Microadventures, Dartmoor, and piss poor weather forecasting

Wildcamp star trail
So, to Microadventures first, and then to Dartmoor, and a very bad situation.

Have you heard of microadventures yet? If not, then be cautious clicking that link as they are addictive and the rest of your days will be spent wondering when your next microadventure will come. The gist of it is this: Adventure is a state of mind. You do not need lots of money or huge plans and weeks and months of time to go and have a great adventure. Make do with what you’ve got, and turn that into an adventure. Work from 9-5? Then make 5-9 really count. Clock out, grab your bag, and go and sleep out under the stars, waking up early to make it back to work the next day, maybe a little more tired, but certainly a lot happier.

Alastair Humphreys also thought up the ‘Year of Microadventure’, each month you spend a night out under the stars. Thats it, nice and simple. So that is what I have set out to do. January was a good one, if a little damp. Me and my friend Jerry spent the night camped out in the new forest, on a really nice clear night. We cooked up some marshamallows, had some tea, and settled down for the night. It was a good, if slightly restless sleep. The moon was full, out in force, and I may as well have slept with a lamp in my face for all the difference it would have made.

We woke early, cold, but happy we had done it, and looking forward to February’s challenge.

Which didn’t happen. Bad weather, combined with work just meant I didn’t have a chance to get out. Which kind of goes against the whole ethos but what can I say? February was a day shorter this year so there were less nights to sleep out on…

Dartmoor the Deadly

But, missing out on the Feb sleep out didn’t really matter, as I was going to spend a few days out in March, walking around Dartmoor with friends, so that should make up for a missed day the previous month. It was gloriously planned. I would bivvy, Wayne had a pop up beach shelter to sleep in, and John was going to wrap himself in a tarp. Very sensibly prepared.

Now for those of you that don’t know, Dartmoor is in the middle of bloody nowhere, so its about a 3 or 4 hour drive from where we are. So long, So boring, and the closer we got to Dartmoor the more the drizzle turned into rain. We pull up in the Princetown car park, and head into the visitor centre. I go over the route and check the weather. The board says rain for most of the day and overnight. Nothing we aren’t prepared for, however we decide to start in Postbridge rather than Princetown as we arrived a bit later than we expected so wanted to shorten the route.

As the new route will bring us back past the car in the morning, we dump all but one nights worth of food, get our rain gear on, and set off. Despite the rain, and the generally poor weather, it is a bloody lovely walk. Dartmoor is a stunning landscape if you can look past the initial damp barren nature of it. We made rather slow progress, partially due to Waynes constant selfie taking (as you can see in the pictures), but mostly because we were not trying to set any records and just wanted to take our time. Our first stop was going to be the top of Higher White Tor, until we realised the reason we couldn’t see it in the distance was that it was covered in cloud and rain. So bugger that for a lark lets just get to camp and chill out. The route, however, involved crossing the river, which we found out was not possible without heading back to Postbridge and crossing at the bridge there. So, back the way we came, cross over the bridge, and head back the exact same way, just on the other side of the river.

Its tough going, our boots are soaked from the wet ground, there is gorse bush everywhere just stabbing you from all angles, and its so rainy even our waterproofs are struggling to keep us dry. We stop for a break, and miraculously it stops raining and the sun comes out for a bit to dry us off. The views are amazing, the sun feels great, and we are feeling pretty chuffed to be doing something so awesome. We carry on, a bit drier and warmer, forging through the mazes of bogs (John almost lost his boot) and gorse bushes, and gradually make our way up the hill. Apparently the biggest hill in the world because the top just kept coming and coming but never seemed to get any closer. The wind picked up, and it suddenly got very cold at the top, and we felt very exposed.

We quickly get into woods, glad to be out of the rain, and have a look about. They are not like nice woods, all dappled light and soft leafy ground, but rather dark and murky, with a damp moss covered ground scarred by deep furrows of machinery tracks. No good for camping in at all. We find a trail, and decide to make camp on it. Its flat, smooth, and not covered in puddles, and we get a little fire going (not really advisable in a peaty area such as this, but the floor was wet, and made of gravel, and we needed to dry out and warm up). Having neglected to get water at the river, thinking we would find a stream in the woods (no hope…), we had to ration our water to last the night and get more in the morning. So, we boiled up enough to cook our supernoodles in, and sat around enjoying the fire and drying our boots out. I had brought some salami along, which was probably the best idea I’ve ever had. All in all it had been a pretty good day, and we settled down for the night with full bellies and smiles on our faces.

Literally the minute we got into our sleeping bags it started to rain. The weather reports all said rain, so we expected it. Sleep came and went, the noise of the rain on my bivvy keeping me from settling, especially as it got heavier and the wind picked up. A storm soon blew in and the rain was lashing it down. Now it was impossible to sleep, and it felt as though I spent the first few hours wide awake listening to the weather. The storm got really bad, and I eventually woke up freezing cold, only to find out that water had got into my bivvy and I was basically sleeping in a puddle. My sleeping bag was soaked through, as was everything else. The rain was so heavy that even my British Army bivvy couldn’t keep it out. I looked at Wayne, and he was soaked through too, only John was ok, snoring away in his little one man tent (he made a very sensible last minute decision to get a tent), so I did the best I could to find a dry part in my bag and had some more very disturbed and restless sleep.

Eventually I had to get up to pee, I just couldn’t hold it any longer, although I gave serious thought about just doing it inside my bivvy (it was soaked anyway…) but in the end thought that maybe a little walk would warm me up. I struggled about to get my boots and waterproofs on, and went out into the storm.

It was absolutely fucking awful.

The wind was howling, strong enough that I had to lean into it. Even standing behind a tree did nothing to help. Rain was everywhere, coming from all directions, The trees were flailing about in the wind and it was icy cold.  I did what I came out to do, then tried walking up and down the path to warm up, but it was no good. I climbed back inside, and only felt slightly warmer as the damp couldn’t get through my waterproofs. I was getting so cold I genuinely thought we might not make it through the night (well, me and Wayne. John the bastard was still snoring away). Shouting over the wind to hear each other, we decided to leave at first light. All hope of staying a second night vanished as soon as our sleeping bags got soaked.

As soon as we could see, we got up and packed away, hoping that if we got moving we would warm up and might one day regain feeling in our hands and feet. I numbly stuffed everything back in my bag, everything weighing more now thanks to all the water my stuff had soaked up. Wayne saw a tree fall over in the wind, which sped up the packing somewhat, and we got the hell out of there quick, following the road back out, and watching several other trees, huge thick massive trees, just bending over in the wind like they were made of rubber.

We make our way down the hill, getting soaking wet feet in the sheer amount of water running off the top of it, and fighting the wind and hail just to stay upright. We got down almost to the river, but it had risen so much overnight that the trail along side it was simply not there anymore, so we cut a path along the hills, thinking that we would be low enough to avoid the worst of the wind, but high enough to keep out of the worst of the water. All it really did however was give us a lot of wind and a lot of water, but by this point we could care less. You can’t get wetter than wet. We saw a house in the distance, which meant a road, and made a beeline for it though gorse bush and mud and pools, tripping over roots and sinking in hidden boggy patches. It wasn’t much better on the road, as It was mostly underwater, but it was flat, and stable, and free of those fucking gorse bushes. God damn those things. Eventually we make it back to Postbridge, but not without almost losing John to the wind (it was so strong it slid him across a muddy field for about 10 feet) and me to a stream (I was just about to jump over when a huge gust nearly knocked me straight  in). Wayne took a few falls too.

We crossed the bridge, and where just the day before had been a peaceful trickling river, there was now a raging torrent of water, roaring along most of the way up the bank. God help anyone who fell in that. We spend a good half hour in the car park toilets drying off and putting on fresh clothes, and then sit in the car for a good while more with the heating on full blast, before heading off home.

And it did not stop pissing it down the whole way.

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