Location: Lustleigh Cleave
- Date: Thursday 26th January
- OSGrid: SX 772813 (E277235 N081343)
- Travel: 45 minute drive + 15 minute walk
- Style: Hammocks
In Washington, 2007, commuters stepped off the train in the underground station on their way to work. Presumably this was the same journey they’d take every day of the week, and therefore unsurprising that few noticed the non-descript young man playing a violin against a bare brick wall. As far as busking goes, he was relatively successful, picking up $30 in an hour. Only, this was not as non-descript an individual as he appeared, and certainly not an average busker.
Fast forward to January 2017 and here we go for our fourth adventure in a year of Wild One Nighters. Destination: Lustleigh Cleave. Lustleigh is the largest natural wood remaining on Dartmoor that has free camping rights. Wanting to make the most of our wooded environment we opted to make this our first camp in just hammocks. After our Staple Tor adventure Paul had spent the week mastering his hammock set up at home; I can only imagine how many times it had been packed and repacked in the interim.
Straight from work we headed off, bags packed and ready. A quick stop off as usual to Tesco and following the disappointment of not being able to buy a disposable barbecue in January, (shocking, I know!) a shopping basket was filled with a sugar content to rival that of a home alone teenage party planner. With a balanced diet in mind however, we bought skinny soup and some fancy bread for the main course.
Lustleigh proved to be our furthest trip so far, a 45-minute combination of driving along the A38 and a few twisting country lanes. The length of the journey would have to be a consideration when choosing somewhere to camp. A sat-nav target of ‘Lustleigh town centre’ took us to the road we needed to be on, which we then followed a little further until we found the bridal path to lead us into the woods. Being the responsible citizen he is, Stu wanted to take up as little space as he could in the lay by.
Arrived and ready to go, a few extra layers were added as it was another beautifully clear night, we headed off into the woods along the bridal path. Our target was a flat-ish looking area on the OS map of Dartmoor, near the river and a footbridge. It soon became apparent that camping here would lead to a 30+ minute hike and a 45 minute drive to work. Factoring in packing down the camp and a bit of faffing around, this would lead to waking up well before 6:30am, which is no fun. Therefore, we decided to leave our bags hidden in a bush at the side of the path and go for an explore. A suitable camp had been spotted further back which we would return to later. Stu inconspicuously marked the location with his bobble hat hanging from a tree. Off to explore!
On the map the route looked simple, find a small path, follow it to a larger path which looped back around to where we had left the bags. Easy! With Navigational Stu at the helm what could go wrong?
After coming across a rather damaged sign, we thought we could take a short cut through the undergrowth to come across the path. We should have followed the sign. Staying true to form, Paul added to the jungle expedition experience by wearing his work shoes. Avoiding boggy/ rotting/ wet patches were equally a top priority and challenge, as we crept along the edge of the river. To our eventual delight, we climbed out of vegetation and onto the path we were looking for. Wanting to satisfy our curiosity as to where we went wrong, we followed the path back, realising that we had completely ignored the broken sign and chosen to go in the opposite direction.
The time was about 21:30 at this point and it seemed like a good idea to head back, pick up our bags and find the camp we had previously spotted. We were treated to another nature moment when our torches caught a gleaming pair of green eyes not far from the path. They belonged to a deer who stopped, brilliantly hidden amongst the trees, keeping a close watch on us as we passed. I’ve seen deer a number of times in my life, but meeting one in the dark, so close to where we were going to camp, with those glowing green eyes made it all the more special.
Setting up camp was infinitely quicker this week. Compared to my last camp of the hurricane/ glacier topped tor of Stapleton, putting up a couple of hammocks and tarps in the perfectly still forest was a breeze. Plus, I suppose I didn’t have my sentimental pole to caress into place. Both Stu and Paul had delighted in spending the week mocking my hammock. Despite my insistence that it wasn’t travel worthy nor very practical, they convinced me to bring it. It was made by the local women of Sartenaja, a small fishing village in Northern Belize and only ever been used between two palm trees. It was huge and weighed a small ton. Nonetheless I took and and put it up along with a no-expense-spared tarpaulin. I wouldn’t really recommend this set up in wet and windy conditions, but we were pretty certain in was going to be a calm, dry night. Thankfully it was. Stu and Paul’s set up was far more practical and professional looking!
Food time! Pink doughnuts for starters, skinny soup for mains and the worst apple pie ever for dessert. Somehow Stu loved it and ate almost the whole thing. The soup actually turned out to be quite practical and something I would definitely recommend. Very filling, warming, quick to heat and being able to drink it straight from the pan made it possible for once again cutleryless Paul to eat.
This would prove to be my first ever night sleeping in a hammock. I doubled up on the sleeping bags and with all my additional layers actually proved to be too hot in the night. Who would have thought- it’s JANUARY!!!! Poking my head out of my sleeping bag cocoon I was treated to the magic of abyssal black tree silhouette against a luminous night sky. That was fun!
Morning came, we packed up! Again this seemed to be quicker then with the tents and within 20 minutes we were up and ready to start heading back to the car. It was at this point we were hugely appreciative of the plan to set up camp near to the car and spend the rest of the evening off adventuring, rather than give ourselves a lot to do in the morning.
BBC radio 2 treated us to ‘Can’t take my eyes off you’ which we played at full volume as we arrived at work ready for the day. It’s been four weeks and I’m a firm believer that the 8:30 song slot can do no wrong.
Back to 2007, in a subway station in Washington, commuters walked past a busker playing a violin. This had actually been part of a social experiment. The busker was widely regarded as one of the top musicians in America. His violin was one of the most expensive ever made and the music he played was some of the most eloquent, distinguished and challenging pieces to play. Nobody stopped to listen to the free masterpiece on offer, despite thousands paying over $100 a ticket the night before to see him in concert.
This Wild One Nighter we went to Lustleigh Cleave in the south-west of the UK. It might not be wrapped up and packaged as beautifully as a cruise down the Amazon, but when you stop for a moment from the rush of daily life, we found that it was everything an adventure needed.
Joe. Having never slept in a hammock I was a tiny bit apprehensive beforehand- would I fall out? Would I be too cold? Would it be really uncomfortable? That answer is a definite NO to all of those questions and I may even have preferred it to a tent in this scenario.
Stu. I love a good foray off the path, and this week gave plenty of opportunity to go exploring. I doubt there are many places on the whole of Dartmoor with free camping rights where you could find two trees close enough to string a hammock. Let alone with deer bedding down for the night alongside you and a river to play in (in warmer days). Like Joe said, this is a really special place on Dartmoor and I can’t wait to come back in the summer for a long weekend.
Paul. A very different view of Dartmoor, which allowed us to sleep under the stars in a hammock. We proved that it’s not too cold and so I definitely recommend this one!
Top tips from the trip
Follow the signs- they usually know where they’re going.
Camp close to the car and head off to explore.
Give sleeping in a hammock a go! It’s brilliant.