Had a few days off so a rucksack was packed, water bottles filled and camera charged. Off to south Dartmoor wild camping for four days. Two and a half of which would be solo and the rest being a friendly rendezvous on top of Hookney Tor with Ed and Guy, two fellow bushcrafters! Please enjoy our trip report from south Dartmoor wild camping.
I wanted to explore the south Dartmoor as it was an area where I had not been before. Arrived at Ivybridge at 4pm, where had the day gone!? With a quickened step I made my way through the centre past the Paper Mill and eventually out onto the moor.
Oh wow, it had been a while! A huge vista in front of me, no one around. I had this part of the moor all to myself with just the warm rays of the sun for company. Cows, and sheep, and horses joined me with horse flies too! All the best of company when in south Dartmoor wild camping.
There was no real challenge in terms of navigation for this first stage. I was planning on spending the night wild by Broad Falls close to the Red Lake China clay workings. To get there required me simply to amble along a large track for the most part.
I spotted a person in the distance standing on a rock, as I approached and got close enough the unwritten rule of a friendly hello was uttered, (sometimes hard for a Londoner). The person was a chap from Portugal and boy was he lost! He explained how he was trying to wild camp by Avon Dam reservoir but lost his way, the spot was very far away. How can you walk for that long before realising you are lost?
On I went, past rather bland scenery. That is until you see the Red Lake clay works suddenly appear out of nowhere. It does not look of this world. Very strange. In the distance I could see other campers by the base of the mound too. I stopped to have a bite and a drink, it was very hot and there wasn’t much water left in my bottles. No worry I thought, I’m camping next to a stream.
Into the Wild
Started my descent into the valley I would call home for the night, lovely views of the, at this stage, tiny River Avon. It was starting to get into evening now and the light was starting to fade a little. I followed the stream for a little until I found a flat spot. The Akto was pitched and I celebrated by refreshing myself with the last of my water. No worries, I’m camped by a stream…
The stream was orange. Now, I have been in peat areas before and the water is cloudy but perfectly fine to drink, but this was orange and there were patches of orange slime. Plant life? Nothing growing in the water, everything in or close to the water’s edge was black and dead. I explored the surrounding area and went as far as I could upstream, same story. Chlorine Dioxide tablets were unpacked and a bottle was filled from the cleanest fastest flowing spot I could find. I even tried to filter the water through my soft shell, the result was still of a highly odd colour!
This was the first night of my trip, do I risk getting ill and ruining my whole trip?
Thus began a long night of great thirst. It is always fun in south Dartmoor wild camping I thought.
Next morning, I’m awake and rather dehydrated. Up and about now and packing my gear up, I notice there’s a lot of condensation on my tent… *slurp*
My next leg was to walk into the local town past Bronze Age circles, up onto the moor and finally through forest to the start of the road and then finally to Holne. It was a long walk, in the heat with no water. Not pleasant.
Refuelled and back on the trail. This time heading along The River Dart, weather was superb and lots of people were enjoying swimming and chilling out by the water.
Second night on the moor was the polar opposite of yesterday’s experience. I pitched early and relaxed in the afternoon sun overlooking a great expanse of moorland, valley and tor. So wild camping is enjoyable after all?
Clear night and a chance to do some astro photography.
In the zone the following morning, setting off with that sense of freedom that hiking with a rucksack brings.
Down off the moor and into a shaded woodland valley with a stream flowing through was what I followed next towards Widecombe on the moor. This village literally screams Quintessential English!
Now later on I was planning on meeting up with the rest of the group, the agreed point was Hookney Tor opposite Grimspound, another late Bronze Age camp. After leaving the wooded valley I once again climbed up onto the moor and pressed on towards that evening’s tor.
Pitched and watched the colours change around me as the sun went down. Chance to capture some details of south Dartmoor wild camping.
Ed and Guy appeared in the distance. I am not sure how Ed managed to bring such a large bottle of whiskey must have strong back muscles or something…
Conversation and an eerie night walk around Grimspound followed. It is great to share south Dartmoor wild camping with friends.
“What is that in the distance? It’s getting closer!” We may never know what Guy saw that night, but my guess it was Aliens… or a sheep.
One of the topics we discussed was that of a nearby forest bordering a reservoir that had seem some talk online about being a hot destination for bushcraft. The next day we decided to check it out…
Fernworthy Forest & The Bushcraft Community
We had read a large number of posts online about bushcraft camping in Fernworthy Forest and its surrounding woodland, so we packed up and headed over to investigate. All piled into Ed’s car we parked at a random track leading into the forest.
At first Fernworthy looks impressive, however one cannot forget this is a working forest and a closer inspection reveals typical forest block rows behind the first layer of slightly more natural looking trees. I guess this is done on purpose for anyone wanting to take a stroll through the forest and pretend they are in a real setting. That trick doesn’t last long for bushcrafters…
We continued our walk through humid and seemingly lifeless plantation with only the patrolling workers in a 4×4 for company. They did not bother or disturb us, but three guys with large rucksacks on draw attention and I presumed they wanted to make a point.
We did pass a rather large fire mark on the ground, whoever did it positioned the fire right on top of the grass. Careless and irresponsible.
Out onto the edge of the plantation now looking out onto the moor it’s a dramatic change between dense forest and open moor but it appeared all artificial. Walking along the edge we dropped down into a stream valley and back into the forest. Stopping for a bit to practice some skills and cook some lunch.
Guy must have been thinking about ET again because he missed the deer we saw. All fun and games in south Dartmoor wild camping.
Almost back to the car now and we all agreed that Fernworthy is no place for bushcraft or camping. For me I draw a line between a hill walking wild camping trip and a bushcraft trip, the line is drawn because of certain issues, environment, equipment and etiquette.
Spirit of the Rules
Environment – practising bushcraft skills in an artificial woodland seems pointless. It’s an unnatural closed in affair.
Equipment – who brings an axe or full tang bushcraft knife on a light weight hill walking trip? Hence I like to keep a distinction between styles of trip.
Etiquette – UK law is pretty against wild camping as it is, but it’s tolerated. Dartmoor is the only place in the UK and Wales where you can legally wild camp but that right doesn’t extend to the private forests. For me, Dartmoor is all about the wide open spaces, interesting geology and mountain streams and not plantation woodland.
Bottom line, Fernworthy is uninteresting place for bushcrafters and wild campers. Head for the hills and leave you axe and dreams of an open fire at home.
I wish there was an alternative for people wanting to light fires and sleep in shelters but in the UK they are hard to come by, especially in England. The most important thing is to be outdoors and to some degree treat open fires as a treat and not a right. This was a trip report from south Dartmoor wild camping.