Dartmoor: Bellever Forest and a stepping stone too far.
I passed numerous coaches and mini buses off loading their teenage cargo; heavily laden kids sent out into the murk as part of their ten tors training, whilst their teachers sauntered off for a leisurely bite and a brew at the Fox Tor Cafe, in Princetown. When I arrived about 10am, there were plenty who had beaten me to the best of the tables.
I checked into the bunkhouse after breakfast, then carefully drove through the fog to Postbridge. With conditions as they were, I didn't think it wise to wander too far onto the open moor alone, and chose a route south to Bellever Tor, and Dunnabridge Pound, with a long term plan of creating a circular route encompassing part of the Two Moors Way near Babeny.
|Easily followed track to Bellever Tor|
|I took the right path!|
I had some archaeology to find early on; a couple of cists situated just off the path. In such poor visibility, I was having to continually check my bearings; in good weather this route is a wide muddy track I suspect would be easily visible from space, but today, there were occasions you just couldn't be sure you were still on it.
|The fog gets worse!|
Ascension was a good sign I was heading in the right direction and eventually, out of the gloom, a dark shadowy monster appeared, the silhouette of a trig point riding high upon its back; I had reached Bellever Tor. The view from its peak is inspiring, but today it was the stuff of both my memory and imagination.
|Bellever Tor emerges from the fog|
|The trig on Bellever Tor|
Onwards, south. I eventually reached an expected wall, one which I would hand rail to Dunnabridge Farm, and the Pound. The wall was a comforting companion, and I diligently ticked off each intersection and gate; when the weather is this crap you have to make up your own games to amuse yourself.
|Gate to Dunnabridge|
At the pound, I picked up the track to Laughter Hole Farm; this time reverting to a spot of timing for the next mile or so, when I would reach the forest again.
Into the forest down a wide track to an intersection, where I almost doubled back on a smaller rockier, and darker, path, that was to take me down to the East Dart River.
|Laughter Hole Stepping Stones|
This was where my route was a gamble, and further progress depended upon it; The south-west region had just had a monumental dumping of rain over the previous two days, and I wasn't certain the Laughter Hole stepping stones were submerged or not. When I reached them, I was pleased to see they were just above the water line. I gingerly began my crossing; one, two, three... by the time I reached number seven, my bottle went!
A combination of the rushing water around me, and a summation of the object of my next footfall, had me hesitating. I could reach it, but it looked an awkward pointy nemesis, and not one to dwell on. I couldn't guarantee I would have enough momentum to make the next leap forward, especially now I had faltered. I have done this crossing before, when the river was lower, and less intimidating, and with companions. With the assurance of a buddy to fish me out, I no doubt would have made that leap, but here I was, alone, in a pea souper, having not seen a soul for a few hours... no, it wasn't the sensible choice to make. Three quarter of the way across the river, I retreated in the knowledge I was making the right decision. Had this been my only route, I would have simply removed my boots, socks, trousers and waded over, but this was simply a short amble on a Saturday afternoon, so really not necessary.
So I filled up my water bottle with some of the finest filtered East Dart, and then retraced my steps back to the main track.
|Bellever Forest and the East Dart|
|The East Dart|
The way eventually descends to the beautiful banks of the river. I've often toyed with a wild camp on the opposite side, which appears to be a legal spot to do so; one for the future. I stopped at Bellever Clapper Bridge to eat my lunch. I've passed this way before and can remember an idyllic scene of children paddling on a hot summers day while mothers attended to picnics laid out on the grass.
Today, I didn't linger long, as my hands were beginning to feel the cold as I held my sandwich, and it really was quite miserable now. The fog had worsened, and my thoughts were turned to a cup of coffee back at the cafe.
As I neared the main road, I met my first walkers of the day; predictably, a bunch of these strange teenagers, with an enthusiasm and willingness to embrace the elements; a rare quality not possessed by the couch potato species being bred in the likes of London. Our meeting was brief, following me across the road and taking my steps through a boggy bridleway, but as I turned into the car park, they set off to the bleak north; rather them than me!