Monday, 10 May 2010

Ten Tors 2010

Some may say; thats another year over with! I would prefer to think of it as the start of the next year for the Ten Tors Challenge.

Much is written by the various news media on the event this year, as HRH The Duke of Edinburgh came to visit in celebration of the 50th anniversary. So I wont try and emulate the BBC with a long story of the history of Ten Tors etc.

The organisation for the event starts much earlier in the year, under the 'umbrella' of 43 Wessex Brigade, who take responsibilty for the event. However, this can only be achieved with the input and participation of various 'working partners' to bring about a successful event on the second weekend of May each year.

One of those 'working partners' is the team of scrutineers, who have the role of checking that the 400 participating teams, consisting of 2,400 youngsters, are carrying the mandatory required equipment for the challenge. And to walk the moor in small teams during the event, to provide an additional mobile monitoring service to keep an eye out that the 'rules' are being adhered to.

Rules, what rules? Many may say there are just too many rules in life, but for an event like this there need to be rules. The rules are what make it a challenge, and in accepting the challenge, one likewise accepts the rules; or so it would seem. One part of the challenge which we accpet when entering a team for ten tors is that of the clothing and equipment. Many lightweight and SUL hikers would cringe, or possibly cry if they saw the list of clothing and equipment. I did the 55 mile ten tors challenge twice as a young lad, I dont think I could do it again today carrying everything that the youngsters must carry. You see that is the broad distinction in equipment carriage: that of carrying knowledge with light kit, or carrying the kit because you dont have the knowledge. I can get away with lightweight equipment because I have over 3 decades of experience to fall back on, whereas the youngsters taking part in the challenge may have had just 3 months of training before the start of the event.

Here is a good example of why 'rules is rules' and why they need to be followed:

Water: 2 litres - This can be a platypus or hard bottle, although a combination of the two would be recommended to manage 'on the move' sterilisation of stream water while drinking from the platypus (or other hard bottle)

But one team member presented this as a 2 litre water bottle:

In fact very few of that team had 'proper' water bottles, with the team manager defending the actions becasue of what he had been allowed to carry on the OMM. Different competitors, different skills, differentt challenge, different rules.

Anyway, back to where I was going with this post:

The team of scrutineers arent there to make life hard, they are their to ensure that the rules of the challenege are met equally and consistently by every team that enters.

Well done to to all of the youngsters that entered this years event, and good luck with next years event.

And for the benefit of the scrutineers who were unable to receive my earlier email, here are your team photos, just click to expand and then save to desktop:

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Sunset Delight

I took a stroll with the dog from Burrator Reservoir the other night. Wow what an evening; I had only intended a brief 'stretch of the legs' but found myself heading for Down Tor. The setting sun was absolutely magnificent as it nestled between Down Tor and Sharpitor. Making the most of this glorious evening sunshine I extended the walk over the top of Hingston Hill where there is a huge bronze age stone row and associated cists and cairns. It is within easy reach of the Burrator area, and I really would recommend a visit. Recent evidence indicates that some of Dartmoor's antiquities pre-date Stonehenge by up to 1000 years taking us back to 5,500 years ago - News article .

All all of this while walking the dog; Dartmoor really is good value :-)

Monday, 19 April 2010

Dartmoor Challenge 2010

This year's Dartmoor Challenge charity walk was held this weekend (17th - 18th April). Over the nineteen years that the walk has been organised for, participants have raised over a hundred thousand pounds for childrens cancer charities. This year the money has been raised for the Derriford Children's Cancer Service. The walk has an excellent theme which is set by organiser, Steve Parker,  in that the 20 and 30 mile routes must end at a predetermined Inn somehere on Dartmoor after leaving the Plume of Feathers in Princetown first thing in the morning.

Those people who know me well, realise that this theme is very close to me... No, not the walking to a pub; children's cancer charities, is what I was referring to! Without going into detail I should explain that my son was diagnosed with cancer (stage 4 neuroblastoma) when he was just two and a half years old: he is now seven years old, fit and well, and with grace of God will stay that way. My family owe so much to the work of the charities that supported us throughout that period. No child or parent should ever have to go through the terrifying experience of walking onto a pediatric oncology ward: ever! However, the charities that surround and support these children and their families during treatment are just fabulous.

Back to the walk....

The objective for day one was the Oxenham Arms in South Zeal. The 15 mile route left Postbridge for Grey Wethers and Sittaford Tor, through Quintin's Man and over to Hangingstone Hill where we stopped for a bite to eat. Unfortunately, Alison had less to eat thatn others after a large hairy hound in the shape of a springer spaniel decided to run off with her sandwiches - oooops! Keeping us company over the lunch was a 4 inch piece of ordnance that sat a few yards away, it appeared as though it was 'fired / spent' but you can never be too carefull - please NEVER touch metalic object poking out of the ground within a range area. Just take note of where it is and report it -   HERE.

From Hangingstone Hill Graham managed to find us some rough ground to follow just above Watern Combe - Thanks ;-) and we soon found ourselves admiring the rock formations of Watern Tor. Onward then to Wild Tor where we posed for the mandatory group photograph.

Next stop was The White Moor Stone Circle, and once the tale of the standing stone (inthat: hugging it will bring you wealth before your next birthday) was told, members of the group 'legged it' a few hundred metres just to touch the stone, which stands isolted away from the main circle. One final climb over the magnificent crest of Cosdon brought us down into the South Zeal track.

The track itself brought it's own interest as we discovered a fair'ys house nestled in a tree! I kid you not...

Having paid hommage to the fairy's, and what with having been touched by the glorious sunshine, our pace was quite spritely as we headed for the sanctuary of the Oxenham Arms, where Andy waited with the minibus, and Carl handed out this years challenge T shirts.

The landlady tried to distract us with pots of stuffed olives, and the most amazing homemade sausage rolls that you have ever tasted, alas we were overcome by some strange desire to drink cider poured over half of Antarctica in a large glass.

Speaking of cider: are you supporting the cirder drinking campaign for the general election? I must point out at this point, that listening to the Wurzels is a personal failing of mine, and shouldnt be taken as a general indication of Devonian attitudes :-(

Moving on to day two

Day two started from the Plume of Feathers, Princetown, and out to Nun's Cross farm in absolutely cloudless skies, and with the current air restrictions not even so much as a vapour trail! Today's objective was the The Old Inn, Widecombe in the Moor. We made our way to Childe's Tomb for the second day group photograph, and then up the long ascent to Mount Misery: a cross which sits at a wall corner below the crest of Ter Hill.

Now, I dont know much about lizards but there seemed to be quite a few of them about on Sunday, Graham seemed to have th knack of catching them, and I have to say they were certainly fine little things with a diverse set of colourings from one to the next:

From Ter Hill we made our way through Hexworthy and down to Dartmeet where we stopped for the mandatory ice cream before carrying on up the banks of the East Dart.

At this point I would like to point out that if any feels that Dartmoor is a) Flat or b) Unchallenging to walk. Just try the these last five miles up and down hills, roads, tracks and moorland: you may be surprised!

So with tired feet we made a final descent from Hamel Down into Widecombe for a quick pint before Andy drove us back to Princetown.

What a fabulous weekend, thanks to everyone who took part in the organisation, and participation of this event. Thank you to the dedicated charities who help infants and children through their cancer treatments, I for one, owe you so very much.

All monies from this year's event will be presented to the Derriford  Children's Cancer Service on the 12th June 2010 at the Plume of Feathers Inn, Princetown. If anyone reading this would like to retrospectively sponsor / donate please email me:

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Nun's Cross By Night

Night navigation seems to be featuring for the last few weeks or so. A couple of nights ago, my mate and I tootled off to find some more Dartmoor antiquities. Starting at Nun's Cross Farm, we made our way through various bronze age settlements and cairns to eventually walk the length of the Hingston Hill stone row.

Siward's Cross (Nun's Cross Farm) was our starting point. It was very dark but a 15 second exposure anda bit of back-light, provided by my headtorch, gave us the only photogtraphic opportunity of the night.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Dog and a compass

It was getting dark fairly early last night as a thick mist had settled on Princetown but the dog still needed a walk. I could have done what any other 'sane' dog owning person did last night, and take the dog for a quick spin around the block or for a run around a field: oh no I had to go for an exploration. My interest in bronze age sites has grown over the years, and living on Dartmoor provides a whole variety of places to visit: beaker sanctuaries, reave systems, standing stones, hut circles, cists and cairns a plenty. So last night I tootled off on to the moor with compass in hand and my spaniel fleeing around in about 10 metres visibilty. I wanted to find a little row of stones and associated cairns that I had never visited before, to be truthfull I dont think many people visit this particular site as it is small and tucked away off the beaten track. 

What a fantastic little stone row, very small but clearly of importance to those who prepared it. It reminded me of the tiny double row on the site of Higher White Tor, long forgoton and walked past by most. I walked to it's terminal stone which was intersectd by a spring and small stream of water. Shooing away the dog I took a few photographs and  naviagted to some of the cairns that were within a few hundred metres but cloaked in fog.

While I stood at this site, which would be about 3,500 to 4,000 years old, and the fog weaved its way around the darkening landscape, I thought: shouldn't it feel spooky? But it doesnt and didn't. For all the legends and myths that surround Dartmoor, the hairy hand, Cutty Dyer, pixies, 'The Hound' etc, at the end of the day they are just that! Myths, legends, stories! (which reminds me, Dartmoor Brewery has a new beer called 'Legend' which the Plume has just started serving)..... Where was I.... oh yes, stories thats all. The most ghastly thing on that moor last night was probably me.

And besides which, I had a dog and a compass to protect me.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Night Navigation Training

Last night will almost certainly be my last group training session at night until the autumn. As the nights get shorter, and days longer, it isnt practical to start your coaching session beyond around 8.30pm. That is unless somebody wants to keep going until 2 in the morning. We all finished at a respectable time last night, the wind was strong but warm, and the visibilty across the moor was generally quite good. The top of North Hessary was cloaked in cloud, which, in Princetown, is only a step away from mist.

Nevertheless, poor visibilty or night navigation was the objective anyway. Off we paced... Now there is an interesting term: 'pace'. Many people ask me how should they define a pace;; every step? every two steps? In most cases people count every other 'step', either the left or right foot. Last night I was asked this and for once I could add something new (Thanks Dr Kate Gilliver, lecturer in ancient history :-) for pointing this out). Pace is derived from the Roman unit of length, which was 5 Roman feet. It is the measure of a full stride from the position of the heel when it is raised from the ground to the point the same heel is set down again at the end of the step. So in short, by definition, it is two steps.

Last night's objective was to enhance already known techniques for the clients. Firstly, how many paces do you do to achieve 100m? The answers varied, and we took mental note of this. OK so now we are going to pace 650m; everyone walked off line astern into the darkness. They then stopped where they believed they should be. I carried on a further 20 paces - 'its here' I said ' please count your paces to join me'. Having done so the group eneterd into discussion while I demonstrated a feature which is most definately 650m from our start point. Now all of these folk are experienced at pacing and have often measured their average pace count on, say, a football field  but the darkess and slightly uneven track and created a some uncertainty and shortening of step. By performing the exercise over multiples of 100m (6 or 7 hundred metres) you will also achieve a better average than just counting one leg of 100m.

Everyone made note of their new pacing objective while I set a new target on the map, this time over uneven tussock and off into the moor itself. When walking on a bearing at night try to eliminate as much error as possible; hold the compass level and in front of your body as if you were reading a text message on it, align your body and feet as well as your head to the direction of travel and then start to walk. So many people point their head in the direction of the bearing but their feet take the first few steps on a slightly divergent heading.

Again the group ended up short of their target by a few paces, they then made calculations to assess their 100m pace value for tussocked uneven moorland. Soon everyone was hitting targets, and everyone had a much more comfortable feel for their pacing. The proof of the pudding, as always, is in the eating... The final leg was navigated by a lady who had never walked on the moors at night:  'Its 780m' she said 'That's 7 lots of 100m plus 52 paces for me'  she continued; and off they went. 12 minutes or so later.... 'It should be here' she said. Everyone swept their headtorches left and right, and there, not 10 feet away was the boundary stone. Over nearly 800m to an accuracy of 10 feet on a hand held compass - fantastic!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

You were lucky.


Thursday evening saw my mate Neil and I having a quick 'bimble' up the East Dart River. I wanted to look at some crossing points while there was a moderate to high flow on the river. We stretched our legs out at about 3.30pm from Postbridge, and made straight for the waterfall; no chance of crossing there to be perfectly honest. We then eliminated several other places due to volume of water.

Now, I have stuck my leg through a few crevasse bridges in my time but I really didn't expect to find one on Dartmoor! While stepping through some scant remains of snow on the moor I had managed to plop through, waist deep, to a small rivulet which had been covered; Neil, being lighter than myself, by some reasonable margin, had managed to cross withought breaking through - Git!

Struggling back to my feet, I could see the spaniel 'whiffling' off to investigate an object which had suffered the same fate as I: a sheep! The poor soul was stuck up to its neck in snow with about 3 feet of icy water rushing past its lower, subterranean, body. Now, it's true that the closest I have ever come to farming is watching All Creatures Great and Small, so I was happy at least, to see the sheep did not put up a struggle as I wrenched her to the surface. She then padded off as if it were all in a days work!

Leaving the sheep to it's destiny, we carried on to Broad Marsh where we examined a further river crossing which is often used when the river is in full tilt; this seemed quite adequate but, to be perfectly honest, is an absolute torture to get in and out of while negotiating bog, water, hidden streamlets etc etc! Keeping this firmly in mind we decided to exit the valley via the top of Broad Down as the wind was freshening and the sky was the colour of coal ash...

That was it! 30 mph winds and a driving squall (lasting half an hour) of hail, followed by sleet, snow and freezing rain. It had been forecast, we new it was likely; and yet e had decided to walk out into it for no other reason than to look at places to cross a river - where we had crossed a hundred times before!

Our return to the lower slopes above Archerton (an hour later) saw the wind and hail abate long enough for a cup of coffee from the flask. I looked at the dog, oh, he has another bone in his mouth. Double take - Oh!!! it was a bit more than just a bone; and entire lower leg to be precise. At this point I must stress that my dog has no interest in following, worrying or otherwise being near sheep but when a leg of mutton as offered on a nearby decomposing body, I guess he couldn't resist!

Then I thought back to the sheep I had pulled out of a hole an hour and a half earlier, and thought: you were lucky sunshine...