In November 2019, my friend Rob and I set off from South West London to Belstone on the Northern fringes of the Dartmoor National Park. My impending marriage was just about a month away and we had decided to nominally call this my stag do, although Rob did point out that he had been unable to arrange any strippers. Fair enough.
Being November, it was due to get dark early and we arrived to a right old pea-soup fog, with visibility probably only around 50 metres or so. We set off from the car park in Belstone, as I had done once before, and instantly I remembered how steep the initial section out of the village was. I was soon puffing my way up the hill, despite having lost some weight for the wedding, and was grateful when the ground levelled off a bit. We navigated using a combination of paper maps and the OS Maps app on our phones as a confirmation that we were where we thought we were. Soon, we came to the Nine Maidens stone circle.
The Nine Maidens stone circle is apparently named so because it is supposed to represent 9 Maidens who were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath. There are sixteen stones though, rather curiously, and apparently there could have been up to twenty. It is believed to be a bronze age burial site and it was quite eery in the mist. Normally on Dartmoor I am fairly disappointed with any stone rows or circles marked on the map, they can be quite underwhelming. This one wasn’t and is well worth a visit if you are interested in the history of the area. We were to encounter an even more spectacular circle later on this trip.
Once we had left the stones we joined the path that runs up past Belstone Tor, which was shrouded in mist, and continued on to Oke Tor. We had not specifically planned to camp on Oke Tor, but as the light was fading we decided to see if there were any areas that might make a good campsite. Sure enough, although a bit cramped and a bit muddy we found a couple of spots to put up our shelters and soon were busy pitching.
Once we had pitched we cracked open a bottle of whisky and relaxed having a drink and putting the world to rights. The darkness fell very quickly, and you could feel how moist the air was. In fact, within minutes my Mountain Laurel Designs Cricket tarp was dripping with water, even though it wasn’t raining.
We set about making dinner, having both chosen some freeze dried gloop, the likes of which I am now trying to avoid (hence the Camp Cookery section of this website, which I will gradually add ‘real’ recipe ideas to). However the food was passable and was washed down with a cold beer followed by some chocolate and whisky. Not long after this I rolled out my Outdoor Research Stargazer bivi, which I was trying for the first time. I believe they may now have discontinued this bivi as it no longer appears on their website, but this was the first time I had used it. I purchased it because it was very light, but still side entry, which is much better for oldies like me than the clamshell design. Unfortunately, though, it was very tight around the legs. This is a problem that others seem to have noted. It meant the down on my winter bag was quite compressed and my feet were a bit colder than I’d have liked. I have since used the bivi for my teenage son and he fit very well and loved it!
Whether it was because of the whisky I’m not sure, but I fell asleep having failed to zip up my bag. Rob told me later that I was, “quite a noisy sleeper”, which I took to mean I snored a lot. However, I woke about three hours later to a sodden sleeping bag where the fog has rolled in and soaked me. Grumpy I zipped up the bag, and remarkably within about 45 minutes I was fairly dry again. Obviously once the temperature had warmed inside the Pertex fabric did it’s thing and the membrane passed the vapour outside. It was quite impressive. I fell back asleep and had a restful night.
In the morning we woke to clear air and views! It looked like it was going to be a good day for walking. We exercised the luxury of not having to rapidly pack away and clear off, and had a leisurely breakfast of crumpets with jam on the Primus Camping Toaster. After a couple of cups of coffee, we packed up and headed on our way, intending to take in a few more Tors before heading home.
From Oke Tor we headed south towards Steeperton Tor, crossing the River Tor in Steeperton gorge as we did so. We stopped there to help a DofE group across as well, taking their packs for them and then watching the youngsters jump across. It was great to see young people out enjoying outdoor spaces with big grins on their faces. We spent a few minutes at Steeperton Tor, and then headed further south to Wild Tor, where we stopped for a break and something to eat.
We had a quick look at the map and decided to start heading north again back to car, via Hound Tor, Little Hound Tor and Cosden Hill. We had seen another stone circle on the map near Little Hound Tor and decided to see if we could find it. We reached Hound Tor quite quickly, but legs were starting to tire a bit as we neared the stone circle. However the circle really was quite impressive, so we stopped there for a rest and to admire it.
Once we’d had sufficient rest, we continued onwards towards Cosden Hill, upon which sits a trig point. By now rain had started coming down and legs were tiring, and thoughts were definitely turning to ‘how quickly can we get to the car?’.
Although only about 2.5 km as the crow flies, we tried to follow the path and in the end it took us about an hour to get back to the car from Cosden hill. We arrived back with aching legs, but agreeing that it had been a good trip. It was certainly a better way to celebrate my impending marriage, and I didn’t miss the strippers!
I used the excellent Harvey Maps British mountain map of Dartmoor for this trip.