The Ten Tors Challenge is legendary in the south west. For those of you who have never heard of it, it is held on Dartmoor over a weekend in May every year. Teams of six young people have to complete a 35, 45, or 55 hike, depending on their age, taking in ten of Dartmoor’s tors. They are completely independent, have to navigate with a compass, and camp out on the Saturday night. Organised by the army, it is well run. But May on Dartmoor is unpredictable. It can be freezing and wet, with fast-flowing rivers and stagnant bogs. Or it can be sunny and hot and these teenagers have to carry a heavy rucksack with all their equipment.
This weekend was a bit of both. Dartmoor has had an unusually large amount of rain throughout April so there are bogs and streams galore. But this weekend was sunny and windy, with no cloud cover so the temperature plummeted at night. Some of the walkers had to be airlifted off with hyperthermia. One poor girl broke two legs.
Our son, aged 15, was in the 45 mile team from Teignmouth Community School. He had blisters after Tor 4 on the first day but carried on. When his team finally made it home, all six of them, he had trench foot and sunburn. It really is a challenge.
People who think England, particularly down south, has a mild climate, they should try out Dartmoor, where a fog can appear from nowhere, bogs can suck you in and the sun can vanish in a minute to be replaced with dark dangerous clouds. One year they even had snow during the weekend. No wonder they built a prison here.
I am so impressed with the young people who took part, who have spent months training over the winter. I hope to go back next year and cheer them on again as it is quite a sight, especially watching them walk down the final hill in fancy dress, exhausted but exhilarated. My son is a glutton for punishment and is already determined to do next year’s 55 mile walk. Only he is going to need a much better pair of boots and many changes of socks. The St John’s Ambulance who dressed his rancid feet said that Gortex socks are the way to go. Better start saving as they are £50 a pair…
But these young people are worth it. They give you hope that this generation have much to offer the world.
Sunshine helps, but Dartmoor is a beautiful place, whatever the weather. Today, spinning along the lanes and over the rolling hills, the hedgerows were blazing with sunny daffs, blackthorn fizzed in the hedgerows, and the granite moors stood out on the horizon, less menacingly than on a bleak winter’s day. We were headed for Castle Drogo, wielding our National Trust cards (so establishment, I know), mesmerised by the dramatic Teign Valley and looking forward to a cream tea in the cafe.
Castle Drogo is supposed to be the last castle to be built in England, around a century ago. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, it was an uber-ambitious project that was never finished to its original plans but that is stunning and extraordinary nevertheless. It is a wild mix of Medieval and Arts and Crafts, grandeur and intimacy, with ambitious ‘modern’ plumbing and electricity powered by the Teign. Family portraits hang all around as well as exquisite tapestries, but what stays in the mind is the poignant shrine to a beloved son killed in action in Ypres.
If you are anywhere near the A30, go and see it. Have a stroll round the formal gardens, marvel at the view and the dreams of a family who had the vision to do such a daring thing. Explore this modern castle with its home comforts that include a throne of a loo. Be uplifted. Be inspired. And have a scone. Cream first, then jam, obviously. This isn’t Cornwall…