Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Dartmoor Christmas or “Carry on NOT Camping”

Lake Down
Lake Down

Pretty soon after I was dropped off on the Granite Way, below Sourton Tors, the realisation of the weight on my back had woken me to my capabilities.

The walk along the cycle path was mercifully easy and lacked any gradient, but my upper body was already screaming to be rid of the extra 20kg. I kept telling myself I always knew it would be worse on the first day, but I didn’t anticipate it telling after the first fifteen minutes!

Still, it wouldn’t be long before I would arrive at the Fox and Hounds, where I would spend my first night. Or so I thought. The map shows a nice bit of disused railway; the handywork of Dr. Beeching, which I assumed would lead me straight there. I didn’t take into account that parts of it would be closed off from the public.

Just after Lake Viaduct, the way is blocked, and the path turns off to the village of Bearslake; some may suggest this diversion is a calculated ruse to take you to the welcoming Bearslake Inn! As inviting as it is, I fought the temptation and crossed the main road, before turning back south via the Dartmoor Way.

Lake Viaduct
Lake Viaduct
I wasn’t long, arriving at the campsite about 2pm. I was the only tent in the field; no other soul mad enough to spend Christmas eve here, especially when the forecast was for a wet one.

Never let it be said that camping in a tiny one man tent, in the winter, is fun. It isn’t. The sun sets just after four in the afternoon and doesn’t reappear until eight the next morning. When the rain chucks it down for pretty much all of that period, you are effectively imprisoned within your tiny canvas sarcophagus.

Cooking is confined to the tiny porch, a task fraught with danger; lying on one side because you cannot sit up, juggling the stove, pot and lighter all with one hand, whilst one eye is on the flysheet flapping precariously close to the flames. Once cooked, eating horizontally is a chore and you can almost sense the heartburn that will grip you at two in the morning.

When the time comes to break camp, there is no room in the tent to pack the rucksack, and outside is a quagmire of mud. Every slippery step, when packing up, cakes you, and your gear, in filth. Stowing the tent wet is never a pleasant experience, especially with the prospect of dragging it out again in a few hours to go through the whole sorry episode again.

The romantic idyll of camping on crisp snow, marvelling at the milky way in a cloudless sky it wasn’t. I realised pretty soon I would not be living the dream portrayed in the glossies, like Trail and TGO, on this trip. It hardly seemed sensible to carry on, and the decision to make a retreat on Christmas morning was an easy one.

Instead, I would continue the week doing day walks, whilst still carrying the heavy load, which, essentially, was the main objective.