In keeping with my earlier promise of doing things I’ve never done before (and well… if I want to keep up the blog writing, I need to find some content), I went camping with my other half, Chris, two weeks ago. This may sound unbelievable to some, but we’ve never ever done camping before – we’ve never been to music festivals and we rather like nice hotels, cool AirBnB rentals, good food… all the creature comforts that modern life provides. But as we were going to hike into the depths of Dartmoor this time around, it felt wrong to be holed up in a plush hotel somewhere, isolated from the wild and rugged expanse outside.
We took half a day off on a Friday with every intent on leaving home at 2.30pm, but we eventually only made it out of the house at 4.00pm, purely because… do you know what it takes to pack for a camping trip?!
When you stay at a hotel somewhere, you only need to bring your clothes and some toiletries with you (actually, the best hotels remove the need for the latter). For camping, you basically need to pack a mini version of your house with you… tent, sleeping mats, sleeping bags, towels… and so forth. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be packing all the things you’d need for a potential upcoming apocalypse.
We did a pit stop at our local grocery market to buy things like food and cheap-but-cheerful foldable chairs. And then, after about an hour of driving on the motorway, we hit a series of traffic jams, caused by rush hour traffic and horrible accidents. A drive that was meant to last 2.5 hours turned into an epic road trip nearly twice as long. We arrived at our campsite called Ashbourne Woods a few minutes short of 9.00pm and only had minutes of daylight hours to pitch our tent. Luckily, we had practiced this previously, so we sort of knew what to do. Unfortunately, due to us arriving there so late, I completely forgot to take a picture of our tent, which we set up in the woods under the shelter of trees.
We managed to find the campsite’s utility block (where the bathrooms were) after meandering down a path through the woods, glimpsing the sites of other campers with much bigger tents, their campfires crackling through the silence of the night. It was rustic and kinda surreal. Because it’s not every day that you see people huddling around a campfire in the woods. On the way back to our tent, everything was dark as most people seemingly had gone to sleep – it was sort of like The Blair Witch Project… creepy, I know. But if you’ve ever been a kid like the ones in Netflix’s Stranger Things… it was sort of fun as well. We arrived at our tent to settle in and get some much-needed sleep. So far, so good.
A sharp pain in my back woke me up in the middle of the night. That’s when I noticed that the yoga mats we were sleeping on were not enough to shield us from the surprisingly cold and stony ground – big camping rookie mistake, I later found out. I shuffled around a little and fell asleep only through sheer tiredness. When I woke up the following morning, I realized that Chris had hardly slept at all. So, after a quick makeshift breakfast, we decided to drive to the nearby town of Totnes, and buy ourselves proper self-inflatable camping mats for the following night.
By the time we arrived in the middle of Dartmoor National Park for the hike we planned, it was noon. We parked at Belever Car Park. Huge trees grew around us that reminded me of small versions of the Redwood Trees you’d find in Northern California. Fallen trees were scattered everywhere, with the force of the fall having ripped their roots from the ground. The root system of those trees alone (the somewhat round things on the picture below) stood at well over seven feet.
We walked through a tiny village and scrambled up a very steep and stony path, after which we found ourselves on more stable ground with great views over the countryside below. A small path led us further up and into a dense forest that you can just about see in the second of two pictures below. I couldn’t take pictures there, because it was a little too dark… but if I were to describe it, it looked a little like that forest in Return of the Jedi (it was filmed in another forest in England, not too far from this one), and I was secretly imagining Ewoks coming to greet me any time soon (it was a loooong walk, okay?).
When we emerged on the other side of the forest, two hours had passed since we set off from the car park. The weather had turned on us, with the wind whipping ice-cold raindrops into my face. According to the instructions we previously looked up online, we had to cross a road, enter a meadow through a gate and head to the chimney you can just about see on the left-hand side of the picture below. Easy, right?
Well, little did I know then that the empty and innocent ‘meadow’ we were about to cross was something straight out of Hunger Games. Basically, it was one big… bog.
If you’re wondering what happened next and why we will be doing quite a bit of hiking over the summer, :you’ll have to read my next blog post to be published later this week: