It seems not so long ago hat I was just finishing up with the Peaks district, my knee still reeling from the steep climbs and steeper downhills.
I visited my trusty sport therapist who quickly set me right with barely a minor manipulation, I was good to run again. I had a unusually lengthy time between runs, some 5 full weeks of rest. I found it hard to rest and was soon out running some minor trails and exploring new ones. I arranged my first run with a friend and showed them sights of the Wrekin taking in my own hidden trail.
As usual the weeks leading up to the run were filled with last-minute purchasing of goods, namely the isles of the supermarket usually off-limits to those not consuming dangerously large amounts of sugar or running ultras. Packed with haribo (ps haribo if you would like to sponsor me go ahead) I was pretty much set, the day before I realised I had no freeze-dried food and hurriedly bought some last-minute provision from the local conglomerate outdoor shop.
Each journey starts somewhere, for me it has become New street station or Grand
Central, I arrived early and grabbed myself a vastly
expensive cup of tea and a small something to consume on the train. I watched as the world went by and attached a narrative to those coming and going, allocating each a short story as to their reason for leaving or coming. I mused as I sipped my brew and before long it was time to board train number one.
3.5hrs was my journey time, Ivybridge was my final destination with around 2pm being the time I was due to arrive. I enjoy booking my ticket in advance, it saves both money and time and i get to book a seat for the whole journey. I sat by a man travelling from Australis, he tracked his journey on the small tablet he sat in front of him, i occasionally glanced checking on where i was also. In front of me a man sat texting on his phone, I know it is rude to pry but i became somewhat engrossed in his debate quickly turning to an argument with his partner.
All to soon I was coming into Plymouth and changing trains, but as I stood on the Platform I was somewhat confused with where my train was departing, I checked with a guard and was informed that it had just left with the follow-up ‘oh we tell people not to use train line’, this as you can imagine was most helpful, but he was able to point me in the right direction and i doubled back and caught the correct train, I arrived at Ivybridge an hour behind schedule today.
I had to wait until the train had left so I could de-cloth from my travelling attire, with bag packed I set forth, until I arrived at the boundary line. The bridge lead away from Ivybridge, clad with a Dartmoor National Park sign signalled my official start, it made a change to see a sign and it was the first I had seen on the project.
I set forth and joined the two moors way, up along a small road before turning off along a well-worn footpath and onto the open expanse of the moor. I had sheathed my head in a fine deer stalker hat and as I passed by people coming down from their day adventuring I was given some odd looks. I waved politely and carried on.
I followed worn paths through the closely grazed ground towards Hangershell Rock and passed by my first 1000 year old bits of history, large stones flanked my path as I made my way along the trail, I marvelled at the fact these could be more than 3000 years old and were still guiding people to this day. The history of Dartmoor stretches back further than we can possibly know, neolithic and stone age history mixes with centuries of tin mining, but rather than seem at odds they seem to sit as bed fellows and tell the changing tale of its people and their work in the landscape they called home.
With in 8 miles I was approaching my camp for the night, it was still early with plenty of light left in the day but I had planed to stop here and so stop I will. I traced a barely recognisable paths down through moorland and onto an ancient and forgotten settlement.
Erme Pounds sits about a mile from the main path and is nestled in a small valley next to the river Erme, I am eternally fascinated by the ancient structures still left in our landscapes a every present reminder that our ancestors worked and lived this land in harmony and hardship. We know but a scant knowledge of what they endured or lived and can only offer conjecture with the help of the remains they leave.
I walked through the ruins which appears to cling onto the hillside and reminded me of the valleyed fishing villages close to the sea. I pitched my tent and quickly wrapped myself in my warm clothing and set up my tent. The river Erme burble away in the background gently and soothingly as I boiled water and ate my freeze-dried meal, I was enjoying the culinary journey of the camper and wolfed down spicy veg rice and apple crumble for pudding. Picking up one bag I caught site of the campers enemy, TICK, small and barely recognisable it had clearly not eaten as its body splayed flat, I quickly flicked it away and sprayed my lower legs and tent with a pungent outdoors natural oil.
I climbed into my sleeping quilt and nestled down quickly for the night, the tent still open I dozed and watched the changing landscape before me. As I doozed I became aware of people near me, I looked out of the tent but non were near, after a short time I again caught the distinct sound of a young girl laughing with an older male. It was an odd experience and relating it back to someone who studies paranormal experiences I began to understand that this was something different. The voices were very distinct but not audible enough to understand what was being said, but I can say with certainty that she was laughing and seemed happy. I drifted off to the sound of laughing and the slow and gentle talking of the river.
I woke periodically in the night, cold biting at my body and despite my layers I could still feel the chill, at around 5am I lay semi awake until i motivated myself out of my false warmth, the call of the toilet to strong to hold back, but as i settled in for a call of nature it became all to clear that the breeze blowing up the valley hits bits that shouldnt be hit and i opted to wait until PostBridges where a public loo awaited. I brewed a warm drink and packed away my kit, it seems i could not do all this in less than 30 mins, testament to the previous parks training.
Once warmed by tea, I began what was to become a 4 mile trudge across tussock grass which hid bog beneath. For mile and hours I walked barely scratching a worn path, OS map had shown a path, the green dotted line seemed so real but was now a becoming a cruel joke. I was glad of the sealskins as my feet were quickly dampened by the never-ending bog, I was quickly upon Fox Tor which overlooked Childes Tomb and the infamous Fox Mire. I made a beeline for Childes Tomb and marveled at the structure and the story behind this place, the cross say in what you could say was the middle of nowhere but sat perfectly in its place.
Leaving the tomb behind, I began to entre the infamous mire, I had read many stories about this places most warning not to stray from the path or only visit in dry weather, I met Dartmoor ponies along the way and felt very fortunate to be able to stroke one before a bow of the head and off they went. The mire lived up to its reputation with the ground giving away easily with a texture of sponge but one that promised to swallow a man whole if care was not taken. I managed to keep as much as possible to the white post and was relieved to strike a solid path.
Passing by the remains of the long abandoned Whiteworks tin mine, I was soon greeted to more bog, I’ve decided that Dartmoor is just different levels of bog ranging from slightly wet bog all the way up to it will kill you bog with multiple different combinations in between.
I passed numerous cairns. cists and settlements until I hit my first stone Circle, unfortunately like many of these sites, farmers have uprooted or destroyed some of them, this one consisted of 9 stones now with a field wall intersecting one end, still it was a nice surprise to see my first of many. I entered the farm at Sherbeton and was greeted to two very aggressive dogs who immediately let it known I was on their land, they barked around me getting closer and closer and to be truthful if i had my walking poles they would not be treated so kindly, all the owner could be bothered to do was bang on his window and direct me out the gate, so yeah thanks for that one fella.
I wandered down the path and towards some stepping-stones which were crossed with ease and I fell into farm land and more bog, before climbing up towards Dunnbridge Pound and up onto Bellever Tor. I met my first hikers of the day here, two ladies wandered around before one pulled a box from the cracks hidden in the Tor, Geo-caching, they signed the book and watched me as I climb the Tor and tagged the trig point, Deer stalker still attached. From here i made an important text. I had been messaged months earlier by Rob, a local of Okhampton who had offered to meet me for the North Dartmoor run. We had planned to meet at Postbidges and I gave him a rough timing for when i would arrive there.
I ran past more hikers, a good indication of your closeness to car parks is the amount of walker and the gear they wear, the less gear the closer you are. I passed into Postbridges and made good use of the loo, in the warmth this time with no draft inhabiting my nether regions before I set off to meet Rob, I re-read the orignal text and headed for another ancient settlement of Roundy Park, there was no sign of Rob and I loathed the option of walking back to Postbridges and opted to climb Hartland Tor in search of signal. luckily near the summit signal sprang to life and a quick message confirmed that we had missed each other in the main car park.
Before long Rob was coming up towards me, a hug and hand shake greeted me along with a bottle of coke and harribo, I was so grateful for these small tokens that I knew this was going to be a fine day. Rob knew Dartmoor well, he was a local and had run many of the moor himself. He was also an ex member of the mountain rescue team and I was in safe hands today.
He gave me a brief overview of the route an remarked that I was heading into another dangerous mire, i chuckled and recounted the tale of Fox Mire and he responded with chuckle as well. We headed towards Grey Wethers stone circle and passed by the many youngster training for the 10 tors walk, we wished them luck and well wishes and they responded in kind. Grey Wethers didn’t disappoint, despite being restored it still held its place in the landscape as it would have done 1000s of years ago.
On we trot, we talked about everything and anything, recounting tales from various trails and also life, it was the first time I had run with another runner on this project and I thoroughly enjoyed it, Rob had an intimate knowledge of his landscape and his trails, he loves Dartmoor and it was evident in the way he spoke about its history, Rob plotted a route which took us to the many stone circles nestled away in Dartmoor and even off path as part of my favourite pastime, non paths.
We forged a path over to Hounds Tor and were nearly blew off the top, he told me more stories and history around the firing range and showed me the huts used by sentries, one such person would ride a pony to the top on firing days and kept a close eye out for stray walkers. We both remarked at what a fantastic job this would be. Onwards we plod up towards another stone circle of White Moor, waking into these circles im often met with a sense of calm, outside of these the world seems to rush by, once inside its realms you are afforded a sense of protection which seems otherworldly. We took time to explore the stones, I walked the circumference and touched each one as I went. It has always amazed me that these could be over 3000 years old and yet we still have little understanding their purpose. They sit perfectly in the surroundings and are solely unique to the UK and Ireland and seen nowhere else in the world. We looked back on our journey and could see the erosion beginning the take place already, deep groves and cuts scour the landscape, testament to people coming from afar to see the wilds of the moors.
We climb Cosdon Beacon and hid in a round pit of stones, 2 horse riders passed by and looked like they had just come from a hunt, we exchanged greetings and we went out separate ways. Rob again led me a merry journey off paths before we came across the oddest thing since celery gate. Four walkers appeared from virtually no where and politely asked if this was the route to the pub, Rob and me glanced at each other is disbelief before correcting them. Rob pointed them in the right direction, I politely told of my 36 mile jaunt through the wild and desolate moors land, every dodging bogs deep enough to swallow a human whole. we left hesitantly hoping they headed our words and once at Belstone we sat on a bench watching the figure make their way along the path we had walked.
Rob directed us towards West Cleave, a wonderful wooded valley with its central heart being the East Oakement River, the wood was clothed in a delightful green moss which offered a calming hue to the end of the run, we entered the last stretch before passing under the busy A30. The red line was crossed and as previous another park was now ticked off.
Rob led me to a local pub where a pint was drank with glee, I offered a lady a charity card and for the first time it was rejected, it was almost like I was handing her poop, she was polite but in the way they we say no to charity hawkers in the street. I felt a little offended, I hadn’t asked for anything from her but offered only a story of my journey. Rob chuckled and we parted ways as i made my way to the digs for the night.
Dartmoor was completed, Exmoor awaited, Ro had kindly offered to drop me at the boundary in North Molton the following day saving me some 25 miles of feet time, as I was not crossing a park it was not rule breaking and an offer i gladly accepted.