Our first trip of the year was kind of a special one. We went to Portland. Now before you get all excited about artisan bakers/coffee houses/woodworkers/hipsters it wasn’t that Portland. We visited Portland, DORSET. The home of the famous lighthouse(s), cement and some of the best sport climbing and bouldering in the South of England.
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.
Here I am just after getting my backside handed to me on our first, proper bouldering trip to Dartmoor, earlier in the summer. I’ve been climbing for about a year and while I know that it’s not the kind of activity you can start at 39 years old and expect to be great at, I had hoped for better results than this.
I dropped the grade down from what I was doing fairly easily indoors and just couldn’t climb anything. I could say I was tired from the drive and wet camp the night before. I may have been a little anxious about not hurting myself, after all no one else was able to drive the kids home or maybe, and this may be the truth, I’m not as good at this as I thought I was!
We managed to pinch an afternoon from my Dads 60th Birthday celebrations in the shire and we crossed the border to one of our favourite spots, Rhayader and the Elan Valley. We had been up here for a recce back in February and coupled with some research from UK Climbing decided that it was worth another visit for our first outdoor climb on real rock.
It had been wet in the morning but a combination of a strong breeze and intermittent sunshine dried the rock so we could climb. I set up a top rope on an easier route and away we went, the kids first then Hazel and I. It was so so different to climbing indoors, the holds weren’t obvious and bright red or green, the wind buffeted us and the rock wasn’t plumb vertical. It was also so much more fun and personally, it felt really instinctive, rather than going for the hold because its the right colour it was more like “this feels right”.
Evan had a bit of a moment at the top when he wanted to climb onto the top of the crag and walk back around but I insisted he get lowered for practice and the next time he might be able to just top out and walk down the back way. He managed to come down ok in the end though and we all had a really good time. Unfortunately didn’t move onto other routes as the weather turned against us but we all left rather pleased with ourselves and vowed to return soon.
Back in February my brother got married (Congratulations Jacko!) so we headed back to the shire for what was a lovely family occasion. We did however manage to steal away for a few hours in the hills.
We popped over the border into Wales and headed up to Rhayader Dams, or the Elan Valley if you prefer. It’s lovely up there and I had spent quite a bit of time exploring that area when I was still living in Leominster (I left about 14 years ago) and have found memories, especially the trips I took with my Grandparents when they came to visit.
Anyway, we parked up at the visitor centre, crossed the stream under the dam, got soaked from the spray as the water was gushing over the top of the dam, and headed to a few crags to investigate the potential for a days climbing later in the summer.
I was very pleased to find some shiny new bolts on some of the routes and looking at the UKC website there’s a couple I should be able to manage to do. There’s also a couple of half decent anchor points so I set up a top rope for the kids to play on if it turns out I can’t lead any of them. Afterwards we headed out in the car to see the other dams and managed a little hike along the lake before heading back to the wedding preparations.
Alright, it wasn’t the most adventurous day we’ve had but any day in the hills count. Right? We’ve come away with a plan to go back and climb and, if time allows, there’s definitely a hike of a couple days possible if we start in the town and make a loop taking in all three dams, wild camping for the night, or we could make a route to Aberwystwyth over 4 or 5 days. The possibilities are numerable.
“That was pretty rad what with that drop and the scrambling and the wind, pretty scary in parts, you know cos of the kids and that sheer drop and….. That was ****ing amazing!”
We had just got back to the camp and we were all tired and exhilarated and hungry and well, just buzzing really. It was another of our 9 or 10 hour days on the hill but this one just felt different.
We had broke camp at around 6 am and the kids were excited. We had planned the whole trip around today and Isaac had been constantly telling his teachers at preschool that he was going to climb Moel Siabod during the summer. So off we went, across the stream at the end of the campsite and then upwards and onwards.
The kids ran ahead of us once we had done the little bit of roadwork and were on the mountainside, stopping a the occasional stile or fork in the trail. We headed up through the old quarry towards Daer Ddu.
Daer Ddu was the reason for such an early start, although I’d done some reading and studied the map I wanted to get “eyes on” before committing to it. We hadn’t really done any scrambling before so we were looking for a nice introduction.
All I can say is WOW. For the most part it was easy going, there were one or two places where I felt a bit exposed and while the kids were happy to go anyway, I did backtrack and find an alternative route that just felt a bit, well, less droppy!
I think something clicked on Moel Siabod and we went from parents taking their children up a mountain to a real team. The kids could lead the way when appropriate and when someone had to take charge, they would follow instructions without any complaints. We made sure we stayed together, the bigger kids helped the smaller ones and we got to the top together.