Monday, 1 July 2013

Dartmoor: Sheeps Tor and going solo

Dartmoor fields from Sheeps Tor
Sheeps Tor Views
Back in March 2011, I set out to Sheeps Tor, on Dartmoor, with the intention of wild camping solo for the first time. When I arrived there I realised I had left my mobile in full view in my car, back in Princetown, and I also later discovered I had left my food on my bed over 200 miles away, at home! I immediately turned around and went back! Every visit to this tor has since had me meaning to return to do the job properly.

Skip forward two years, and still I was waiting to pop that solo wild camping cherry! Although I spent five out of six days of the Overland Track alone, I was staying in shelters and so don't count them as wild camping.

I had no real idea where I was going to camp when I jumped in the car on Saturday afternoon, for the short drive to the moor from Halwill Junction. My mind must have changed at least half a dozen times on the road and as I neared each possible parking location, I sped on, until eventually I found myself in Princetown; by now my mind was set on a return to Sheeps Tor.

A quick check to make sure I had everything, including food and phone, and I was off along the cycle track, passed South Hessary Tor. I turned right, and followed a rocky bridleway above Newleycombe Lake, and there before me, in the distance, behind Down Tor, sat my destination with its granite crag clearly visible.
Down Tor (fore) and Sheeps Tor (back)
Down Tor, with Sheeps Tor behind
rucksack and Cross above Newlycombe Lake
Rucksack and cross above Newlycombe Lake
Further down the track, Burrator Reservoir came into sight.  Eventually, I reached Norsworthy Bridge and the leafy shade of the plantation.

Sign to Sheepstor Common
Sign to Sheepstor Common

I took a route that appeared to move away from my destination, skirting the edge of the Middleworth Plantation, but there was method in my madness, as I knew I had to grab some water for camp. I was pleased to see a good supply of running water in Narrator Brook, and I took the opportunity to grab four litres at the last reliable source before the ascent of Sheeps Tor.

My water filtration system
Water filtration at Narrator Brook
Incidentally, this was the first time I had a chance to test out my improvised filtration gravity system, consisting of a Platypus Hoser 2 Litre Hydration System, a Sawyer Squeeze Filter, and a two litre Platypus bottle with closure cap. It worked a dream and saved a lot of hard work!

When I eventually made it up the hill to the tor, I was genuinely excited by the prospect of camping here. The wind had dropped, and conditions were perfect. The ground was flat, soft and my pegs went in no problem. In no time at all, I was set up and ready to enjoy the evening.

Burrator Reservoir
Burrator Reservoir
Sheeps Tor
My manor for the night

Sheeps Tor has a lovely vista high above Burrator Reservoir. To the south you can see Plymouth, and to the west, Bodmin Moor undulates in the distance. To the North, a clear view to the television mast on North Hessary Tor.

At first, the location was, by no means, secluded. As sunset neared, there was still a pair of climbers on the crag. I also spotted a couple setting up camp, albeit out of sight of my tent, a hundred metres or so away from me, and there were two camera enthusiasts who had climbed up to capture the view. As it was, sunset was a disappointment, and I retired to the tent for a read. As the night drew in, I was left alone.

Sheeps Tor. Wildcamp.
My first solo wild camp

The clouds disappeared and when darkness finally arrived, I wandered out to take some more photos. I was back in my bed by midnight and I had my usual resltess night of sleep.

Sheeps Tor. Night view to Princetown.
Night falls. North Hessary mast in the distance
Sheeps Tor. Night view of Plymouth
Plymouth on fire!
I'd love to report that it was the best nights sleep I had ever had, but no; about 2am I was awoken by my damned shoulder, and struggled to find a position to alleviate the pain. Bizarrely, the aches and pains brought on one of those moments where I was aware of my seclusion and it spooked me somewhat. I picked up my Kindle and read for a while to redivert my thoughts, and I was soon back to sleep.

By 4am, the morning was beginning to reveal itself. I took a look out, hoping for a sunrise reminiscent of the cloud inversion on Rowtor last year, but the clear sky had gone and I was blanketed by a damp mist, and so I chose to catch a couple more hours sleep.

Early morning clag
Morning mist
I was up and away by 8am; a sausage and egg bap had my name on it back at the Fox Tor Cafe, and I was keen to claim it! I stopped to take a murky pic of the crag as I descended the hill, and in my eagerness took the wrong path back down in the mist. When I reached a road that definitely wasn't there the night before, it was time to get my map and compass out and re-orientate myself. With the mist so thick, no expected woodland in sight, and only the slope of the hill to work with, I had a fair idea but dragged out the GPS to confirm I was where I thought I was.

The error soon fixed, the Roughtor Plantation emerged from the gloom and I was soon on a recognised bridleway, and retracing my steps to Princetown.

Ponies in Roughtor Plantation
Bridleway through Roughtor Plantation
So, all in all, pretty pleased with my first solo wild camp. The next foray surely won't be too far away!

And the route below: