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Sussex Scrapbook ~ Wildlife walks throughout the year

22nd - 27th Oct 2012 - Dartmoor National Park

We always seem to end up going on our expeditions in the Autumn, which on a motorbike, in Britain, is always going to be a major gamble. That doesn't seem to put us off though as we're (stupid) of a hardy breed and going off-season means less people, cars and dogs everywhere. It also means we don't have to queue up for anything and we can do what we want near enough when we want. In the end it's details like that that allow you to really unwind.

Our rapidly rustled together plan was to take a slow putt down to Dartmoor in Devon on the heavily-laden Sportster, take up residence at a small isolated house called Boldventure (very fitting) for 5 nights and get right out on the moors for a good long walk in solitude and silence. Other things on our holiday wish list (remember, we're very easily pleased) were to find Ring Ouzels and Dartford Warblers, have a good Devonshire cream tea and explore at least a small part of the Dartmoor National Park to our hearts' content.

Outside our door an indication that the air is far cleaner here than back at home: a tree covered in lichens.

Another gate fastener for Gill's collection.

Out the back of 'our' garden and we get our first taste of the moor. Visibility was about 100 metres.

Heading Northwest and out of the fog Kestor Rock starts to appear...

... along with its attendant pony family. We finished our reconnaissance here and headed back to base.

 Going across the moors with the fog whipping around was most atmospheric though, just what we had hoped for, albeit a bit thick.

A perfect opportunity to stop in at Widdecombe-in-the-Moor for...

... an obligatory fuel stop of the local fare!

The next day and the fog was even thicker, definitely not a day for exploring a strange moor with a reputation for getting people lost and up to their waist in mud in one of the many mires. Instead of doing that we got on the bike and explored via the single-lane roads covered in muck, rain and poo! Maybe we would have been safer on the moor!
We eventually decided on doing a warm-up walk of 5 miles exploring around the village of Lustleigh, which is a hideous slum populated by some of the most unlucky people in the whole of these sceptred isles.

See what I mean?

The countryside around there is no better. A wasteland!

Stump Puffballs (Lycoperdon pyriforme). These always grow on rotten wood. This bank was mostly made up of dead tree roots,

A nice, fresh Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) with its small spines still attached. These soon fall off or are washed off by rain.

Becky Falls and we had it all to ourselves.

On Thursday the visibility was much better so we decided to do a 15 mile circular walk directly from the cottage. This would take in bogs, mires, stone circles, standing stones and tors, as well as passing through some beautiful Devonshire countryside, villages and woods. The visibility was just right, clear enough for great views but misty enough to keep the spooky, autumnal, 'hound of the Baskervilles' feel going. The only sounds were from the cattle and the cronking of Ravens.

Our first landmark was Kestor Rock which we had recce'd the other day.

Over a clapper bridge and out onto the wide, open moor.

Scorhill Circle and its bovine guardians.

A further stone circle (circa 4000 BC) with Kestor Rock far in the distance.

... over the great Grimpen Mire there hung a dense, white fog. It was drifting slowly in our direction and banked itself up like a wall on that side of us, low, but thick and well defined. The moon shone on it, and it looked like a great shimmering icefield, with the heads of distant tors and rocks borne upon its surface. Holmes's face was turned towards it, and he muttered impatiently as he watched its sluggish drift... We left her standing upon the thin peninsula of firm, peaty soil which tapered out into the widespread bog. From the end of it a small wand planted here and there showed where the path zig-zagged from tuft to tuft of rushes among those green scummed pits and foul quagmires which barred the way to the stranger. Rank reeds and lush, slimy water-plants sent an odour of decay and a heavy miasmatic vapour into our faces, while a false step plunged us more thigh-deep into the dark, quivering mire, which shook for yards in soft undulations around our feet. Its tenacious grip plucked at our heels as we walked, and when we sank into it it was as if some malignant hand was tugging us down into those obscene depths, so grim and purposeful was the clutch in which it held us. Once only we saw a trace that someone had passed that perilous way before us,"
Excerpts from The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle.

Through the 'Grimpen' mire.

"The hunter homeward speeds in haste,

Ere fogs o'ertake him on the waste;

And if to Foxtor mires he roam,

He'll bid a long adieu to home;

A dreary shroud is o'er his head,

A yawning swamp around him spread;

Spell-bound and lost he ventures on

One fatal step - and all is done;

Hopeless he struggles, vain his throes,

Deeper and deeper down he goes !

The raven claps her ebony wing,

His dirge the howling winds may sing,

And mists will spread the last sad pall

O'er that dark grave unknown to all".

Dartmoor Days - Edward William Lewis Davies - 1863

Although treacherous and considered a wasteland (whatever that is) by some, the moor is a naturalist's idea of heaven. We had Stonechat, Kestrel, Buzzard, Snipe, Redstart, Wheatear, Wren, and yes, Ring Ouzel.
We hardly walked on a path all day and at points seemed to be walking where only ponies had been before. The moor is so wet and wild that any tracks are washed away and grown over very quickly. The land itself is dynamic and moves around. Sometimes it moves underfoot and that's the time to move fast.
Sometimes you come across brooks, streams and wide areas of mire that need to be crossed and finding a place to do so can be really difficult. It is easy to become despondent but you have to stay cool and keep hunting. When you find a place to jump you have to just go for it!


After a hard climb through heather and gorse and some real adventures in the mires, we finally gain the high ground at Wild Tor.

The way ahead, going from tor to tor... and is that blue sky?

Werewolves perhaps!

Werecat perhaps?!

Finally we make it to the top of the highest tor in the area - Cosdon Hill (550m).

Coming back down.

When you get lost on the moors they call it being 'Pixie led'. This must be where they lead you!

On our last day we were feeling a bit tired (I wonder why) so we took off for another ride. We visited one of the most touristy parts of the moors, Hay Tor, which today was virtually deserted except for us, ponies, sheep and ravens. Perfect!


The bike performed brilliantly, despite ending up covered in an inch of muck.

Expedition summary
We didn't get to see any Dartford Warblers but we did find Ring Ouzels out on the moor. The cream tea was truly artery busting and delicious and our walks were in total solitude without a human-made sound at all. It hardly rained at all and it was mostly warm until the day we left - when the sun came out and there wasn't a cloud in the sky! Who cares - we had a fantastic time, managed to visit some good friends and what's more we didn't get lost, stuck in the mud, mauled by "a gigantic hound" or anything!


Take the time to read the countryside code for yourself and please stick to it at all times.