Wild Camping on Dartmoor and a Weekend in London
– you couldn’t find two more extreme activities
and we did both in one week!
Firstly, let’s explain the term wild camping: in the UK you are only legally allowed to camp out and pitch a tent on a camp site, unless you have permission from the land owner first. However, there are exceptions. Scotland, for the most part, allows wild camping (except in one or two regions) and Dartmoor. Do your research before you decide where to go. Dartmoor has a great website and forums are excellent for advice and help. Wild camping allows you to pitch your tent (only small tents) wherever you wish and as long as you abide the laws of the countryside and you only stay up to two nights you’re good.
Also on Dartmoor be sure to check out the Military Firing Range times…you don’t want to get caught in the middle of an exercise!
So, we took two 2man tents and (far too much) gear in rucksacks and off we went.
We parked in a free car park in Belstone, just to the north of Dartmoor, and hiked up onto the tors. Now, we were beginners. I don’t even like camping! I abhor organised camps and dislike being tied to one place, or to other people…so this was an experiment. We thought of reaching Yes Tor, but we quickly realised we were carrying too much and weren’t as fit as we could be! Instead of miles of hiking we ended up at either Winter Tor or Irishman’s Wall. Being beginners we had no OS map, just a print out from the web…
Still, it was stunningly beautiful and we were off the beaten track and out in the wild!
We pitched and explored and set up a small camp. We had lots of fun, played games, talked a lot, learned more about each other, and had food.
So, a couple of things: We took a disposable BBQ – don’t bother. Wind, did no one mention the wind! We ended up using a gas camp stove instead for the most part, and find something as lightweight as you can! Think of food that either doesn’t need cooking, or is easy, soups etc and keep it simple. Baked beans in the morning, at dawn, on a camping stove was lovely! (And remember everything you take up there has to be brought back down – take all your rubbish home again) We carried a 4 litre bottle of water, just in case – we didn’t need it and it was extra unnecessary weight.
There’s not a lot of privacy so choose your site well, you’ll need rocks or bushes to do your business behind. (And take a trowel if you need to) It really is back to basics! Don’t be shy…though the sheep up there are!
Sleeping. We took self-inflating mats to place our sleeping bags on, and for me that worked. I was worried my back wouldn’t hold out, but I took preventative pills and was careful. And I would just use a hoody or jacket for a pillow. Remember to take warm clothes, socks in particular! Even in a sleeping bag you can get cold.
Hubby didn’t sleep. Hubby has decided he’s never camping again! But he did take a look at the stars and stared in wonder at the clarity and beauty up there in the night sky!
I didn’t sleep much myself, half hour stops and starts, but that may have been due to hubby’s discomfort. Anyway, at 5am we called it quits and got up to see in the dawn. We’d watched the sunset the night before and now as the clock moved to 6am the new sun peeped over the misty horizon and graced us with its presence. It was mighty cold up there, sitting on the rocks wrapped in sleeping bags, watching the sunrise, but spectacular, and a sight not to be missed.
After breakfast we packed up and trekked back a much easier way. We were greeted in Belstone village by a herd of gorgeous Dartmoor ponies, and tired but happy, we made it to the car and I drove home, letting hubby catch up on sleep!
Two days later and we were catching the 2am coach to London…to experience the other end of the spectrum!
We stayed in Travelodge in Covent Garden, which was very good in comparison to some Travelodge’s we’ve been to. We slept well, on lovely beds, hubby mentioned the comfort more than once…
We ate out at Zizzi in Covent Garden too, absolutely gorgeous Italian fare, pizza and carbonara, and desserts to die for.
We’d spent our first day at the Science Museum, and had our first experience of IMAX – Wow! The Red Arrows simulator was cool, the others not quite as much, but we had fun.
We saw our very first West End show, drinking in every moment of Les Miserables at Queens Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. It was amazing and we’d happily watch it all over again! We know the show well, from the film, the DVD’s of anniversary shows, the soundtrack – everything. I had the original soundtrack when I was a teen and had always longed to go and see it live, and now I have! I can’t praise it enough.
The next day took us to Westminster and all the touristy stuff. The obligatory Big Ben and Houses of Parliament pictures, and then The London Dungeons. I hadn’t expected much from the dungeons, most attractions these days are over-priced and we hadn’t been able to use our Tesco vouchers to pay for entry – plan ahead – The Dungeons can be covered with Tesco vouchers but they need to post your tickets to you. The Dungeons blew us away with a great show and fun history – think Horrible Histories and you’re right there. Another attraction we highly recommend!
We wandered the Southbank, and ended up at the Tate Modern, which I’d always wanted to visit too. Now, I have a lovely husband – he’s not interested in modern art at all – but he patiently walked round the gallery, then waited out on the Thames in the sun, while we finished. That’s love.
London is busy. The tube is busy, the buses are busy, the pavements and parks are busy. There are people everywhere. I’m not a people person. But I did love the atmosphere, the street artists, the energy, the excitement, and my daughters drank it all in!
I might also have had a slightly obsessive interest in walking down streets found on the Monopoly board… We ate in Bow street, and we went to Leicester Square…
So, thus, we experienced both extremes in a matter of days…
My conclusion, if I pitch the stark, lonely, beauty of Dartmoor against the busy, social, bright lights of London, the countryside wins for me. I’m always going to be a country-girl, despite having been born and raised in vibrant Brighton! However, I’ve now spent more of my life in the country than the city and it suits me.
So, what about you?
Are you a lover of the natural countryside or
do you adore the city and its bright lights?