I walk a fair amount. I walk to work and I walk back. I walk after work and my breaks from work are largely based around walking in beautiful places. A great deal of my time is spent thinking ahead to walks and looking back on them. Sometimes I walk "off-piste". I have clocked a fair few miles on wonderful trails, I've tramped through the woods and snagged my trousers and skin on brambles and branches. Yet, it presents an odd topography.
If some rightful hawk were scrutinizing my ramblings, it would likely come to the conclusion that us humans are subject to odd compulsions. With the entire landscape around us, for the large part we follow the same routes as those that have gone before us.
These were thoughts that had been swilling about my head when I was asked by Ollie to head out to Dartmoor with him and an old school friend, Frankie. I am more or less dirt broke at the present because I'm saving for something special which I will write about very soon. Ollie pointed out that it would be better that I had the experience- at his expense- than not to have it at all. Fiscal pride aside, he is right: too many of us cannot experience the things we want to because we cannot afford to. I am indebted to that man in many ways, and I will pay him back the best I can. However difficult it might seem to get for me, I am so often reminded that I am surrounded by people who know the true value of things.
And something of great value is walking through a tussocky bog somewhere in Dartmoor, falling once or twice knee deep into sludge and water, with only banter, wind, birds and laughter to punctuate the great silence that has settled on that place. It was a quick trip. Two nights, with car and pub breaks betwixt, but I still got a sense of that place. Sat atop Bellever Tor, I felt as if I briefly glimpsed something that would present itself to me over and again, each time I was able to look up from the bog, tussocks and general awesome earth proper.
After an endless trudge up to it, camp on the second night was on top of Sittaford Tor. Frankie had been there before but had never seen it how it was, and I have never been anywhere quite like that before. In every direction there were snow-frosted hills and impossible cloud formations.
This was the first time that my bivi pride was tested and I set up the Vango to share with Ollie, whose sleeping bag was still damp from night one.
Night one. Constant rain from car to camp. We set up the tarp and hunkered down for some grub and whisky. Sated enough, I took down the tarp and set it up again nearby. I have often used my Alpkit Hunka bivi in the rain, but strangely enough this was the first time I had wriggled into it in downpour. Dry enough,
I settled down to sleep, lulled by the sound of rocks being bumped across the riverbed a few feet away.
And then I woke up, well rested, I felt. Until I checked my watch and realised that the blissful seven hours had in fact been about 45 minutes. From there on I slept very occassionally, being whipped by my poorly erected tarp. The temperature was low enough to have frozen the puddles of water all around us.
At first light I sat up to see a robin at my feet and wild ponies a way off. The sun was rising with an unrepeatable beauty. A fine night and morning, hard lessons learned. I will be practising with my tarp at the park.
Another practical note. I can happily report that NRS neoprene socks combined with Teko liners and Merrell Trail Gloves are a most excellent combination. It might be hell come the morning, when you're pulling on ice cold socks, more ice cold socks and then ice cold shoes, but five minutes of walking will bring your feet back to life and give you a day of lightweight walking bliss. Ollie often kindly pointed to where I shouldn't step, and then I'd step there, revelling in the fact that my feet were warm and comfortable and that I wasn't wearing heavy boots. It was probably a big risk to take, only bringing the Merrells, but I'm now certain that they are my shoes of choice. Really, I cannot recommend them enough. And no, I am not sponsored. Nor do I have enough readers to warrant any sponsorship. Though, Merrell, if you're reading: please send me more Trail Gloves in blue and I will willfully sell-out.
But it really is the simpler things that bring the soul home. I came home ill, tired, with wet everything and a hugely inflated sense of the good times. It's too easy to forget.