This summer we visited one of our National Parks for the first time. Somehow, after 6 years of living on the South Coast, within a few hours drive, and after countless trips to Devon and Cornwall for family visits and “normal” holidays I had never set foot on Dartmoor.
The purpose of the trip to was to spend a few days down there and just boulder as much as possible and when we first planned it out the forecast was great for Friday to Sunday with a few showers on the days either side. On the week of the trip the forecast changed and we were faced with the prospect of torrential rain over that weekend. I hadn’t had time to plan any wet weather hiking as an alternative to bouldering so I moved some things around, worked like a dog on Monday and Tuesday, cramming 4 days work into 2 and on the Wednesday morning we jumped on a ferry and headed west.
We took a slow drive down as it was meant to be wet in Devon that day, so we stopped at a few places for a wander and an explore. One of which was going to be Lyme Regis but the “park and ride” car park was bursting and we just didn’t want to put ourselves through that. We did stop at Haldon Forest , which was very busy too but we found a quiet spot in the woods for a picnic and an explore.
Back in the car we decided to take the smaller roads through the park rather than the ironically named Devon Expressway, and we’re so glad we did. We so blown away by the landscape, even from the car, and I said to Hazel that “this place should be a secret!”. My mind started whirring, wondering if we could come back and hike across the park. (If there’s an established route please let me know). We were heading to Down Tor and Sheepstor at the western end of the park, near Tiverton, as I’d found a guide to the bouldering on Down Tor and ,after a chat with Graeme at www.wildcamping.blog/ on Instagram, found that we could camp on neighbouring Sheepstor. (Cheers Graeme!)
On the way across we stopped to investigate some boulders, so we parked up grabbed the crash mat and climbing shoes and hiked maybe a 1/4 of a mile to a promising looking Tor. We climbed for about an hour, just looking for any way up. The kids enjoyed squeezing into a crack and making their ascents that way. We were just playing really but having a great time all 5 of us doing the same thing at the same time and all completely knackered by the time we hiked back to the car.
Suddenly it was 7 o clock and as we got to the car, we heard thunder, then the rain came and then we saw the lightening, none of which was on the bloody forecast! We sensibly decided to head for a campsite lower down rather than wildcamp high on the moor with all this lightening around. It ultimately rained until the early hours but that didn’t stop the kids getting soaked in the play area in the dark while I sorted out the tent and dinner.
The following morning was damp but breezy so we headed into town and treated ourselves to a big, dirty fry up to give the rock a chance to dry off. We drove round some narrow lanes and before too long we were there. A 5 minute hike took us to the first set of boulders, which we ended up spending a few hours at. To honest I climbed really badly but really enjoyed myself. The kids had a blast and after trying a few lines from the guidebook were happy just finding their own ways up things.
After a brew we headed on up the hill and just had so much to play around on. We reached the top of the Tor and found some really fun stuff to climb, some in the guidebook, some not but we didn’t care. It was just great to be climbing outside. We were just discussing the plans for the next day when the rain started so we wandered back to the car for a late tea. We were hoping to camp up on Sheepstor but again there was some lightening around so we decided to just go for a drive and see what the weather does.
Then evening brightened up so we stopped for a little hike up onto another Tor from where we could see where we had spent the day getting sore fingers and grazes and then we went to find a spot to camp. The rain had started again so we found a layby, spent 10 minutes wondering if we could all sleep in the car comfortably and just started putting down seat when another car came into the layby. A young french couple asked if we were planning to camp here, so abandoning the chaos in the car we grabbed the tent and sleeping bags and headed only about 200 yards away and pitched up behind some gorse. The other couple pitched only about 10 yards from their car so we felt like we had at least made an effort toward stealthiness.
It rained all night and into the next morning. The forecast said it was in for the day so we had a slow drive back to our ferry. This time the slow drive wasn’t our choice as the rain and holiday traffic turned our drive into an 8 hour marathon! Never mind.
Even though the weather seemed against us for this flying visit to Dartmoor, I know it will quickly become a favourite spot for us. Outside of school holidays, it should be a really accessible and beautiful “go to” place for us. Its huge amount of climbing, bouldering and hiking and being so close (on a good day) may just move it ahead of Snowdonia as our National Park of choice.
Mind you there’s still a few we haven’t visited yet.