In Okehampton: Day one - The Seven Year Itch - CycleBlaze

May 26, 2024

In Okehampton: Day one

 Okehampton is similar to Tavistock in some ways - it’s a small market town on the edge of the national park, marketing itself these days as an excellent base for exploring the moors and tors that rise stating just a mile south of town.  We’ve taken the bite and have booked ourselves for five nights here, the longest stay we’re planning in the UK.

We’ve mapped out a cluster of hike and bike routes for our stay here, hoping for enough breaks in the weather that we can experience them without making ourselves miserable.  The forecast looks discouraging though, with strong winds and off and on precipitation on tap for the duration of our entire stay.  On the one hand, that’s good - if it’s going to be wet anyway we’re glad we can just hole up in our large room and keep warm and dry; but we really would like to see something of what brought us this way.

Depending on which of the three weather apps we believe, today could be the fairest of the lot.  With luck we could be getting about a five hour break this afternoon; so we start the day downstairs ordering a too large breakfast that we won’t repeat and their bottomless coffee option, and then go back upstairs (and if we come back here someday my knees and  I will remember to ask for a room that’s not under the rafters on the third floor) to wait and hope.

Hopes are fulfilled and by two we both head out with a forecast now that looks dry until after sundown - which this late into spring and this far north isn’t until after nine.  Because this could be our best day we pick our top priority destination - Higher Tor, about five miles to the southeast.  Rachael’s walking the whole way of course, but I’m taking a bike and hike: I’ll bike as far as the moorside village of Belstone, find a hopefully safe spot to lock it up, and then test out my new pole with a four or five mile loop through the moors.

Before we leave I tell Rachael there’s a good chance we’ll cross paths somewhere, since my hiking portion overlaps hers.  It doesn’t work out that way though, because after she’s been gone for about 45 minutes she calls to report a change of plans.  The route I’ve mapped out for her looks good on paper, starting with a marked path, a section of the Dartmoor Way.  Something we didn’t notice though is that these first two miles are right along the Okement River; and today the trail is quite muddy.  She’s calling to announce that she’s had enough Tough Mudder experience for the day and is turning back and finding somewhere drier to walk.

So that’s too bad, but I don’t have that problem because I’m staying on the pavement all the way to Belstone, after which I’ll be above the river.  My problem is that this is England, and my short bike ride comes with a significant 12% grade up a narrow lane walled in by hedgerows.  Some walking is called for, but finally I come to Belstone, lock my bike to itself inside the village cemetery so it can’t ride off while I’m away, and start walking.

It’s not until nearly three hours later that I sheepishly realize I forgot to leave my helmet behind.  Fortunately it’s just me and the sheep out here so it’s not too embarrassing.

Climbing toward Belstone, on the ‘biking’ half of the excursion. Not biking at the moment though of course, because I had to stop for this photo.
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After climbing through the village for a quarter mile I pass through a gate to the moors and I’m immediately in a different world - surrounded by sheep at first, but soon it’s just me and this remarkable landscape for the next three hours.  It’s only about a five mile loop, but it goes slowly because the ground is so rocky, the ‘path’ isn’t always easy to follow or even locate, and every hundred yards there’s cause to look around in wonder.

Just a brief description of the route, and then I’ll let the photos tell the rest.  I’m following the crest of a low ridge carved by two small rivers - the Okement on the east, and the Taw on the left.  The crest is marked by a series of high points defined by eroded granite piles, surrounded by slopes strewn with granite blocks.  I follow this route gradually climbing past a few of these high points (tors) before reaching my high point, the aptly named Higher Tor.  After that I drop off the ridge and follow a lower, better marked route beside the Okement until nearing the village again.

Climbing away from Belstone, I’m immediately in a different world.
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Looking back toward Okehampton.
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This pasture. I’m mesmerized by it, especially in the moments when a fleeting window in the clouds brings it to light. I come back at the end with nearly a dozen shots in this direction, but you don’t need to see them all.
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Patrick O'HaraIt's been about 30 years since Sue and I were in England, and we always remember the rolling and punchy terrain. Even though we were much younger then, we remember the physically and mentally draining ups and downs all day.
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3 weeks ago
Rachael AndersonTo Patrick O'HaraI find the steep ups and downs on a bike much harder than longer gradual climbs. That’s why I like days off the bike to hike!
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3 weeks ago
Jacquie GaudetWow! Fantastic shot!
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3 weeks ago
Coming up to the first of the named tors on today’s route. This one’s Tors End Tor. You can see the trail leading up to it, but it’s not too clear if I’m on it at the moment. It’s a good thing I have my Garmin to keep me straight.
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I’m following the crest of a short ridge here. I’m approaching Tors End Tor, and the next one out there is Belstone Tor. I think. There are no trail signs or markers out here to orient you, just thee trail - when you can find it.
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Keith AdamsThat's an OLD and difficult landscape.
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3 weeks ago
Now this definitely looks trailish. Belstone Tor ahead.
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Not quite as trailish here. I think I must have taken a wrong zig somewhere through this granite wasteland. Its a good thing I’ve got a hiking pole with me, or this wouldn’t work at all.
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Another look back toward Okehampton. It gives you a good sense of what a fine base it makes for exploring this wilderness.
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On the trail gain, approaching Belstone Tor.
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Belstone Tor.
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I’m beyond Belstone Tor now, on my way to the higher Higher Tor. My solitude is briefly shattered by this party of four and their dog in the distance. They’re the only folks I’ll see until getting back to the village.
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Higher Tor.
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Higher Tor. The eroded granite piles are fantastic. There are a lot of photos in this post, but there could easily have been many more.
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This spot again. It’s in the sun for less than a minute, with a gray blanket closing the window as I watch. Which reminds me - I’ve forgotten to say how windy it is up here. Some of these photos are hard to keep in focus because it’s blowing so fiercely.
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Higher Tor, worth more than one shot or even two.
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I’m dropping off the ridge now, continuing south but angling toward the lower road. I don’t know that there’s a name for that little torlet ahead, but it’s nice that I caught it’s moment in the sun.
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The picture of security. Safe!
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Keith AdamsGood thing they have thick wool coats.
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3 weeks ago
Polly LowI love this!
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Polly LowI did too. He looks so completely protected in there. I’d like a shelter like this myself from time to time.
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3 weeks ago
Folks live out here working the common, unfenced land and managing the semi-feral livestock - commoners, they’re called.
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Some sheep.
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In Dartmoor. We’re looking here at the headwaters of the Taw, one of the multiple rivers that originate in these highlands.
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In Dartmoor. The plant on the right is western gorse, one of the characteristic plants here. Don’t rub up against it.
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Not sure what this is, toward the bottom of the northern slope below Higher Tor. Interesting that the stones are branded.
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Looking back t Higher Tor.
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Again, from further away now.
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The natural spot to turn back, since I’m running short on time anyway. Parts of Dartmoor are used as military training ground, but it’s safe as long as you heed the published schedule and warning flags. Its good all this month, as long as you don’t get curious and fondle a grenades or small bomb.
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Finding the way back is much easier, almost road,Ike part of the way.
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Okehampton again.
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It’s a little sloppy here, but not bad if you’re paying attention.
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One last time.
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Nearing Belstone I stop for a last look around and am startled to see I’m standing yards from a landmark: a Neolithic sit, the so called Nine Stones Circle.
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Dropping into Belstone.
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Belstone’s church. I’m glad to see the bike is still here where I left it.
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It’s not long past seven when I bike down that 12% grade, but it’s starting to feel dusky in between the hedgerows.  I’m glad I’m not and later getting back.

I have some fun when I get back to the White Hart Hotel and get the keys for my bike locker, #3.  I’m still new at this, so it takes me awhile to unlock it and open the door.  Unfortunately when I do I find it’s already occupied, by an interloper that showed up in my absence.  I’m new at this so it takes awhile to close and lock it again , but once that’s done I go back to the office, where the woman there looks surprised, apologizes, and hands me the whole set of keys and tells me to just take an empty one.

Five openings and closings later, I finally realize they’re all full.  It’s a game of musical chairs, and I’m out.  I wheel the bike down to the office, and they let me stash it there for the night.  Frustrating, and a little unsettling that they don’t have a better bookkeeping system, I think.

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Today's ride: 10 miles (16 km)
Total: 1,734 miles (2,791 km)

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Jacquie GaudetBeautiful! When I finally go to England, I’ll bring my hiking poles. The walking (as I think they call it there) looks fantastic.
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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Jacquie GaudetI would. Parts of England and Wales are really better for walking than biking. I’d do more of it myself if it worked for me. I suspect I’ll start looking for other spots like this where I can bike partway and then walk.
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3 weeks ago