Before the end of summer, I wanted to head out and spend a night under the sky, to watch the sun set and rise in a wild place. The place I had in mind was Dartmoor, and to add a bit of mood to the trip I chose to walk the Lychway, an old coffin road across Dartmoor. Where they would transport the dead to Lydford for burial. And I picked a site below the Devil’s Tor, a bronze age settlement for my campsite.
I’ve walked Dartmoor since I was a kid, and I think that makes it a special place for me. Though I haven’t been there for a while, the rough ground, the rocks and wild vegetation are all familiar. Crossed by streams and rivers, with bogs and pools lurking on most open ground, it is a challenging environment to travel through. It is however worth the trouble.
I love the way you can make your own path on Dartmoor, the National Park has an open access policy and encourages landowners to do the same, that includes the Ministry of Defense who own much of the moors. Checking for live firing and watching for red flags is a must when you plan your trip.
Below Conies Down Tor there is a Bronze Age Settlement, as is usual, it will be near water and on level ground. Often the stone walls of these circular huts can still be found. They make good places to camp, dry, level and sheltered. I chose the spot, and arrived with plenty of light to set up, and scout round. The stone row marked on the map was little more than stubs, grass-covered and proved hard to find, an hour of crossing to trace its course up the side of the Tor. Marked by three larger stones at the head. The views for Conies Down Tor where good, but the low cloud made for poor pictures, I would have to hope for a better sunrise.
Ghost stories and beast stories abound around Dartmoor. The stone circles and lines, the old settlements and deserted homestead farms make for spooky nights, just over the hill from me was The Devil’s Tor, with The Beardown Man standing watch. I woke at four in the morning, rolled over to look at the magnificent stars. The milky way arching across the sky, silver moonlight casting itself low across the ground. The stream below the camp gulping across the rocks was a peaceful backdrop and I drifted back to sleep, warm and comfortable.
I was up early in the cool of the pre-dawn light, a cold but fascinating shade. Nothing was moving except the water and me, I packed quickly and climbed to the Devil’s Tor, ready for sunrise and breakfast. That time when waiting, a chance to plan for the day, to sketch out the next few miles and watch the light spread across the sky. An inspiring time to be in the right place, coffee brewing, camera ready and a breakfast waiting in the wings.
My guardian for the night, the Beardown Man, a standing stone with no known history. A boundary marker, a waypoint to join the Lychway, a meeting place. Lost in time, I like to think he’s there to look after the Devil’s Tor, to keep in check the spreading dark. Who knows why he was placed here, he cuts a dash though at over three metres tall and built of granite.
After breakfast It was over Rough Tor, following animal tracks to lead me through the bog, across the West Dart river and over Broad Down to a waterfall at the East Dart River, a pleasant flog through the long tussocks and over the marshes that reach out to grab you without warning. It was dryer than it has been, but you still spend a lot of time squelching through areas to big to go around. Hopping from tussock to clump, avoiding the more obvious wet ground. Most rivers are laced with rocks and fords so crossing is OK, although in rainy times they can be problematic.
Since the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, and I had the world to myself. I had to have a dip in the Dart, would be rude not to. You will need to take my word for it, I was the only one so no pictures in the water. I cleaned of the days walking, cooled the moors from my skin. And warmed up and dried in the heat of the sun. Nothing better. With only an hours stroll back it was a good moment to rest and savour the best of this patch of the country.
Lots more pictures here, hope you don’t mind too much. Anyone else been out under the stars, slept a night in an old place, somewhere with history? Where would you recommend? The leaves on the cherry tree in our garden are turning, the mornings are cooling now, Autumn is near the weather for nights out will soon be gone. I do like cold crisp starts though, and camping out in the snow, maybe this year I’ll get lucky. Get out there and see the world, close to home or far away, there will be something new to find, go find it.