A weekend in Dartmoor by a wild camping novice

It’s been a long week of sitting behind a desk. Sitting on trains. Waiting patiently and not so patiently after delays and cancellations and signalling problems. I am clock watching at 16:41 on a Friday but let’s face it, who isn’t? Perched on my sofa, clad in my North Face hiking trousers and Arc’Teryx base layer, both our packs loaded in Fonzie’s boot, I’m waiting for 5 o’clock to tick over so I can stop aimlessly rearranging my PowerPoint presentation and hit the road.

I’m pretty new to wild camping. I haven’t got that many miles under my belt, but I’m really getting into it. There’s something so wonderfully primal about spending the entire day walking until your legs burn, then finding somewhere cosy to sleep for the night. Admittedly I would definitely struggle on my own, but Ben has been going for years and is quite honestly the sole reason I haven’t yet contracted dysentery or pitched the tent in the middle of a marsh.

Megan eating trail mix in Dartmoor wild camping
Clearly trail mix has always been a personal favourite 

Despite this being the hottest and driest summer of my life, we managed to pick the one weekend where it’s absolutely pissing it down. We can just about make out the car in fronts left tail light and I’m pretty sure if we don’t keep moving along this road/river, we’ll flood the engine. Thankfully it’s another 60 miles to Dartmoor, so I’m forever hopeful that this weather will change.

This will be my first expedition to the South Moors, normally we stick to the remote and tough ground in the North, skirting around the military firing range just out of Fernworthy Forest. This time, we’re heading towards Postbridge and intend to hike as much of the Two Moors Way as possible before our now traditional camp fire on the Saturday evening.

Apparently whichever rain God I was praying too on the journey up, took pity on me and the skies were crystal clear, when we carefully selected the least threatening looking lay by to leave the car in for the weekend. Boots on, packs strapped, head torch on full beam, we made our way into an unknown forest to find a decent pitch. Albeit slightly tricky in the woods at night, we still managed to find a clear patch of ground to get the tent up and oh my. Those stars. This is the reason all the great love stories, the saddest tragedies and wildest adventure novels have been written. Unfortunately for us, however, rain is forecast from 2am onwards, so reluctantly the outer goes on and we bed down for the night. 

When we wake, I am greeted by one of my all time favourite views; mist shrouded forest. As much as camping when it’s sunny and dry is lovely, nothing is more magical than fog resting lazily between tree trunks. It’s not an early start, but it’s also not a late one and today is our best shot at getting some good miles down. After a quick coffee, we’ve got the campsite packed up and are heading out to find a trail. 

Good morning mysterious and beautiful forest!

Within the first hour, we’re both soaked. Our ‘waterproof’ jackets are the best part of 5 years old and despite some valiant attempts at re-proofing, are wetting out rapidly. I knew my North Face had seen better days but as it’s still about 15-20C neither of us are too concerned about hypothermia. I did however, use it as an excuse to eat all my trail mix before lunch to ‘keep my energy up’. 

I’ll review some of the gear I’ve been using as a beginner wild camper in another post, but if this trip has taught me anything so far, it’s that being dry is being happy. Before we go on a winter trip, a new jacket, waterproof trousers and a better roll mat are very necessary. Taking refuge from the wind and rain behind a Tor, we tucked into our pasta and scrambled egg with cheese for lunch. Perhaps in hindsight it was a strange combination of rehydrated meals, but it felt Michelin star at the time. 

Due to being on a tight time budget, we decided to loop around and find a more sheltered spot in the same forest we stayed in on our first night. Offering protection from the elements and maybe, just maybe, the possibility of a camp fire. 

We made good time. An hour before sunset, we’ve got our campsite set up, a fire roaring and dinner on the go. For the last 24 hours I’ve been carrying a bottle of red wine instead of water and after 25 miles, it tastes like liquid gold. Despite the contents of my bag getting a good soaking after not securing a bottle lid properly, I’m in remarkably good spirits. Perhaps it’s the Cote du Rhône, perhaps it’s accidentally melting one of Bens socks to my fire stick, but I feel overwhelmingly satisfied. 

Our perfect little pitch between the trees

Its been a short but successful trip. Tomorrow its back to civilisation and I’ll turn from outdoor forest warrior into office job wanker again, but I’m not thinking about that as I peel my damp socks off my feet. With the sound of the rain gently beating against the tent and the red wine creeping into all four corners of my mind, I drift off feeling content, wild and free. 

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