Blog: Camp-a-Month

What happens at Jan Camp..

I have decided to camp on the moors once every month for the whole of 2019 (but avoiding the dreaded word ‘resolution’). Having not been camping or even solo camping for more years than I can remember perhaps going in January wasn’t the best time to ‘get back into it’. However Thursday 17th Jan was a bright, crisp day and I set off from Fernworthy Forest far-end car park around 11:30 am feeling very positive. I carried with me some gouache paints and a hardback A3 sketchbook with the intention of painting the dark and brooding north moorland.

Walking up the main forest track I quickly arrived at the forest gate overlooking Teignhead Farm (on Long Ridge). Turning right I then headed North to the gate that follows a reasonable moorland track up the hill immediately to the east of Manga Falls. I then dropped down to the junction where the Stonetor Brook and a new-take wall meet. Tricky bit here as I had to duck under some barbed wire but then it was a straight-forward stroll down through a vague path to Stonetor Cist and my campsite which was just beyond that ancient grave. I quickly pitched my tent and had a late lunch – fried bacon and badly fried eggs. I was testing out a new lightweight frying pan and although the bacon worked a treat the eggs just stuck to the pan (despite using olive oil). I have also made a mental note to cut bacon up into smaller more manageable pieces before camping – I try to keep cutlery down to a minimum and for years I have only taken a small cut-down spoon on my camping adventures – affectionately called ‘Stubby the Spoon’. I ‘acquired’ Stubby whilst staying in a Gite Bunk House in Corsica (on the GR20) and he has been a constant camp-companion ever since. I found him on the day of 9/11 – but as I was on a trail that day and had no access to the news I didn’t find out about the Twin Towers attack until the day after it had happened. I finally got to a winter resort hotel after a long day on the path and sat down to have an evening meal with all the other walkers, who were also totally oblivious to the attack on the World Trade Centre. After the hotel staff had served our dinner they turned on the news and quietly exited the room, leaving us to watch what at first we thought was some kind of disaster movie. Some people in the room, who could speak french gradually realised this wasn’t a movie – it was news – and the ripple of shock slowly went around the room. There was a sudden scramble for the hotel telephones. Back on Dartmoor I also discovered that my MSR stove self-igniter had failed (broken, rusty spring and looks like I even managed to melt it!?) Fortunately I always carry a spare MSR igniter (but made a mental note to pack a fire-steel as well in future). To finish off my meal I made a mug of tea, a cup-a-soup (tomato I think?) and opened up a can of mackerel fillets). A weird combination of foods I know – but I wasn’t used to carrying such a large pack and the temperature was already starting to fall – so I think my body responded by telling me to eat all my food. To avoid emptying my food stuff-sack I decided to wander back up to the stream/wall junction and hunt for a Bench Mark on that wall (Stonetor hill slope-side). No luck finding it and becoming increasingly colder (even wearing my ridiculously bulky Rab down jacket) I returned to camp (via a short climb up to the rock nearby that has ‘GP’ (for Gidleigh Parish) inscribed on it. I had decided to limit pack weight by not bringing a GPS or bigger camera and immediately regretted it as I was pretty sure that ‘Dartefact’ isn’t in my database. Back at camp I decided it was now evening meal time and so I ‘made’ a Wayfairer boil-in-the-bag ‘meatballs and pasta’. This is the first time I have used ‘pre-made’ camping meals – and I am a convert! A delicious meal, no messy mess-tins and plenty of hot water left over for a brew. For ‘afters’ I shoved down a trek-bar. It was now getting dark and I took some pics on my phone and compact camera. I then went to get into my sleeping bag (all clothes on plus that massive down jacket) when I discovered that my thermarest had deflated. I was certain I had blown it up.. so was now concerned that it had a leak. I blew it up again, got into my bag (with liner) and pulled the bivi bag (from Alpkit) I had purchased months ago but never used before. Sure enough, after around 20 mins the thermarest had definitely lost volume and I could feel cold ground on my hip and shoulder points. I blew it up again. That was not a comfortable night, the temperature rapidly dropped and when I got out of the bag later the ground and tent were sparkly-diamonds of white frost. Plus the thermarest had definitely failed and so I kept waking up and turning over as my hip had gotten cold and was numb due to pressing against the ground constantly. I will blow it up and put it in the bath to find the leak later. At some point during the night I think it must have clouded over as I awoke boiling hot and almost considered removing the down jacket. Popping outside I noticed all the frost had gone and mist had descended.

After a tough night, with poor sleep I awoke to a light misty drizzle. It took me ages to get into action, I was cold, tired and my brain was extra-slow at sorting out breakfast. The Wayfairer ‘beans, bacon, egg, sausage breakfast’ was an absolute treat though – I am totally sold on those now. I also made a mug of tea and used my Wildo mug, which is really easy to hold with gloves. I then got my waterproof kit on, reluctantly shedding my down jacket and started to pack my rucksack. I finally broke camp at 10am and headed downstream and around to the east, heading up a small brook and towards Fernworthy Forest. I was considering a longer walk but the rain and poor night’s sleep dissuaded me. I headed into the Forest at the gate facing Thornworthy Tor and decided as it was an easy forest track/road I would amble slowly back to the car. Some nice, misty, photographic trees on that walk back.

I popped down to the Reservoir edge for some more photo opportunities and wandered around the ruins of Fernworthy Farm for a short while.

I finally got back to the car around 11:30 am and decided I would make straight for a local cafe for a breakfast egg & sausage sandwich and a couple of cups of coffee before heading back to the relative warmth of suburbia. The first camp of the year has gone well. I have a few repairs to do with some of my kit but my old solar minor tent did very well and the new bivi bag provided a good extra defence against water and kept some warmth in I think. I do need to lighten my bag though – I think taking a couple pans was a luxury my back can no longer afford! Next time I am going to slim down the kit. I did take a small painting kit with me, but that needs slimming down too. I was hoping to get a painting in but darkness and cold prevented me on the first day and then with the rain the next day I was out of luck. I am wondering about using a tarp to protect me when painting outdoors – but that would only add to the weight – and I don’t think camping under just a tarp (and leaving my terra nova tent behind) would have been much fun last night!