With last years plans for a get-together in the hills cancelled, it was good to put a trip together for four of us and enjoy the unexpected early September sunshine after a dismal summer. We wanted a decent length of day as we would be taking in nine Tors and be camping on the moor for a night, splitting our 17 mile trip across North Dartmoor into two (map at the foot).
We parked one car in Belstone on Friday morning (on Saturday we would be hard pushed to find a spot as when the weather is good as Belstone enables you to be on the moor in moments) and headed for Oke Tor. It has been a while since I have carried a full pack and the meagre 9kg we each carried seemed ridiculously heavy. I was using a Gregory Paragon 48 pack which worked well, with good ventilation and adjustable sizing in order to refine the fit. Our first day would be primarily a slow climb to High Willhays before a short stretch to our proposed overnight stop on Lints Tor.
Our route from Belstone headed roughly S, 2 miles towards Oke Tor on the decent, undulating paths of grit and grass. We stopped at Oke Tor for a break and take in the views, then after another mile S we headed W on a small path next to a wall towards High Willhays and Yes Tor. The path became an easy military road for while still heading W crossing two good streams before we headed N at about 4.5 miles then crossed rough ground to meet the wide path up to Yes Tor.
We had been on North Dartmoor a few years ago for an October trip in order to take in the tors and views but the weather comprised mist, cloud and cold, horizontal rain. The marked contrast with this year was amazing. Where I was expecting mud and bog, the peaty soil was dry making for generally easy walking. We were also relying on the moor for our water. We brought a Sawyer Squeeze and half a dozen compatible pouches as our filter system and this did the job though we were reliant on the larger more established streams and rivers as a lot of the smaller water sources we were expecting to use were bone dry. If possible we tried to find a fast flowing cascade for water, A, because the pouches were easier to fill if the water was tap like and B, because the risks of nasties from livestock or otherwise were reduced given the greater flow.
The route from Yes Tor turns S towards High Willhays on decent ground before heading SE towards Dinger Tor over rougher ground, then with our overnight pitch in site, working round the contour to Lints Tor at the 8.5 mile. The NE breeze had kept us cool all day but the rough ground, full on sun and temperatures in the mid twenties C had taken their toll, so arriving at our overnight stop was welcome.
Lints Tor offers a few decent places to pitch a tent in and among the clitter of rocks that surround the tor. We took four solo shelters, a Durston x-mid, Tarptent Notch Li, Tarptent Aeon Li which use trekking poles for support, and an OEX Phoxx 1 Tent which comes with poles. We were pleased that there was no litter or scorch marks on the tor, LNT working well in the middle of the moor despite there being an easier and popular route to this vantage point from the Meldon Reservoir carpark.
We arrived at about 6pm and as the sun was setting got the tents up quickly in order that two of our group with remaining energy could make the trip to the West Okement River for the 10 litres of water we thought we would need overnight. We had hoped to come across a stream before getting to our pitch but hadn’t seen a decent stream en route for miles so there was no option other than the 200 ft descent and the climb back. With hindsight we could have detoured to Brim Brook S of Dinger Tor before getting to Lints Tor, as the ground, though rough, is level and the stream a decent size.
The Tor provided us with a decent area sheltered from the strong breeze and a large flat rock made a perfect table and seat as we boiled water for our dehydrated meals. At about 100 gms each, these seemed the best bet for keeping weight to a minimum, particularly as we had a wine box was in tow to help us mellow out in the evening glow.
The evening got better as the Milky Way began to take shape and we spent time lying on the flat rocks on top of the tor satellite spotting and finding the occasional shooting star. As we turned in the wind began to drop and the only sound was the river half a mile below us and the sheep grazing and coughing.
We woke to a breezy misty morning and bit of condensation in the tents. For me, in the single skin Aeon Li, a few sheets of ‘Plenty’ kitchen roll (it’s brilliant, doesn’t break up and can be used again and again) was enough to dry off the inside of the shelter. I like the Aeon but my spot wasn’t flat so I wasn’t able to get my sleeping bag foot box into the higher ‘pitchlock’ corner, so there was a bit of transferred condensation onto it though the semi waterproof outer seemed to handle it OK. Of the four shelters, the X-Mid seemed to be the favourite for space, comfort and ease of pitch, it taking a couple of minutes. For me it’s a toss up between that and the Notch Li which with a semi-solid inner which has a well deserved reputation for robustness and build, is only a little heavier than the Aeon Li and few oz lighter than the X-Mid. The Phoxx 1 was the least favourite with its bivy shape allowing for little movement once inside. It also weighs about 1.5 kg but it is also exceptional value for money.
Packing up didn’t take long, we packed the last of our rubbish and checked for rogue tent pegs before making our way cross country, crossing the shimmering Brim Brook in order to cross the watershed/saddle between the heads of the West Okement River and Amicombe Brook, this being the driest means of getting onto Amicombe Hill. This start to the day was the hardest work of the weekend. With no discernible tracks it was a tough few miles before reaching the easier ground on the West side of the Hill with Green Tor on our right and Great Links Tor ahead and Hare Tor in the distance to the left. But we did feel we got the real terrain experience.
Getting to Rattle Brook at the 3 mile mark, we filtered water and took a break by this little gem before crossing the stream and heading SW up the side of Rattlebrook Hill to Chat Tor. We followed the rough path marked by red and white poles that mark the edge of the military ranges. From Chat Tor it was another ten minutes before reaching Hare Tor at around 4.5 miles in from our morning start. The tor has amazing views to the S and W.
From Hare Tor we followed the rough path to Ger Tor from which we could see the car park at ‘Lanehead’ which is at the six mile mark. From there we had another two miles to walk on minor roads to get to our B&B in Horndon, The Elephant’s Nest which is a great B&B in a fabulous location and excellent food. They have a great garden and bar which opens when dinner is served. They don’t do lunch so we drove our second car to the excellent Castle Inn in Lydford which we had booked for lunch and also serves excellent food and has rooms. We then drove to Belstone to collect our other car and returned to the B&B for a snooze before dinner.
Over the entire route the ground varied immensely, from made paths, rough roads, easy grassy sections, boggy stretches (thankfully passable given the dry conditions) or difficult tussocky ground which created deep gaps to lose your foot in. Walking poles proved invaluable, not just for testing the ground ahead when needed but primarily for helping with balance over rougher ground while carrying a pack. As they were also going to hold up our shelters, they more than earned top spot on the kit list. I used Black Diamond Distance Plus FLZ Poles which are robust and dependable.
We were very lucky with the weather. Better hot and dry with water to hand than wet and cold. I don’t think some of the route we took would be passable in a full-on wet Winter. Visibility was great which made navigation a doddle as phones can’t be relied upon for navigation as there is no service on parts of the moor. We also took a ‘Satmap’ satellite mapping device as well as maps and compass.
We felt we had ‘crossed’ the moor but we just clipped the top corner. Dartmoor has so much to offer with the benefit of near uninhibited freedom to camp in the middle of the moor (we checked to make sure there were no military training restrictions where and when we were walking), there is a lot to go back and see another time on another trip. Can’t wait.