I was very keen to get out and do a major Dartmoor walk and Friday looked the best day of the weekend, even though there was going to be a huge windchill factor and NW winds gusting up to 40mph!
I choose Cranmere Pool for three reasons, first there were 7 caches to be found on the way there and back, second I wanted to place a couple of caches in my new Dartmoor Challenge series and third there was a 2014 Dartmoor geocoin to be retrieved from the cache. The planned route was just over 8 miles, mostly on easy Army roads so should be no problem.
I parked above Okement Farm which is as far as you can get. I’ve no idea why the COs for the caches chose a parking spot down near the camp, but it will add nearly another 2 miles to your route. As I was going south, the cold icy wind was almost behind me and going was easy down the Army road. There was a little snow lying around, but nothing really to cause a problem. The first two road caches were found and I diverted off for the OP17 cache before returning to the road.
This was where my problems started. When you climb up to Okement Hill you are at 564m. That is higher than all of the surrounding tors, except Yes Tor and High Willhays and you are only about 50m below them. As I climbed above the 500m contour the Army road was covered in snow and ice and the snow was thicker on the ground everywhere. The East Okement Head cache was in an area covered by snow and I was lucky to spot it.
It was then up past OP15 and the Q Datum cache which I had already found. Stupidly I was strutting down the Army road and completely missed the turning to Ockerton Court so that meant a cross country trudge to get back to the track. Once at Ockerton Court the track ends and being a huge plateau from there to Cranmere Pool, it is one kilometre full of Dartmoor bogs!
Dartmoor bogs can normally easily be avoided provided you watch your feet all the time. However, when the ground is covered in snow to about 6 inches, you cannot see them. The secret is to walk only on grass which sticks above the snow and avoid all areas of melted snow, as they are surely bogs. It was a very long, slow and laborious trudge of that kilometre and the sky in all directions was black! A sensible person would have turned back at Ockerton Court, but I rarely give up on a mission.
Eventually the Cranmere Pool Letterbox appeared in sight and what a relief that was! Of course at this point it started snowing and sleeting and I sheltered under the peat near the cache to have some hot coffee and lunch. I looked for the cache but couldn’t find it until I remebered that I had the spoiler with me. Unfortunately the geocoin was not in the cache!
My gloves were soaking wet and my fingers were frozen. Fortunately I had brought spare gloves but decided that I would never be able to place any caches because of the snow. I had intended to move further on to place the caches, but I quickly made the decision to return immediately. Even had I placed the caches, my fingers were too cold to write out what was needed and to check the coordinates. So, I had actually failed on 2 of the 3 reasons for the trip.
I decided that as I hadn’t fallen into any bogs on the way here, all I had to do was follow my footsteps to get back. Easier said than done and I constantly wandered off and had to use the GPSr to get back on the previous track. On the way back it was a mixture of sleet & snow and patches of sunshine, but the wind was now firmly in my face. A short rest at OP15 and then I continued around the Army road to pick up the remaining caches.
All went well until the very last cache when I realised I had to cross a small stream twice. Normally this would have presented few problems but with the melting snow the stream was a raging torrent and the banks slippery. Not something to be jumped! I found a good crossing place about 50m upstream from the cache and returned to the same place having found the cache.
Now it was just a short walk back to the car and I was very relieved to get there. Although only a walk of 8.5 miles, it had taken 5 and a half hours and was probably one of the most challenging walks I have done on Dartmoor. Or maybe I’m just getting old!