01 November 2011

Hiking the swamp

Leaving the country for 4.5 years has no effect whatsoever! At least, if you greet old friends on the railway station that’s what it feels like. The day had come to assemble with six nerds (three physicists, two Earth scientists and a lexicologist count by definition as a bunch of nerds!), have a meal, and get ready for a three day hike on Dartmoor the next day. It was splendid to see them again! 

Introducing the team: Roelof!

Erik and Maaike

Henco and Viking

And me!

The first night was spent enjoying English pub cuisine and beer. And catching up. And fitting everybody in my not-so-large house. And the next morning the alarm went off all too early! In order to make the most of the walking day I had proposed the 8.06 train, and with 6 people in need of a shower, coffee, breakfast and some packing before that one can imagine what the effect was. But we made it, and 8.21 we left the train, and entered the rain-soaked outskirts of Ivybridge. Not much later we’d found the southern end of the Two Moors Way.
Five swampy hikers on Ivybridge station

A wet entry to the moors

While still in Ivybridge we met two wet dog-walkers, who were clearly somewhat surprised at our choice of day for our exploits (and expressed that in a profoundly British way!); who could blame them! But upon leaving the town we had Dartmoor for ourselves. Soon we reached the old railway we would follow north. We could just make it out underneath the thick layer of water. It was hilarious! All dripping we sloshed to water up to 15 cm deep and had a blast.

This picture illustrates the day...
After some hours spent walking briskly through the flood we enjoyed a drippy lunch, perceived by the only other Moors visitor we would encounter that day: a very wet mountain biker. We had already covered quite a distance! Hopes were high on managing to reach the Forest Inn at the end of the day. But things would change. From our lunch spot we would leave the railway for a muddy track along, and over, a local stream. And another stream. The landscape was beautiful and the hydrology was on steroids! On the map there was a path going north from there we would take. There wasn’t. But we had to get there anyway.

Erik beholds a stream

Erik finds his destiny as Hansje Brinker

This happens when Hansje withdraws his finger!
 We’d been going at speed over the railway. Staggering over the uneven swamp land with plenty of opportunities to sink down to the knee, or further, in the goo, our speed dropped dramatically. Our spirits didn’t, though! Nothing like Erik’s saltless humour to keep one going. And in line with that the rain abated somewhat. Skilfully we negotiated the somewhat featureless terrain, and after quite a while we got sight of Fox tor. Just for the heck of it we went there, and took the opportunity to decide on what to do next. Would we try to make a dash for the pub? It would probably involve more cross-countrying, and we were all tired after a short night and a strenuous marsh, and we had no idea how easy it would be to find a good spot for pitching our tents.
Viking negotiates a swollen stream

The path has vanished, and so has the rain!

 We decided against that, and ventured instead to Nun’s Cross Farm. I knew there were good camping spots there. It was even dry, with some sun beams, when we got there. There were people there; we were met by a chap from Cornwall Mountain Rescue who was there with a bunch of kids on a school outing, but we were welcome too. We found a spot at some distance from the boisterous children and pitched our tents. Henco and I, the clean ones of the company, then sought out a water body for a wash, while Viking started dinner.

Henco at a leat near Nun’s Cross

Viking cooks marvellous dinner. Notice the smiles have faded somewhat...
We cooked and ate in the dark, ogled by a large fox who seemed to be hoping for a share in Viking’s culinary achievements. And then we were all too tired to do much more than that. I was in bed by 8PM…

 Almost outside the reach of my flash: the visiting fox!
The next morning we woke up under a clear sky. What a difference! Happily we spent hours and hours on a breakfast of endless pancakes and coffee, and had our water bottles for the road refilled by the friendly CMR chap. And we made a plan for the day; nothing too strenuous this time. Largely clad in shorts and T-shirts (it was late October! Blimey!) we set off northward to Princetown. Somewhere along the line Roelof managed to sink down in ankle-deep mud after all, and we rescued an adventurous lady in an electric wheelchair who had done something equivalent and had gotten stuck, and soon we laid our eyes on Princetown. We had walked at least four kilometres, so it was time for a long break at the Plume of Feathers!
Pancakes for breakfast

By the time we’re ready to leave it has become summer…

Looking back at Nun’s Cross Farm

Viking contemplating mud

See the wheelchair aim for the horizon… 

Contrasts can be nice. No feeding our tired bodies in the rain, but a proper pub meal, accompanied by a proper pint, after a preposterous breakfast and a leisurely walk, in the sun. Bring it on! And after lunch we went back to some railroad walking; we would follow the well-known track, with a small detour past Foggintor Quarry, to the other side of King’s Tor, where we would do some more cross-countrying.

Nothing like a pub lunch after heavy breakfast and modest amounts of hiking

Foggintor Quarry

Hikers at the edge of Foggintor Quarry

Roelof checks the map next to a gratuitously decorative backlit tree

We came through some very scenic ruined settlement next to a stream; a possible camping place? We walked on to the pub. Which was closed. So we walked back to what we had called Tolkien Copse and settled there anyway. Beautiful! This time not only Henco and me gravitated towards the stream with a towel, but Erik followed. Three out of six isn’t bad! And after Henco’s couscous we went to the pub after all.  

View on Merrivale

It’s autumn!

“Tolkien Copse” with tent and tired hiker

Henco cooks dinner

Three out of six clean also means three out of six dirty; when we arrived there still were other guests in the pub, but that quickly changed. Coincidence? Who knows! But we tried a few semi-local ales and were glad. And then we went back to clean our teeth underneath an impressive milky way and called it a day.

Dartmoor Inn, with suspiciously few guests
The next day we woke up underneath a cloudy sky. We now got Dartmoor at its best for a few hours! Seething skies, but no rain. And we managed to top the previous’ day’s breakfast; we added Henco’s dessert, which we had deemed imperfectly timed the previous night. It was chocolate fondue! Unfortunately, they had forgotten to read the instructions, and the recipe required cream they hadn’t brought. This all resulted in a slightly unsightly brown blob in a cracked pot, but the idea was splendid!

Viking tries to save the chocolate fondue
When we walked off we started again on the railroad, and followed it until we reached the bridge from nowhere to nowhere. I thought it might be a good place for a group photo! I had, however, underestimated both the height of the walls obstructing view on the targets of the photo, and the time it would take to run up and add myself to the tableau vivant. It wasn’t much of a success. We tried again on top of the bridge; that was better!
Intrepid travellers

The failed group portrait on the bridge

The slightly more successful group portrait on the bridge

We then went off-road again; there was a line of Tors to be explored. Unfortunately Dartmoor became more typical on the way, and while we got wetter the view shrunk to a few tens of metres visibility. Oh well! We skipped the last Tor and dived into the woods of Croft’s Copse. Which are quite dense. Or in other words: impenetrable. Only after some chanceless bush-whacking which left Henco and Roelof covered in rustic layers of dead pine needles did we find a path, which we followed through the mossy woods.

Vanishing views from Sharpitor

Another check on the map in the rain

Roelof in a coat of pine needles, which would all end up in my bedroom

Pretty landscapes of Burrator

Cliché autumn scene
We had a last drippy lunch near Burrator Reservoir, and then we just took the quickest way to Yelverton. It had been enough fun! Happily we reached the Rock Inn and descended upon the beverages on offer, once again displeasing unsuspecting locals with our rich odour. It had been a good trip. And while we indulged in even more pints and pub food, and then the excellent services of the local bus services, we concluded we’d had three quite different hiking days with very varied landscapes and, indeed, quite different meteorological conditions. It had been all good!

Last waterlogged lunch

Walking along the yet another leat

The final group photo

Ominous-looking bovine at the path; he’s drooling heavily, but my wet camera doesn’t manage to capture that

The final meal at the Rock Inn (notice, once again, the suspicious absence of other guests)
And after a last night of freeing Roelof of his Ardbegh and watching Bottom (Henco’s sideburn look reminded me of Ade Edmondson!) my cherished guests once again departed. And when I had dealt with the havoc five guests in a small house had wreaked, including kilos of pine needles and half Roelof’s wardrobe, and the discovery of a hitchhiking tick, it was time to get ready for a visit to Durham, and get back to academic life. But with an extra stash of good memories! We won’t forget this swamphike anywhere soon…


Henco said...

Een mooi verslag van een mooie tocht!

Anonymous said...

Wauw, wat een tocht, beetje jaloers, maar leuk om zo toch een beetje mee te kunnen zijn.


Maaike said...

Ha! Zomphop FTW! Oja, eerste preview van rare experimentele foto's. (nee, ze zijn niet mislukt, dat hoort). Meer volgt zodra ik ze gescand heb.

Margot said...

Ja ik hoorde dat je geblesseerd was Nienke... herstel snel!

Margot said...

En sjonge! Das wel artistiekerig. Ik vind de koe op de startbaan wel zen!

Viking said...

Dank! mooi verslag! Ik ga de link doorsturen aan wat familie enzo die meer wilden weten over mijn moerassige belevenissen. En omdat het internet is en openbaar enzo ga ik niet eens wachten op jouw toestemming. HahahaHAAha!

Margot said...

Ha! Ik ben altijd blij met meer publiek. Mogen ze het ook een mooi verslag vinden!