Dartmoor in winter: Part deux

Last week I had another go at the Dartmoor 500s. It went a lot better than last time!

Last time there was lots of rain and lots of wind, I got cold crossing rivers, going slowly and getting soaked over the tops. It was a fun but tough day out.

Charlie and I supported Robin Upton on his 500s last year, I ended up running about 65km of it and really enjoyed the route. The route is simple, linking all the Tors over 500m on Dartmoor in one wiggly day out. This includes the 5 over 600m (though some people seem to miss Whitehorse Hill, perhaps because it's not called a Tor or because it's pretty close to Hangingstone Hill, but I went there too). The whole route is somewhere between 95 and 105 km, with about 3500m of ascent.

Dartmoor 500s route

I left Cornwall at 4:30 and drove up to the Warren House Inn. Driving the car to the end of the lane before defrosting the windscreen (to avoid waking everyone up) was about the most tense moment of the whole day!

Being from the north it is etched on my brain that anywhere south of The Roaches is bathed in perpetual soft southern warmth and excluded from any meteorological extremes, but it was actually pretty cold at the start. I still don't like tights so I put waterproof trousers on over my shorts.

Sunrise after about half an hour

This proved to be an excellent wardrobe decision. I ran all day in this mode, with a buff and gloves, three thin top layers before and after the sunshine, and two during the sunshine (more about the sunshine later..). For the first couple of hours the forecast glorious sunny wonderland was more a glorious foggy frozen wonderland. It was fun though. Based on Robin's timings I had hoped to get the section up to Cosdon Hill done in about 5 hours. The nav went reasonably well, despite small meanderings between Hangingstone and Whitehorse Hill, where I actually saw the first two of about 10 people: Two members of the University of Exeter Centre for Resilience, Environment Waste and Water taking readings of some frozen wet bits up on the plateau.

I enjoyed some nice food on this section, including an apple and a Mars bar. My plan was to drink water from streams and use puritabs to avoid taking in too much cow wee, which worked fine until the bottle froze. With much shaking and squeezing it worked eventually until the last couple of hours when I finally gave up.

Anyway, Cosdon was reached just before midday, so about 4:07. Not sunny.

Cosdon. Atmospheric? Yes. Sunny? No

I plodded on, ate some more food and drank some more slush as I headed round the top of the route and began the long southerly section to Princetown. I'd originally hoped this would be a sub-7 hour leg, making Princetown under 12 in total. Revised target was to get here as close to 10 hours as possible. I had a vague recollection that the record was just over 15 hours, but being solo in winter I didn't expect to be troubling that.

The way south was initially much like the way north: cold, a little bit slippery, grey, but pretty solid going. But then, joy of joys, at about 1:30 THE SUN CAME OUT!

Halle-flippin-lujah! I celebrated by de-gloving and taking off my middle layer. Most excitingly of all I ate my cheese and Marmite sandwich as I climbed up from the West Okement river to Branscombe's Loaf. In contrast to last year the river crossing had been achieved without much excitement and I'd recently ticked off another two 600s (Yes Tor and High Whillays), so spirits were high. Let's have another sunny picture.


Possibly Hare Tor

The sun lasted till it started to get dark, and I had a wonderful few hours. The southerly leg has some tough sections, particularly later on between Lynch and Cocks Tors for example. It's just solid tussock hopping all the way (there's probably a trod, but I didn't find it), so it really worked perfectly to have these in the nice uplifting sunshine rather than dark or fog. Similarly it was great to have the River Tavy crossing in the light and by crossing the three sections individually this was no problem. I managed till the descent off Great Mis Tor before I put my headtorch on, then promptly made one of the biggest cockups of the round. I descended the wrong track from Little Mis torwards Ruddlestone. It's not a big deal, I could've cut straight across at the top but left it a little late and tried to be clever by cutting diagonally, so I ended up in the tussocky wet shitty bit at the bottom, then got fenced in and floundered about for 10 minutes or so before crossing the road to climb to the mast.

Sunset over Princetown

Nevermind, I was on course for 10 hours at Princetown and feeling good. From Pricetown I'd need to run up the road to Two Bridges, then off into the Beardowns and a few other Tors, then down and through Postbridge with only the Hameldowns left to do.

I stopped in Princetown to put the mid layer back on and make some delicious food more accessible. I really should stop taking Tunnocks teacakes on these things with me; they do not travel well. The road jog went well and I felt better than I had thought I might. The road wasn't slippery which was nice, and before I knew it I was heading up through the farm towards the Beardown Tors. With these done and the remaining 8 on this leg mopped up via more tussock hopping I dropped into Postbridge. I wondered if I could get the last leg done in two hours. Leaving Postbridge I was on 12:55, but the road out to the Hameldowns is loooong.

It seemed to take hours to reach even Pizwell, and it was getting properly cold again now. The lanes were quite icy in places and I considered how embarrassing it would be to deck myself here rather than on an actual hill... Finally at 9:45pm (14 hours dead) I missed, then turned back for, the left turn up to Hameldown Beacon. It was rally cold but a beautiful moonlit night and I turned my torch off to jog slowly upwards under the full moon. I started to wonder whether I could do 15 hours. I reckoned if I made the final summit with 30 minutes to spare I'd be in with a shout.

Hameldown Tor was reached after 14:25, but then who knows what happened! I remember from running with Robin that the run back in the the pub isn't great, but I think I missed every single trod. I ended up in an old quarry, ran back on myself, and after scrambling up banks to try to find a route I decided to just head for the lights of the pub. This wasn't pretty but it worked. The 15 hours dream ended with about 1km to go, and as I finally dragged myself up the last field to the pub, they turned the lights off. 

Lights out, 11pm. 15:13 after I started. Pretty happy with that, even if it now seems it's just two and a bit minutes off Jack Edwards' outright record. I guess it's a winter record and an unsupported record though, so that's nice.

The bastards closed the pub!

I wandered back down the road to the car, wrestled the frozen door open and embarked on an hour-long mission to get changed, get in to sleeping bag and eat food. After shivering for a couple of hours I gave up and set off home.

That was a lovely proper winter day out on Dartmoor, I really enjoyed that. One of my toenails has paid the ultimate price and will be given a runners burial, but all things considered the damage is minimal. I'd love to have a crack at a fast one in the summer if anyone wants to do a bit of support?


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