I started planning our latest staff training trip at the end of 2022, having had success with the Autumn trip in Scotland, we decided we would like to do something more local with a bit less travel. We considered North and South Wales and the South West Coast path. In the end we settled on doing something of Dartmoor, its close proximity to our stores, the fact you can still just about wild camp on it legally and it has a great range of scenery and challenges.
With the recent Reopening of Okehampton train station we thought we would make the most of public transport, and do a South to North crossing of the whole National Park, staff would catch the train from Bristol, Taunton and Exeter and we would all meet in the late afternoon at Ivybridge station.
The route was loosely based on the Dartmoor in a Day Ultra Marathon, we would be splitting it into 3 sections with 2 nights camping. We would do about 10km the first evening, 28km the next day, and about 15km on the Final morning, hoping to get to Okehampton for midday so staff could get trains and be safely home in the afternoon. Also due to restrictions on where you can wild camp, it made more sense to do it this way than having to have one even longer day, this is because at the halfway point there is not really anywhere you can legally wild camp…
Staff attending the event were kitted out with clothing from this years range of Montane and Rab and tents from Big Agnes, MSR, Sea to Summit, Bach and Hilleberg. A complete backpacking set up from the Taunton Leisure stores was provided so all the staff could use what we sell and learn about the various products.
After months of sorting rotas, getting sizes and route planning suddenly 6 of us and a dog were stood on the platform at Ivybridge at 17.30 ready to start the walk. You can quickly access the moor from here and within a few minutes we were heading up a gentle incline on the start of the Two Moors Way, we had great views to the south coast and a nice temperature for walking, the wide track was perfect to learn how to use walking poles and easily see the difference they make when walking with a heavy load.
Eventually after Roughly 10km we found our camp with about an hour left before the sun went down, water was filtered from a nearby stream, using the latest version of a LifeStraw attached to an Ortlieb waterbag. We discussed the various stoves we had and the benefits of heat exchangers. Staff compared dried meal choice and how much food we had each bought on the trip.
Eventually we turned in when it was dark. The night was pretty cold and Windy perfect for testing Sleeping bags, Mats and Tents, but maybe not great for a good nights sleep!
Those of us in the light two season tents were certainly tired in the morning, which was very grey and damp. A thick mist has descended on the moors, which seems to be normal after a nice evening!
Having had some breakfast sheltered under the group tarp we did some training on breaking camp, making sure to leave no trace and headed out. By midmorning the mist and cloud cleared and we had sunshine, blue skies and a cooling wind.
As we walked across from Pupers Hill to Ryder’s Hill we had amazing 360 views of the moor, we could even make out our target for that evening, Sittaford Tor, on the horizon.
Descending from Combestone Tor to the Stepping stones at Huccaby we stopped for some lunch in an idyllic spot, the cool dark waters of the west dart an invitation to cool off hot tired feet. We had a good talk about boots and how they should fit, and the importance they have on rough ground with a heavy pack. We did a bit of foot care and some staff took preventative measure and applied Compeed.
After a long break and refuel it was time to cross the large granite stepping stones and head up to Bellever Tor, located fairly centrally on Dartmoor and in fine weather offering great views, next took the short walk through the plantation woods to the village of Post bridge, popular with tourists for its Clapper Bridge.
Here staff took a late afternoon break enjoying cakes and ice-creams from the post office and getting plenty of photos of the bridge and last East Dart river that flows under it.
The Final stage of the day we followed the path North on the east side of the river, heading up to Hartland Tor and towards Sittaford Tor. Along here is plenty of evidence of ancient life on the moors with stone circles dating back as early as 2500BC! It was late afternoon by now, and we were going much slower, having set a quick pace for most of the day, as we slogged up Sittaford, we could see our next campsite location at Little Varracombe.
As we set up camp for the second night at the bottom of the valley, the weather had certainly changed, it was overcast and cold, we had all swapped tents this morning, so the teams got a chance to test a different model. We were thankful again for the tarp as this allowed is to cook and socialise in relative comfort as it began to rain, discussing how Chicken Parm is the best dried meal. After doing nearly 30km today people opted for an earlier night.
The camp was much more sheltered so it felt warmer and everyone had a much better nights sleep, especially the dog, who didn’t move for about 10 hours!
The final morning was wet and cold morning. We ate breakfast pretty quickly, filtered some water and broke camp. It was definitely a great conditions to test out waterproofs. We had mizzle, drizzle, rain and hail as we got onto the Highmoor heading to Hangingstone Hill, the across to Oke Tor.
This weather meant that we would defiantly not get any fine 360 views today, instead we were reminded of how we and grey it can be. The well trodden path/road is very rocky and uneven, and is tiresome to walk on with already tired feet. Eventually we descended to the west of Belstone Common and to the East Okement river.
We had a stop here for elevenses before the final section through some beautiful woodland past some water falls, eventually the path leads all the way to Okehampton train station and journeys end.
A great staff trip with plenty of new experiences with a couple of staff never having been to Dartmoor before.