the rest of the climbing was rather pleasant (possibly wind-assisted) and I reached new maximum speed of 36.8 mph on a descent. Also my Eddington number has gone up by one after today (33).  This is the first audax I have done with no commercial controls – there were three village halls with armies of tea, coffee and cakes producers. Much appreciated, and I think I’d quite like to volunteer at some point. Any women reading, I can highly recommend such rides, as it is one of the few times that there will be a big queue for the gents but the ladies will be available.
Map of Derbyshire Dales audax

100 miles, 8 hrs 14



View of Snowdon on the way there by car Tent at campsite near Snowdon

We started the walk through some woods among Llyn Gwynant, then up the Watkin path.  The weather was better than expected, the night before started clear and cold (this is the earliest I had camped and it was quite nippy sitting around outside in the evening), then there was some rain but it had cleared by morning.  We had a few showers but they were short, and in-between was sunny and very clear.  The mountains are craggy, spiky and covered in scree, grey slate with bands of white quartz.  A few small patches of snow were clinging on above Glaslyn.  The Watkin path follows Afon Cwm Llan up a gentle slope then turns more steeply to reach the path which goes over the ridge.

Path up Snowdon near Gladstone rock Looking down the Watkin path on the way up Snowdon Glaslyn from Snowdon

We turned left and had a view of the return route.  The summit was mostly visible but became briefly hidden by cloud at this point.  After lunch we headed on up the steep scramble until the route joins the Rhyd-Ddu path.  The summit cafe was only visible when we were nearly at the top.  Busy, sunny and windy.  Stopped for coffee and flapjack.  A train arrived as we left, our route following the rack initially then heading east for the Miner’s track.

View from the top of Snowdon The author at the top of Snowdon View from the top of Snowdon looking south east Looking towards Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw on the descent of Snowdon

Some steep descending to the edge of the tarns Glaslyn and Llyn Llydaw.  There are the remains of some quite substantial buildings here, it must have been hard work bringing materials up.  Followed the path to meet the road and the Pen-y-pass youth hostel.  The final stretch involved a bit more descending and then levelled out, my knees were quite sore by this point and it seemed to drag.

A Llyn near Snowdon Map of Snowdon walk

Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa: Furth, Hewitt, Marilyn; 1085 m

12.3 miles

Start/finish Llyn Gwynant campsite

Towering Trees 150k


After the destruction that was my first imperial century I came back for more.  I’ve never liked the idea of gels and sports drinks, the concept of constant sugar consumption seems the antithesis of everything one is supposed to do, especially for the more comfortably upholstered cyclist. And the cynic in me views them as a way to make a huge mark-up on sugar. However I have recently been reading about endurance sports nutrition (not something I ever thought I’d say) and decided to give them a go. I have to say it made a massive difference to this ride. Normally I really struggle in the later stages, but I felt so much better and the prospect of doing a 200 km seems a possibility. Of course I was still overjoyed to see the final control, but it was nice not to be totally destroyed. Although my knees were sore on this occasion, which is a new one.  Another great ride thanks to organiser Geoff Cleaver, from the Pretty Pigs pub in Tamworth which is very train accessible (and they let us use the bogs at the start even though the pub isn’t open then).

Rambler's Retreat in Dimmingsdale, Staffordshire Map of Towering Trees audax

101 miles, 9 hrs 17

End of Snooze 100k


After the last one I thought something flat might be nice; an ‘easy’ 100 km around Cambridgeshire, which strayed into Essex and Suffolk too. I don’t know this part of the country at all, so I thought it would be worth a visit.  One of the controls was a cafe at which another ride had arrived, and a few bikers…but they did a grand job (hence all the bikes in the photo below).

The wind was favourable for the first half, which I think assisted my average speed of around 13 mph, which is good for me. The forecast was for showers in the afternoon, but we were pretty lucky, just a bit of hail on the last leg. I had gone dressed for the rain though and was a bit too hot in my ancient waterproof. Another opportunity to spend money approaches I think.
Bikes at a cafe stop Cambridgeshire Field in Cambridgeshire
It was well organised and friendly, nice quiet roads, but I think confirmed my love of more mountainous landscapes. Which is unfortunate as that means more struggling up hills! It was good to do a ride so soon (for me) after the last one and both me and the bike felt good.

The nice thing about the flat landscape was the big sky, and what a day for it. Sun, dramatic clouds and distant rain. Driving back (first ride with the van) I was mainly heading towards the setting sun amongst the rain, which made for a challenging drive but fantastic views. Approaching Coventry on the M6 it was very clear, and I could see the spires and tower blocks – rather beautiful.

68 miles, 6 hrs 35

Long Mynd


Marvellous weather, clear and sunny, quite a breeze on the hills  A few others on top of Caer Caradoc, some runners going up Hope Bowdler and then a chap on the top who asked if there was anywhere better to be – I agreed not.

The Lawley and The Wrekin from Caer Caradoc Hill Church Stretton from Caer Caradoc

Down to the road and then up Hazler Hill and along to Ragleth.  Steep descent into Little Stretton, where I had an orange juice in the pub (I wanted to use the lav) and popped into a little shop – the village seemed a bit ‘local’.

Caer Caradoc, Hope Bowdler and Hazler Hill from Ragleth Hill Hills to the east of Church Stretton

Up via Cross Dyke to the road across the Long Mynd; exchanged a few words with a woman who seemed to be a kindred spirit.  Beautiful valleys with wild camping potential.   On to the summit of Pole Bank where there seemed to be some wheelchair accessible paths – great opportunity for everyone to experience the hills.  From the toposcope I could identify the distant hills I had been able to see all day – the Malverns, Clee Hills, bits of the Brecon Beacons and, on the edge of visibility, where the clouds and the peaks become indistinguishable, Snowdonia.

Trig point on Pole Bank Toposcope on Pole Bank

I think I took a different path than that intended but found my way down Carding Mill Valley.  It suddenly got much busier and I eventually reached a National Trust car park and cafe.  Back into Church Stretton for an outside beer (first of the year) and lots of tense rugby fans.

Carding Mill Valley, Church Stretton Carding Mill Valley, Church Stretton Map of Shropshire hills walk

 14 miles

Caer Caradoc Hill; Marilyn, 459 m

Hope Bowdler Hill; HuMP, 426 m

Ragleth Hill; HuMP, 398 m

Long Mynd; Dewey, Marilyn, 516 m

Over the Malverns 150k


This one just about finished me off.  I entered it in a moment of excitement, finding one that was close-ish and train-able, and failed to notice that it was 150 km rather than 100 km.

A small turnout, and a damp misty start from Droitwich. I had company briefly (one guy who had the route sheet somewhere in his pocket and so was planning on following other people), and another chap who took a wrong turning and emerged just as we were passing a junction. I stopped to check the first info control and they kept going; I had nearly caught them up when they missed a turning and failed to hear my shouts, so I headed off and left them to it. They passed me a bit later when I had stopped to take a photo and I assumed from then onwards I was bringing up the rear. I could never have kept up with their pace anyway.

Malvern Hills Malvern Hills Malvern Hills map of over the malverns audax

As seems traditional my route sheet and holder fell off, and required emergency cable tie repairs. Despite being rather difficult to connect, my rear light cables seem very easily disconnected by, presumably, road vibrations, even when covered in duck tape. Lights required at start (mainly due to the weather) and final 10 miles – it was a really nice clear afternoon and got dark quite suddenly. There were some gorgeous views of the Malverns from the final stage, heading north between them and Breedon Hill/Cleeve Hill area, with the sun setting, but my phone battery had died by then.

As well as the usual physical complaints of a long ride, I had a slight chesty cough which resulted in some discomfort in the breathing department, and the ride was quite an effort. The final stage – 40 miles – was flat and with a tailwind, but even so I had to bribe myself with stops every 10 miles to feast on fruit and nut chocolate and haribo.

Finished the 100 miles at 7 pm, by which time there was no sign of anyone else. The start/finish was a pub, by then full of Droitwich’s Saturday night crowd. I didn’t want to hang around too long so after acquiring a receipt I headed to the station, to spend half an hour lying on a narrow metal bench in a shelter on the platform. Surprisingly comfortable, just what my back needed.

A great, well thought out route, excellent route sheets (I didn’t take any wrong-turnings), lucky with the weather and wind direction, and easy to get to by train.  I found out (much) later that the organiser, who was – unusually – doing the ride too, hadn’t felt too good and cut his ride short.

100 miles, 10 hrs 30

Clent Hills


An early start to get the best of the weather had me up Walton Hill at 10.30 am, then over to Clent Hill which is a bit more of a ‘destination’ with great views including the midlands splurge, this toposcope, some standing stones and quite a few people, dogs and horses.  From Hagley station which included a visit to the 1940s-ish tea room in Moor Street, which is rather nice.

9.4 miles

Walton Hill; Marilyn, 316 m

Malverns 2


Another visit in a different season, similar route but opposite direction.  Straight up to Worcestershire Beacon in fog/low cloud.

Toposcope on the top of Worcestershire Beacon
Spot the Geordie.

Trig point on the top of Worcestershire Beacon

Walking south along the top of the hills the cloud started to lift, and we stopped for lunch just before Herefordshire Beacon.  After getting to the top the cloud came back down again, and we returned to the station by the lower paths.

Clouds lifting looking west from the Malvern Hills Clouds lifting looking west from the Malvern Hills Looking east from Jubilee Hill, Malverns Looking north from Herefordshire Beacon, Malvern Hills Looking north from Herefordshire Beacon, Malvern Hills

Worcestershire Beacon: Marilyn, County top; 425 m

Herefordshire Beacon: HuMP; 338 m