Dartmoor

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Each year, thousands of tourists visit Devon and take a trip to Dartmoor. Well, that's where they think they are. They climb up Hay Tor to take in the view, photograph the wild ponies who have learned the benefits of frequenting car parks then follow the narrow winding lanes down into Widecombe for a cream tea. They see moorland - but they don't experience it.

 

Dartmoor

Dartmoor

ęSteve Johnson

 

Dartmoor is vast. It is one of the last wildernesses in the United Kingdom. Just two minor roads skirt around the southern and northern edges and the only way to cross it is on foot or horse back. Even today, this is perilous - it rains in torrents at the high altitude, turning cold  into the great enemy -an icy chill eats into your bones even on a warm day in summer. Firm ground changes without warning into treacherous bog and  grassy tussocks turn into ankle-breaking traps for the unwary. It is very easy, in terrain like this, to lose any sense of direction and to go around in circles - once darkness falls or fog sets in, the only thing to do is to find shelter in a hollow or against an ancient wall, keep yourself as warm as possible and wait for light to return - or rescuers to find you.

 

Every year, at the beginning of May, hundreds of Devon teenagers take up the challenge of "Ten Tors" - a walk across the moor. It sounds innocuous - except when you discover it covers 55 miles and is organised and supervised by the Army who rigorously train these young men and women over a six-month period, building their physical fitness and teaching them the skills they will need to survive their "walk" - a far cry this from the tourist slopes of Hay Tor.

Dawn - last minute instructions for the walkers

Dawn - last minute instructions for the walkers

Courtesy of the BBC

 

Despite all the precautions, every year the walk sees its crop of dramatic happenings as "townie" teenagers, thrown back in time to share the experiences of their ancestors,  helping one another deal with hypothermia, injury, fatigue, loneliness, the panic of discovering they are completely lost and the terrible, ever-changing weather conditions, which can be so bad that even Army rescue helicopters are grounded. No wonder those who make it are so proud of their achievement.

 

Head of the River Dart

Head of the River Dart

ęSteve Johnson

 

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005