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  • Writer's pictureOne Girl and a Van

Dartmoor Camping and Swimming

A mini expedition to Shilley Pool to celebrate my birthday - May 2022

We'd been trying to get out for a mini expedition for a few weeks but things kept getting in the way or going slightly awry as usual; but after a 1 night mini trip the week before to test kit, we decided we would head out for a four day expedition on North Dartmoor to celebrate my birthday.


The weather was looking perfect, a route was devised, food prepped and bags packed... Early the next morning we were off.

We headed up the long road past East Lake and arrived in Belstone slightly disappointed that the pub wasn't open for breakfast! We had a little break on the green before mooching on in to the woods and enjoying the stunning views over Belstone Cleave. I had read about a potential swim spot in the woods not far from Skaigh, so we headed down towards the River Taw to have a look.

This is a beautiful woodland with lots of footpaths enabling you to enjoy the pretty valley, and its meandering river, from any direction. The walk from Sticklepath to Skaigh is especially lovely and not far, but offers a great stroll along the river for a swim and picnic, or a quick loop before a hearty lunch in one of the fabulous local pubs.


We found the little pool besides a pretty footbridge inscribed with passages from Tarka the Otter; the water was dappled with reflections from the large trees above, and little streams of light fought to pierce the canopy. The pool isn't large but perfect for a wallow below the tiny tumbling falls. It's a bit rocky to get in and out of, and the water was cold in the early morning shade, but it felt great to be in the water and we had a little float and swim before getting out and continuing our hike.

From here we took the high path and started climbing out of the cleave and on to open moorland. It was pretty steep in parts, but allowed for wonderful views down the valley where we spotted some other potential swim spots to explore at another time. Max seemed to have an unusual amount of energy and practically sprinted up the path, whilst we huffed and puffed our way up the incline complaining about giant steps on steep paths!


We exploded out of the dark woodlands and in to the searing sun, the kaleidoscope of greens, browns, reds and purples of the moors highlighted by the bright sunshine. Max had clearly used up all his energy running up the hill, so was back in his little backpack for the long slog to the summit of Cosdon Hill.

Cosdon Hill sits at 550m above sea level, and despite being a lot lower than the likes of Yes Tor, Dinger Tor and Black Hill, and not as sexy, it quite possibly offers some of the best panoramic views on Dartmoor.


As we approached the summit, we were greeted by a herd of cows, including a random Highland coo (unsure if she was lost or had decided to be part of the Galloway gang!) and the birds nesting nearby, burst from the shrub land and flitted high in to the sky as they sang their warning call. We climbed up to the trig point for that all important summit photo, before sheltering from the wind amongst the cairn for a spot of lunch.

After a quick lunch break we were off again, and happy to be descending back towards the river and the lure of another swim. There are some great routes from the summit of Cosdon, and from here you can head down towards Throwleigh, as we were, or mooch south via Hangingstone Hill towards the East Dart, or out towards Kestor Rock and Fernworthy Forest.


We headed down a lovely track that would be sooooo much fun to ride, and eventually came to the Cosdon Row. Known locally as the cemetery, this stone row is made up of three parallel lines of various height stones that head eastwards down Cosdon Hill for about 160m. It's one of the best sets of stone rows that I know of on the moors and I often ponder what it would have been used for.


From here we joined another path which lead us safely through the local bog (never go off-piste around Cosdon unless you fancy very wet feet!) and down to Shilley Pool.


If you're a long term reader of my blogs, you'll know I've hiked out here a few times before in varying weather - hot hot summers and cold icy winters - and I love the spot. It can get extremely busy when the sun is out and it's the holidays or weekend, but mid week it's generally quite quiet during the daytime and you can enjoy your swim and picnic in relative peace.

We arrived to an absolutely empty Shilley Pool and set about crossing the river (always a little risqué) to set up our home to for the afternoon and night. The sun was high in the sky and we decided to jump on in to the pool for a swim and cool off after our hike. We had only walked around 7 miles but all three of us were pretty pooped and a lush long swim and a cup of tea was just what the doctor ordered.

Slowly we were joined by newcomers out to have a quick dip or stroll; kids frolicked in the cool water, using the rocks as a fun slippery slide, and dogs jumped in and out chasing their balls and sticks. By nightfall we were snuggled in the tent with just a small group of teenagers still nearby having a BBQ and chilling to some tunes. Around 1am my sleeping mat developed a significant loss of air and despite various attempts to get it to stay inflated, all hope was abandoned and George and I topped and tailed (with Max!) on her mat... it wasn't the best night's sleep; so at 5am I decided to get out of the tent, sit outside in my sleeping bag and watch the sun rise on my birthday.

We got up, packed away the tent and decided to chill by the water for the morning playing cards, swimming and eating cake (it was just a mini Battenberg and not a proper birthday cake (sad face emoji)). The water was once again lovely to lounge in and have a swim. We had a little bath using my Tropic Body Pebble, perfect for outdoor baths, and then dried off in the sunshine with another cuppa.


Unfortunately, there was no way we could cope another few nights without two mats, so we headed back towards Belstone and an early finish to our planned expedition. We didn't fancy hiking back up Cosdon, so I took us around the lower slopes of Cosdon to Foxes' Holt, which provided amazing views out across the local villages to Castle Drogo and beyond towards the East Devon coastline.



We followed tiny sheep tracks as we contoured around the hillside and re-joined the main track near where we had started our climb the day previous. The track continued down past the Boundary Stone marking the separation of Okehampton and Belstone Parishes; George looked set to collapse as she leaned her head against the stone, but on we plodded over boggy passes and boulder strewn pathways to the river and the ford below, where Max cooled his toes before we carried him up the final hill to the pub. Which thankfully was open and serving cold drinks!



We arrived mid afternoon at The Tors Inn, their outdoor servery was in full swing and the green was full of happy customers enjoying the sun, a cold drink and a delicious burger. We found a spot of shade under a bush and I ordered up two cold pints of water for George and a lovely pint of Tors Lager for me... well it was my birthday!


After cooling off a little and watching all the yummy food being served, we decided 'sod it' and grabbed a shady table and ordered two burgers and more drinks. Now, as you'll know, I do like a bit of grub, and as a bit of a foodie, I would HIGHLY recommend a burger from here... In fact, I'd go as far as to say they are the best burgers EVER from a pub. I had the 'Blue', am amazeballs beef patty, from a local farm, with Devon blue cheese, wild mushrooms and a homemade BBQ sauce, served in a huge brioche bun and super tasty skin on fries... nom nom nom.

Anyway, after indulging in our delicious burgers, and a few too many pints in the sun, I felt a little tipsy and stuffed, so we set off for the last couple of miles back to the van and a comfy bed to crash in to!


We headed down the lane from Belstone to the footpath at Tor Down, which crosses a beautiful field awash with buttercups and full of the cutest miniature ponies ever. I had made the mistake of being overly friendly with the ponies the week before and having a horrendous allergic reaction to them, so this time I kept my hands firmly in my pockets and avoid any smooching! After the very tight squeeze with a full pack through the kissing gate, we were on the last leg up the road and back to the garage and Buttercup's current place of residence.

Despite the tweaks and it not being the epic adventure we had planned, the two days were wonderful. The walking was great, the views stunning, the swimming refreshing and the burgers too good for words!


A new mat has been ordered and maps studied; so roll on the next adventure...

 

Thank you as always for reading my story and if you'd like to see the little videos of our two mini camping adventures, please click the links below.


Shilley Pool Mini Expedition: Dartmoor Camping FAIL - YouTube


Cullever Steps - Test Run!: Wild Camp and Swim on Dartmoor - YouTube








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