Exploring Deepest Dartmoor
Plymouth for all its sins as a sprawling concrete metropolis does have an enviable position right on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. Some 368 square miles of wilderness open to explore, though the MOD have live firing ranges across large areas, subject to civilian access closure on well published dates.
Vast granite hilltops, called tors rise above the grassland. Bogs and mires make for a dangerous and unforgiving challenge to even the most experienced of hikers. By the standards of our peers Dave and I were now competent hikers and ready to face more challenging environments.
As with all well rehearsed adventures, you can never fully plan for the unexpected and with that in mind I will now tell you about my FIB days.
FIB = Fell in Bog.
Dartmoor is beautiful beyond words, I have at the time of writing this book walked hundreds, probably thousands of miles across this mystical landscape.
Every day is vastly different, the water flows a different route, the clouds bubble and boil from a different direction. The shadows cast by the towering tors longer or shorter than I remember.
Within 20 minutes of my Plymouth front door I would be on open moorland, parked at Princetown; the main settlement on high Dartmoor. Situated 1,430 feet above sea level, Princetown offered hikes in all directions for all abilities. Something Dave and I jumped at the chance of.
Setting off on one particular adventurous hike I had brought along my rather fancy camcorder to record some video of Dave exploring the moor. The initial hike had gone well, with blue sky overhead and firm ground under boot and paw.
With my almost new Ordnance Survey paper map of Dartmoor in hand and armed with a compass bearing I pointed ahead towards a vast grassy expanse and said “This way Dave” and set off to the next waypoint on my route.
The ground was boggy in places but a visible track across the tundra which we both followed kept us dry. Dave had become very accomplished at following the faintest of tracks across the land; animal or human.
He would walk ahead with confidence, leaving me to worry about navigation and looming hazards.
I failed in that duty, not the navigation but the keeping us both safe from hazards. Unbeknown to myself I had successfully navigated us into a huge expanse of legendary bog. Large tufts of grass provided the only safe footing and even then for only a fleeting moment as gravity sought to drag boots and dogs into the mire!
Dave would disappear from sight and then reappear moments later as he leaped from tussock to tussock, trying to make headway towards distant dry ground. Turning back and retracing our steps towards dry ground would have been the wise decision but in those early days of hiking Dartmoor I didn’t always take the simple option.
After what seemed like a lifetime of leaping from clump to clump I saw dry land ahead, Dave had already made his final leap of faith and was once again on terra firma and waiting for me to catch up.
Rather annoyingly I was holding my camcorder in my left hand and not perhaps wisely carrying it in its padded bag safe in my capacious rucksack. I had been filming the landscape a few moments before Dave and I had become bog bound!
Balancing like an elegant ballerina on a tussock I judged the amount of energy it would take to propel myself, rucksack and camcorder to dry land and a patiently waiting border collie. Again common sense would have dictated that I placed the camcorder in the rucksack and thrown that towards dry ground first.
The problem being I was slowly sinking as the tussock refused to support in excess of 17 stone any longer. Get off my land – was the message I was receiving loud and clear as the sound of bog squelching around my boots filled the clear moorland air.
Jump! And jump I did. With all the grace of a large rugby player trying to land on a lillypad I flew through the air. Dave watched on from dry land in astonishment at the developing spectacle. I would have described the action like a movie stunt scene being played back in slow-motion; Well except for the fact it was all in real time slow motion.
My boots were laced nice and snuggly to my ankles. Via suction from the bog they had become stuck fast. As I leaped towards sanctuary my body had arched gracefully through the air, my knees bent with power, propelling me towards Dave. “I’m on my way Dave, I’m on my way kiddo!”
I landed with full force face-down in the margins of the bog. Fully clothed (obviously) and now laying prone with water lapping at my every part. Reaching up behind me into the sky, like a feeble attempt at a backwards Superman pose was my left arm; holding a very precious expensive camcorder. “Well that didn’t go according to plan did it Dave,” I thought to myself.
Soaked to the skin and pondering how I was going to reach some kind of normality.
I believe the term people use is “face-plank,” well if you need a visual image just imagine standing with your feet perfectly still, bending your knees and jumping up and forwards as hard and fast as you can manage; just don’t bother bringing your feet with you.
I was hinged at my ankles and sinking slowly, time for another master plan. I spread my arms wide and crawled on my belly towards Dave. Unfortunately my wonderful, intelligent and loving border collie thought this was a most excellent new fun game; and came bounding through the boggy water to see me.
Tail wagging and tongue slobbering all over my ground level head. “Dave, bog off,” I shouted. I appreciated the humour of that outburst at my over friendly dog.
I made swimming motions with my arms and legs and moved in the general direction I wanted. Sadly I was unable to remove the lens cap and switch the camcorder on single handedly – You’ve Been Framed would have loved me. I’d have paid myself £200 to watch that clip.
“Bog swimming hiker saved by boisterous and buoyant border collie.” I could see the headlines.
Thankfully I just got soaked through, the water was only a few inches deep but could have been a lot deeper. A very valuable lesson was learned that day. I am not an accomplished bog jumper.
So from then onwards the abbreviation FIB has become part of my vocabulary and something I try and avoid having to type too often! You’ll be pleased to hear that the camcorder survived perfectly intact and after an hour or so of hiking I had dried out thoroughly.
Dave wasn’t in the least bit bothered and was probably saddened by the abrupt end of the game when I finally made dry land.
I expect that day has gone down as the “Best bog day ever,” in crafty mind.