WON01 – In the beginning

Location: Deancombe Brook/Ford

  • Date: Thursday 5th January 2017
  • OSGrid: SX585684 (E258596, N068472)
  • Travel: 40 minute drive +25 minute hike
  • Style: Tents

 

Introduction

Dartmoor National Park is one of ten National Parks in the UK (10 in England, 3 in Wales, 2 in Scotland). It is amongst the oldest of our parks, originally designated in 1951, features over 1,000 scheduled ancient monuments, covers around 953 square kilometers, includes the South West of England’s only recognised mountain (High Willhayes at 621 meters), yet is amongst the least visited of all the parks in the UK (3.1 million visitor days per year, compared to the Lake District, which has 24 million visitor days per year!). Not only this, but Dartmoor is the only place in the England which openly invites wild campers to spend the night. There are some restrictions on that, and it’s important to play by the rules to ensure that remains the case (see link at the end for details), but what a fantastic opportunity to give it a try! So to kick off the Wild One Nighters Project this week, Joe, Paul and I packed our bags and made for the Moor…

A cosy home amongst the gorse
A cosy home amongst the gorse

 

The Diary

Thursday morning started out just like any other… Well, that’s not exactly true. I don’t want to mislead anyone here – Wild Camping is super fun, and a lot more accessible than you might think, especially if you’ve never done it before, but it’s not quite as simple as that. Thursday morning started out just like any other except that instead of a small bag with some sandwiches and my phone charger in, I came to work with a considerably bigger bag containing:

  • A tent
  • Rollmat
  • Sleeping bag
  • Tracksuit bottoms, fleece, woolly hat, gloves, warm jacket, extra pair of socks
  • Towel, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant (top tip – leave this at work)
  • Torch, spare torch, map
  • Camping stove, gas bottle, cooking pot, (no cutlery!)
  • Folding saw (just for fun as it was a gift for Christmas)
  • Spare trainers
  • ….+ lunch and my phone charger

I’m not saying that’s all you need, (or that you need all of it!) just that this was the starting point. I’m sure it’ll change as we progress, learn and explore options through the project 🙂

By the time 5 o’clock came round we were all itching to go, the sun had set, darkness was upon us, and whilst just about everyone else we knew was heading home, we piled in to the car and headed North. A quick stop in Tesco to pick up dinner (stuffed pasta and sauce) and a couple of precautionary hot water bottles, and onwards to glory!

There’s a carpark at the north end of Burrator Reservoir, so we left the car there, and hiked out under torchlight to Deancombe. Along the way we passed various crumbled farm ruins – the last of which was abandoned in the 1930’s following the establishment of the reservoir itself. Cuckoo Rock, a large, distinctive boulder is visible on the line of the hill when walking this route, and even under the cover of darkness, it’s striking silhouette still caught our eye as we skirted the lower valley and dropped down towards the Deancombe Ford.

The Ford itself is a popular wild camping spot, and it’s easy to see why. Quiet, sheltered, and importantly – flat! We set about setting up camp as quickly as possible.

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Tents went up without a hitch, and we couldn’t resist taking a few photos with the lights on

(More photo’s on the Facebook page, here)

The brook at Deancombe offers a charming, gentle soundtrack to the camp, and a source of fresh clear water, so as soon as the tents were up, the pots and pans came out. Despite Paul’s attempts to convince us that we needed 4 packs of stuffed pasta earlier(!), 2 turned out fine (plus a little chocolate and other bits and pieces later, of course).

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2 pots – 4 packs of pasta is going to take a while!

After dinner we set out on a little expedition across the brook and into the dug out hillside on the opposite bank. There’s plenty to look at over there. If you find yourself in the area, definitely check out the little Tinner’s Cache – an open fronted man made shelter in the hillside, in which tin miners would have stored their tools, and maybe some of the fruits of their labour before taking them in to town. It would make a handy little shelter in times of terrible weather, and worth remembering! There’s another little entryway in the hillside too – this one’s a small potato cave, used by the old farmers to store potatoes and other crops, but today, homes for hibernating bats. If you’ve not seen it already, please check out our other blog about Horsehoe bats – it’s a crucial time of year for bats at the moment as they are hibernating, and disturbing them between October and April is likely to lead to their starvation in the cold winter months, so please think very carefully before entering caves and underground hollows at this time of year. Or better yet, save it for the summer like us!

In my limited experience, a wild camp can take on many different feels. Stretched out on the grass with a belly full of pasta and chocolate, a hot water waiting in the tent, and nothing but the gentle sound of the brook and idle chatter between us under the stars, this one felt like the best start to the project I could have possibly imagined.

True to the goals of the project, we had work the next day. Working backwards from 9am, factoring in a shower at work, driving off the moor, hiking back to the car, and packing down the tent, we ended up setting an alarm for 6:45. We were up before sunrise. Joes tent, it turns out, requires a lot of nurturing to take down. In my efforts to help, I ‘rushed the poles’ which set the whole operation back about 10 minutes, and left Paul, who despite living up to his reputation for staying in his tent until the last possible minute and triple re-packing everything, waiting on the sidelines while Joe lovingly coerced his tent back into the bag.

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Paul and Joe race to get their tents away first

No breakfast for us – we decided that as a time saving device we’d sort it out back at work. The priority was just to get back in time, we can refine the timings next time! …this didn’t stop Paul pointing out every coffee/breakfast stop in Plymouth on the way back! (Although he did eventually settle for a bowl of particularly gruel-esque porridge back at the Aquarium in the end.

Top tips from the trip

  • Breakfast’s not necessary, you can pick it up on the way back, or leave some at work
  • If you leave your torches in the tents to take nice photos, try and have a spare to get to the place you want to take the photo from!
  • Bring ear plugs if you’re sleeping near a stream and the sound of running water plays havoc with your bladder!

 

Camp rating

  • Beautiful site, lovely weather, easily accessible – 8.5 / 10

Further information

For more information about wild camping on Dartmoor, including where does and doesn’t require permission from the registerd landowner, check the Dartmoor National Park Website Here


2 thoughts on “WON01 – In the beginning

  1. Nice one chaps sounds like everything wolrked well. Couple questions: did you use a map to find your way? It sounds like you knew exactly where you were going but how easy would it be to find for someone who’s not been there before. On the back of this, and just wondering – not meaning to cause trouble, but does everything you write fit in with the park rules/regulations as far as camping without giving any notification to anyone + what about fires?

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    1. Hi Phil – Thanks, it was a super night! I actually visited this site a few times during the day last year, just rambling and biking about, so knew it quite well. There’s a small road running from the carpark to just over halfway there, and then you can follow a general sort of trail down to the site. So no map needed on this one. That said, you can see where it is on the map on this website, and mark it on your own map if you want to check it out yourself 🙂

      As for the fires and the permission – all our camps are going to be done with appropriate and necessary permissions acquired. That said, the Dartmoor National Park website has an interactive map that shows you the areas of the park on which you can camp without seeking prior permission, providing you follow the small number of sensible guidelines on the same page… one of which being no campfires, although little camping stoves are fine

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