A rainy weekend on the Moor

Our first two day walk with an overnight camp of the year with the National Trust’s Wild Tribe teams and those from Torquay Boys Grammar School …..

rain
This was the view when I arrived at the car park – only a mile walk to our wild camping site but nevertheless…

camp
At the back of Foggintor Quarry – at least it stopped raining for a few minutes whilst I got my tent up – it then rained all night –  a mixture of wind blown drizzle and heavy rain – I was soaked as was the inside of my tent by 6.30pm – a long night ahead. Apparently this was Storm Ewan but I didn’t know that at the time!

Teams started leaving camp at 4.30am

In view of the continuing poor weather and the forecast predicting more heavy rain from 3pm we convened a meeting in the Fox Tor Cafe at 8am to review routes.

Our teams were intending to go from the Princetown area through the centre of the high moor right up to Okehampton camp via Great Knesset i.e. a route which was a long way from anywhere hospitable.

We re-routed all the teams up the west side of the moor closer to roads in case anything went wrong and decided to end at 3pm at Meldon instead of 5pm at Anthony Stile.

tavy
This is the Tavy – despite all the rain flowing low

great-nodden
We went up to Nodden Gate to checkpoint some teams through – the dome of Great Nodden in the background.

Most of Dartmoor is made of of granite which is an igneous rock formed from molten lava – in contrast Great Nodden consists of metamorphic rock (i.e. older rocks which have been transformed by heat or pressure or both) – thus its very different shape

lyd
The River Lyd

brat-tor
The Lyd with Brat Tor and the Widgery Cross to the left

lyd-stepping-stones
Somewhat surprisingly – very low water levels at the Lyd Stepping Stones

Safely back at Meldon just as the 3pm rain arrives

A big well done to all the young people (and the team of adult leaders) who made it to the end – a character building weekend

All my kit bar my tent is now dry – my tent will be by the end of the day

Mist and mizzle at the top of Dartmoor

Yesterday I was up on high Dartmoor as part of our 10 Tors training – we had around 60 young people and a dozen adult helpers. It was the kind of day that unless you had to go out onto the moors you probably wouldn’t have. The visibility was pretty poor, there was either constant mizzle  or wind driven rain. It was a day for navigating via a compass and not using landmarks. All in all a good day for practicing various 10 Tors skills and testing your clothing and equipment.

okehampton-common
On Okehampton Common looking into the Red-a-ven brook

okehampton-common-2

Between West Mill Tor and Rowtor (which were invisible in the mist) back down to Anthony Stile

dinger-tor-1
Up at Dinger Tor

dinger-tor-2
At Dinger Tor – wet, windy, cold and misty

lichens
A Cladonia lichen brightens up the day – close to High Willhays

pool-at-high-willhay
A pool close to High Willhays

ian-and-tony-at-high-willhay
Ian and Tony at High Willhays, the highest point on Dartmoor (and south England) at 621 metres.

high-willhay
Various teams of walkers pass through High Willhays

On the right hand side of this picture you can see a single individual on top of the Cairn – rather oddly and worryingly he appeared out of the mist wearing a pair of trainers and a non waterproof coat carrying a supermarket carrier bag and asked us which Tor he was at, stating that he didn’t have a map! We told him he was at High Willhays and he seemed very pleased to have found it. He then sat on the cairn for 30 minutes – he must have got soaked. We asked if he wanted help getting back but he said he knew the back and was fine ……. One walk away from disaster.

meldon
Back down at Meldon Reservoir (look how low the water level is) you can see the mist and rain on the high moor

meldon-dam
Looking down over the dam

routeHere’s the route I took yesterday starting at the car park at Meldon reservoir – it is around 10.5 miles in length and on a day with good visibility is a great high Dartmoor walk. If you do decide to do it  – please wear good walking boots, waterproof clothing and take a map and compass …….

A cold spell approaches

October has been incredibly mild and I haven’t seen any rain for around 4 weeks. It would appear that that is about to change with colder weather coming in from the north and east.

red-admiral
Last week there were still lots of red admirals, peacocks and speckled woods on the wing

I suspect we will now have to wait until spring next year to see them again – winter beckons

Icy night camping followed by whinchat, wheatear and cuckoo

We wild camped on Saturday night at Dick’s Well behind Brat Tor.

Dick's Well 1
We set up our tents in bright sunlight before our 10 Tors teams arrived later in the evening

Dick's Well 2
As darkness fell the moon rose – close by Jupiter shone brightly.

Dick's Well 4
It was a still but cold night – in the morning the tents were covered in frost

Dick's Well 3
This is my walking boot which was inside my tent all night – crusted with ice – thank goodness for my 3 season Rab sleeping bag!

Dick's Well 5
In the morning we walk back to Nodden Gate – the sun was shining again. Beside the River Lyd is this lovely matrix of habitats, moorland, gorse and small shrubs – a softly re-wilded landscape

Whinchat
Patches of gorse are great habitat for the whinchat – we saw a couple of birds on our walk back (this rather blurry photo was taken on the Islesof Scilly last year)

WheatearThere had also been a large fall of wheatear overnight. The previous day there had been a couple of birds – Sunday morning they were  everywhere. It is great to see and experience migration in action – it is such an exciting time of the year.

cuckoo-sb

Later in the morning we walked from the Willsworthy Ranges around to Lane End and saw a couple of cuckoos – our first birds of the year. The first bird we saw was a female who performed her characteristic bubbly call. Moments later a male arrived and sang the classic cuck – coo call. Both birds were being chased around by a carrion crow – cuckoos in flight can look very like a bird of prey and I suspect the crow thought they were sparrowhawks and wanted rid of them in case they predated its nest. (This photo was taken last year in Northamptonshire by my  friend Steve Brayshaw.)

 

 

 

Tors with big blue cloudy skies on Dartmoor and the red zone

On Saturday evening I was on Dartmoor heading towards Dick’s Well where our 10 Tors teams were camping for the night. It was fabulous weather – sunny, big blue skies and lots of photogenic clouds. Here are a few photographs I took whilst we were waiting for a team to arrive.

Arms Tor and Great Nodden
Arms Tor looking north to Great Nodden

Great LinksUp to Great Links

Arms Tor and Brat TorArms Tor over to Brat Tor and the Widgery Cross

Arms Tor 1Arms Tor

Arms Tor, Sharp Tor, Hare Tor Brat TorArms Tor, Sharp Tor, Hare Tor and Brat Tor

It  was a magical 15 minutes of sun, light and solitude in an awesome landscape – I wished it could have lasted forever.

It didn’t though – we had to walk back down to Nodden Gate to ‘talk’ to one of our teams only to then have to walk back up to Dick’s Well via Brat Tor. If you haven’t done that walk I recommend you do – it is very steep – it is a red zone climb and Tony and I did it twice in 90 minutes – I suppose the consolation was that the second time were weren’t carrying full 65 litre rucksacks.

A snowy Sunday on Dartmoor

I went up to Dartmoor yesterday to see the snow – there was plenty of it about on the high moor.

Bennett's Cross 1
This is Bennett’s Cross near to the Warren House Inn

Bennett's Cross 2
Another view looking over to Soussons

Postbridge 2
At Postbridge looking up the East Dart Valley

Postbridge 3
House at Postbridge

Meldon Hill
Meldon Hill

Didn’t see any reckless parking or trespassing on private land which was good but I did hear things might have been different around Princetown.

A trip to Holne Moor – cuckoos, scrub and flood prevention

I spent the afternoon yesterday with Kevin Cox, who lives in the Mardle Valley, is an RSPB Council member and heavily involved with Devon Birds. We talked about Devon birds, Devon Birds and the management of Dartmoor’s commons. Kevin has recently purchased part of Holne Moor from South West Water.

Holne 1
Holne Moor overlooking Venford Reservoir.

We went up to Holne Moor to have a look around. A very interesting visit for me. This is the key bird research area I have written about recently – the place where Exeter University’s Professor Charles Tyler, his team of research students and nest finders have been working (The Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group) – see here and here. This is the area where some of the key cuckoo research is taking place as well as being an area which supports high population densities of whinchat and meadow pipit.

Holne 4
The moor is grazed and has a swaling programme but does have quite a lot of small trees dotted around the landscape – cuckoos need these small trees so that they can survey the landscape and see where the meadow pipit nests are. On many commons now these dotted isolated trees are absent and new regeneration is now difficult due to the grazing and burning pressure.

The area is also very interesting as it gives a clue as to how natural flood management measures might work on Dartmoor in the future and play a part in ‘slowing in the flow’. South West Water have retained a belt of land around their reservoir at Venford. This area has been fenced off.

Holne 2

In this photograph you can clearly see the fence line – with grazed moorland to the right and the lightly grazed enclosure to the left. You can see that patches of light scrub have developed in the closure.

Holne 3
Here is another view of that enclosure.

These two photographs tell me a couple of things.

Firstly, if Dartmoor was not grazed, scrub and eventually woodland would quickly develop – the George Monbiot re-wilding scenario. Dartmoor is of course as I have said many times before an important historical and cultural landscape and therefore if the re-wilding scenario were to happen across the Dartmoor landscape then most of that would be lost. The landscape of Holne Moor is a good example of this as it has been ‘designated’ as a Premier Archaeological Landscape – see here for further details.

Atlas of Antiquities 1Jeremy Butler in his 5 volume Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities sets out a detailed catalogue of the archaeological interest.

Atlas of Antiquities 2
The map and accompanying text details the importance of the area from the Bronze Age, through the Mediaeval period to the present.

The challenge for all those involved with the management of such places therefore is getting the balance right between archaeological interests and biodiversity – both of which are of European Importance. I have written about this challenge before and it seems to prove intractably difficult to solve even though all parties are in fact pretty much in the same place – i.e. everyone wants a grazed landscape.

As Kevin Cox said to me on site yesterday (I paraphrase) – the archaeology has survived on here on Holne Moor for thousands of years through the ebb and flow of vegetation and farming cycles, however at the moment there is a biodiversity crisis and we may only have 30 years to save some species such as the cuckoo. Surely there is enough flexibility and goodwill within the system to tweak a few management techniques and thereby work out how to enable the cuckoo (and whinchats, meadow pipits etc) to flourish (e.g. ensure there are perching places and enough food for cuckoos) – the work that the Dartmoor Upland Bird Nest Group are currently researching.

The second thing that the two photos above tell me is how quick and easy theoretically it will be to naturally add regenerating trees and scrub to the landscape in very small but strategic places so that natural flood management schemes can help slow the flow. If enclosures were erected around specific stream valleys the developing scrub would quickly emerge and add ‘hydraulic roughness’. The areas of grazing land lost would be tiny and as long as the Commoners were compensated and not penalised as the current ‘ineligible feature’ nonsense currently would do then surely this too is a win-win for everyone.

I thought yesterday was going to be dominated by Storm Imogen – it certainly seems to have around our coasts but inland it was pretty windy but in my experience was mostly dry and allowed me instead to make a new friend, see a new place and think more about Dartmoor and its management.Holne 5