Dartmoor always seems to get binned-off when I'm looking for places to go hiking. It isn't easily reachable by public transport and it's about as far down south as you can get which rules it out for adventures with my usual outdoor-pals who nearly all live up north.
This weekend however, I finally got round to taking a trip down there and as an added bonus, I took the pup.
That's right, it was to be the hounds first wild-camping adventure and we would do the occasion proud; man, van and beast. Better make sure I pack a celebratory lager and a a few Bonios for our first summit.
The choice of location was a bit of a last minute thing so I was unprepared. I spent Saturday morning farting-around deciding what to take as well as locating a camping shop could call at en-route that stocked the correct OS map. I also needed gas for the Jetboil (wild-camping superstove) and I fancied a new rucksack (rock and roll).
Dartmoor is home to three major military firing ranges and the route I had planned crossed quite far into one of them, so you have to check that the army aren't dropping live ammunition all over the place when you go there. I was fine.
It was a good route - quite short at six miles but took in a number of tors, one of which looked ideal for a camp. It could also be cut short at almost any point if the weather was awful or the dog was knackered (I have to keep reminding myself he's only four months old and has short legs).
The drive down was a massive ball ache, it's the school holidays and I was in a traffic jam from the moment I set off. Even in the van, with a #vanlife attitude it was almost too much. I considered binning off Dartmoor yet again, tempting signs along the road offered diversions to camp-sites, cream teas and pick-your-own strawberries which were hard to resist.
Eventually, after about 7 hours which did include 20 minutes in a shop for the essentials (and a new rucksack!) the van was parked at the side of a Devonshire track and off we went, down into a small valley and then up the top of the first tor.
Dartmoor is amazing, it's so much more wild than I had expected and very much more beautiful. I hadn't even given this a thought, I had just gone with the assumption that it would be an hour+ closer than the Lake District and probably worth the trip. How wrong! It is a brilliant place.
There's an immediate change the moment you drive over a cattle grid into the national park, and even just two minutes off the main road it feels very remote. Despite the school holidays and the traffic I didn't see another person from the moment I got out of the van.
At the top of the first tor, it was clear that the hound had done enough walking. It may have only been 45 minutes away, and we may have only covered a mile and a bit, but it was all uphill and the long grass meant he had hopped up most of it, so despite his nervous energy and a refusal to sit still, we struck camp!
Behind our rock which was sheltering us from gusts of wind, I climbed into my bivvy, made dinner (chicken curry) and tried to feed the pup who was more interested in growling at some cows a mile away. I suppose I might growl at a cow if I'd never seen one before.
We had pitched a bit early so it took an hour for the sun to set but soon enough we were both nodding off in the sleeping bag with a phenomenal array of stars on display above us.
I've done loads of wild camps in all sorts of places but the noises in Dartmoor though the night were unique. The wind really grinds around all the tors and your imagination runs wild trying to explain that thing you just heard in the darkness.
The wildlife too was very different. In the Lakes you might get a sheep or a rabbit coming past at night but here we had badgers scurrying about and wild horses! Dozens of them tending their foals and gambolling around just meters away.
Our perch was quite high up so the only thing that actually interacted with us was a giant beetle, which Bowie attacked and tried to eat after it got into the sleeping bag, but I did briefly have to consider moving when it looked like the horses were going to come up and tread all over us.
The morning arrived. There is nothing quite like waking up just before dawn on the top of a hill in the wilderness. It's refreshing and inspiring. You feel invincible, especially if the view is good and the stove is bubbling away. You're the first and only person up there like it's all yours and you've conquered it!
Bowie had breakfast, I had a brew (forgot milk!) and we tramped back to the van and drove home. He's going to be a good camping pal, and we are definitely going to explore Dartmoor a bit more often!