In the footsteps of Grandpa

My brother Joe and I had been meaning to do this for a while. Our grandfather had been brought up in Devon, so had spent many years of his early life camping and walking the moors. Many of our own family holidays were spent walking on Dartmoor and Exmoor, under the expert guidance of Grandpa, and for two young boys it is paradise; playing in mud, damming streams, and generally running riot while the older generations worry about all the important things.

In later years, we discovered that in 1947, when Grandpa was 22, he walked the entire length of Dartmoor in a single day. Ivybridge to Okehampton, a distance of 28 miles. A long summers day, in conjunction with a decent dry spell permitting areas not normally passable to be walked with ease, allowed him to catch an early bus to Ivybridge, walk across the moor, and catch the bus home. No mean feat. Many many years later, Joe and I decided we’d like to do a similar walk, as it is not often one can emulate a trip done by our forefathers, in the same fashion.

I suggested we walk the whole thing in a day, and walk into the dark to achieve this. Joe suggested that as it was going to be nearly November, short days, and had been raining fairly consistently for the previous 3 months, that this wasn’t such a clever idea. Joe won this debate, and the plan was set for a two day walk, with a route taking into account the fact that much of Dartmoor constituted bog that could submerge a grown horse.

An early Halloween Saturday morning, we parked up a small track near Ivybridge, and set off, camping kit and food packed between us. As is usual with our trips, it was perfectly planned, and kit lists prepared weeks previously (as the pictures show, we did in fact throw a wide array of camping ‘stuff’ into a couple of rucksacks about 10 minutes before starting… We also found a cat, and nearly brought him with us.)

The weather wasn’t spectacular, and we weren’t expecting to see many other people out. So within 20 minutes, we had met Chase, an American studying in London on a weekend escape, and we happily hiked the rest of the day together.

The weather fluctuated between low atmospheric cloud cover, and glorious sunshine. The sunshine was definitely unexpected, and our warm clothing stayed firmly packed at the bottom of our packs.

Good miles were made North, and the only major disappointment was discovered the pub which we’d been aiming to have lunch had closed down. Chase left us at Two Bridges to begin wandering back down South the next day, and Joe and I pushed onto Postbridge to set camp. In semi-darkness and a fitting Halloween fog, we pitched tent next to river, and did what all good people do after a long days walking, and went to the pub.

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Striking camp the next day.

Sunday began, and sore legs from the previous days miles, we pushed on North, heading for Drewsteignton.

Mid-morning, the cloud lifted again, and another great day shone down on us as we walked through the diverse range of scenery Dartmoor is so unique for.

The further North we progressed, the moor slowly gave way to woodland, and the bare rolling curves of rough heather were left behind us. The sunlight continued to gradually burn off the morning mist throughout the day, creating an ever more dramatic landscape.

Late afternoon saw us into Drewsteignton, where we were too knackered after flat out walking through wet, marshy and brutally uneven ground for two days to even contemplate setting up a tent. We went to the pub instead, intending to sleep in the bus stop, figuring we’d at least be in the best place for the bus to Exeter at 7.30am! However, it turned out the Drewe Arms had fantastic bunk bed rooms in converted stables for a very reasonable rate, an offer which we gladly accepted. Beer was drunk, sleep was had, and the long journey back home dealt with next day.

 

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