Monday, 12 July 2010

Peat Bogging and Midge Dodging

I've always been an "outdoorsy" girl. From way back to when I ran around the garden in my nappy through to regular camping weekends in the Scouts as a teenager and to current times as I try to spend every day off and spare moment having some sort of al fresco adventure, be it biking, running or stealing copious amounts of spinach from my Dad's vegetable patch.

I booked a long weekend off work and planned with my lovely Devon-based friend, Fi, to go for a wander across Dartmoor. We decided after much discussion that we would go from Okehampton to Ivybridge. i.e. a North to South traverse of the moors. This challenge was also quite fitting with my current level of activity.

It has been a while since I've loaded up a full rucksack with everything required to live and gone trekking in the wild but I figured as I am in a good place fitness-wise I should be absolutely fine. It may even be a bit of a rest!

On arrival at Fi's on Thursday evening I sensibly tipped everything onto the floor and over cups of tea we arranged what was needed and what could stay at home. I refilled the trusty old rucksack with the absolute essentials, the minimum a girl needs for a three day hiking epic. Impressed with my own efficiency and lightweight packing skills I smugly clipped up the buckles and pulled the straps tight.

The urge to test it out in the living room took over and my smug grin very quickly transformed into a pained grimace... There was nothing in there I could remove and it was like carrying a baby elephant. After a few attempts we discovered that the whole rucksack getting on thing was made a whole lot easier by involving lots of heavy grunting - sorted.

The next day we arrived at our starting point in high spirits. After hauling our rucksacks on we set off, fresh-legged and keen to cover some ground.

Two Tors and 30 minutes later, the sunshine and gentle breeze had mutated into a dark, wet Dartmoor Mist providing us with all of about 15 metres of visibility. We trudged onwards, successfully navigating to a decent path. The weather throughout was hit and miss and we were in constant mental torment as we changed from sunglasses to waterproofs and vice versa.

Despite the bonkers climate of the moors and the fact that we were carrying more than our own bodyweight in over-filled rucksack, we actually made good progress, bagging several Tors en route. In fact, progress was so good that we skipped past the spot we had originally planned for our first night's camp and decided to go further, with a few hours of light left.

Another mile on and we hit an obstacle: tufty grass. I know tufty grass doesn't sound too menacing but as someone who is slightly lacking in vertical stature, the physical act of lifting your legs up and over again and again is a real effort. Add that to the fact that you can't see exactly where the ground is and what you have is a very unsteady, ankle-wrenching and exhausting balancing act.

After this we were shattered. Luckily we weren't far from a village with a pub so we stopped in for a refuel and some liquid refreshment. The next challenge was to find a place to pitch the tent for the night and this proved a bigger challenge that we had anticipated. The forest behind the pub that we were aiming for was a designated 'NO CAMPING' zone, so we ended up dragged our very tired selves a further two miles where we eventually found a perfect clearing. Perfect that is, except for the midges which destroyed our very souls.
Suffice to say we slept very well indeed and the next day we arose with a fresh burst of enthusiasm. After our boil-in-the-bag breakfasts we packed up and headed off.

The second day's main obstacle was peat bog. The idea of bog strikes fear into even the hardiest of hillwalkers. Everyone knows someone who has lost their boots, sucked forever into the marshy vortex.

Of course it should easy avoid to the bogs, but we were naively led into a big one via an evil bridleway and once we were in it, we were trapped. It starts with a light-hearted hop across the wet bits as you search for where the path has disappeared to. Then the giggles turn into nervous laughter as you teeter on mini planty islands. The panic sets in when you realise you'll never make it across so you turn back, only to discover you're surrounded and you've no idea how you got there because there is NO WAY OUT. Like a watery mirage in the desert the solid rocks you see to step on turn out to be nothing more than solidified cow poo.

Finally after a seemingly never ending maze of bog, we made it to higher ground. A long chocolate and boot-drying break spurred us on and one more trawl through the tufty stuff saw us onto a lovely wide, gravelly path.

The second night we found a superb spot to camp up by a lake right in the thick of the moors. It was a bit exposed but we found a relatively sheltered spot and settled in for the evening. Overnight, the weather took a turn for the worst and a buffeting gale brought in a heavy rainfall which penetrated out tent, leaving us wondering if we would make it through the night.

We did, and we woke up to glorious sunshine which dried out everything that had gotten soaked through.

A brief bit of morning yoga atop the slag heap and we were ready to finish our journey. The sun kept shining as we arrived, elated, into Ivybridge. Just under 40 miles of bogs, hills and trails. We were chuffed! Absolutely knackered, but chuffed.

I thoroughly recommend that everyone gets out there in the fresh air and loses themselves in a bog. It's been a great break from the norm and definitely more physically demanding than I had expected!

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