Dartmoor Part 2: The Way of the Dead

I guess you’ve waited long enough for Part 2 of our Dartmoor saga

So, Chris and I were in that boggy meadow. The first few steps were fine. But then, the ground began to swallow up our feet, unless we moved like ninjas (in my case, it may have looked more like Kung Fu Panda). Halfway through the meadow (while trying to jump from one unstable patch of ground to the next), I fell into a plant – a very prickly plant – and into the wet mud below. I could feel my socks soak up the water, and Chris eventually had to help me up. But somehow, we persevered. And after what felt like an agonizingly long time, we breathed in a sigh of relief as we reached the gate on the other side.

However, that sigh of relief came way too early. As I was switching into another pair of socks (Google told me I should always carry a fresh pair in my backpack) I heard Chris mention something about the exit gate being closed. We spent around half an hour walking along the fence to find another gate, but then encountered a wide stream without a functioning bridge. So we went all the way back to the closed gate, and that’s when Chris told me about the old sign he saw lying discarded on the ground, which said the gate was closed in 1999. I looked at it and that’s when I remembered something.

Just after we emerged from the forest we came from, I took a picture of the first gate through which we entered the meadow. Why? Because there was a quirky sign right in front of it. But did I actually read the sign?

Ehm… no.

I thought it was just one of those signs that gave you the latitude and longitude of wherever you were… or something along those lines. I quickly took my phone out and looked at the picture.

Had we read the sign, we would have realized that the path was actually closed in 1999 (so, almost twenty years ago) and diverted further east.  Yes, an obvious facepalm moment 🤦🏻‍♀️. So, if you ever find yourself in Dartmoor: READ THE SIGNS. Most of them will be pretty useless. Sometimes, there will be two signs in the shape of an arrow pointing in two different directions, and both arrows will just say ‘PATH’. But once in a while, there might be a sign that could, potentially, save your life. Or at least preserve your sanity.

We walked towards the east, and finally found the exit gate we had been searching for. Soon, we arrived at Dartmoor’s Powder Mill Chimney – the very same chimney we had been seeing for the past hour or so, which looked so near and was yet so far. That’s when we rewarded ourselves with energy bars and water. But we took off again soon enough and headed further into the moor. In the distance, we could see two Tors – that seems to be a fancy word to describe a pile of very big rocks. We headed towards the bigger one of the two. It turned out to be much further than it seemed. The wind was howling by the time we got there, and we decided to leave our backpacks to climb up the Tor. Let’s face it… the chances of thieves stealing our backpacks in an essentially deserted place was close to zero.

The wind was even stronger up there – and much louder than it had been below. It was actually difficult to breathe. It was a strange feeling… like drowning not in water, but air. And the view could easily give you a bit of vertigo. We slowly climbed back down and continued our walk, getting lost at first because, again, there was no obvious path to be seen. We passed by cows, sheep and goats… and eventually arrived at our destination: Wistman’s Wood.

Wistman’s Wood is a strange little forest. The trees are relatively small, and as you can see from the above picture, the ground is covered by boulders with rich green moss. It’s a place you could imagine elves or fairies living in. It would be one hell of a photo shoot backdrop… if only it didn’t take that long to get there.

Our walk was meant to have been a circular walk, but as we set off later than planned and got lost along the way – thus losing daylight hours – we decided to go back the way we came. That way, even if it did get darker, we would sort of know our way. Of course, we had to cross the Hunger Games meadow again, and I kid you not… we lost another hour there again. It was a darn big and open space. This time around, we thought we found a path… which turned out to be a dead end. There were either dangerous holes in the ground or it just gave way to a bonafide swamp. It was terribly frustrating. We could see where we had to go… but couldn’t find a way to get across.

Finally, after what felt like eternity, we saw people. We hadn’t seen anyone out on the moor for a long time. Chris normally finds it hard to ask for directions – even when lost. Sigh. So, so, so… typical for guys (sorry but the stereotype stands here). But he was desperate enough this time, and asked the couple we bumped into for the way out of our own personal battlefield.

The couple was searching for the chimney we passed. So we gave them some pointers, and they told us how to get to the exit gate on the other side. The path that led to the exit gate eventually revealed itself, and had it not been full of cow dung, I would have kneeled down and kissed what looked like the famous Yellow Brick Road.

When we arrived at our campsite that night, it was raining hard. We couldn’t get our campfire to light up, and hence, we couldn’t eat our dinner. So we went to bed grumpy and unfed but had a surprisingly restful night courtesy of the new self-inflatable mats we bought that morning (see Part 1).

Once I was back at work, I told my colleagues about our experience hiking in Dartmoor. They asked me about the route we took, and I said there were signs that called the path ‘Lich Way’ or ‘Lych Way’ (you can just about see it written on the gate sign in the second picture of this blog). They quickly googled it, and it turns out that the route we took has another sinister name: it is also known as the Way of the Dead. It was named due to its historic beginnings in the 13th century, when residents had to hike for miles to attend their church for burials come rain or shine. ‘Lich’ in Old English means ‘body’. Any German who reads this will likely see the similarity to the equivalent German word, ‘Leiche’.

You might think this was the first and also last time we’d go camping and hiking. But we’re actually booked to go again soon. In a few weeks time, we will be scaling the highest mountain in Wales, Mount Snowdon. There are many ways to go up there, including a train or – at the opposite side of the spectrum – the infamous (and heart attack inducing) knife-edge ridge known as Crib Goch.

And now, for the big reveal: the reason we are currently doing all this hiking is this: we signed up to do the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge later this year. For those who don’t know, this involves hiking 24 miles (38.6km), scaling three (duh!) peaks with a total ascent of 1,585m. And all that in under 12 hours.

Wish us luck!

 

 

 

 

 

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