By: Blonde Two
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From time to time we Blondes get asked questions about Dartmoor and this one, ‘Why is Dartmoor dangerous?’ comes up a surprising number of times. It is an interesting question because, although visits to Dartmoor can include elements of danger, most people have completely the opposite experience when they visit. The question maybe comes from Dartmoor’s, rather unfair, reputation for deep, man-drowning bogs (see Sherlock Holmes’ Grimpen Mire) and impenetrable mists (which certainly do exist). Much of Dartmoor is a restful and pastoral place and we would hate to discourage anyone from visiting but it does have a ‘wild’ element, that is maybe given too much credence by organisations such as the Bear Grylls Academy who describe it as, ‘One of the UK’s most inhospitable environments’, it can be inhospitable, this is true, but it can also be very welcoming. There are a few Dartmoor elements that could be labelled as ‘dangerous’ that maybe should be treated with caution. In our experience, danger usually comes from how we interact with an environment rather than the environment itself. Here are some of our answers to the question, ‘Why is Dartmoor dangerous’?
Are Dartmoor bogs dangerous?
Much of Dartmoor is a wet environment. We have the blanket bogs of the high moor (with some on the south moor) and the valley mires that follow Dartmoor’s rivers and streams. They are both there because of the presence of granite, large rainfall and sphagnum mosses, which degrade into peat. Dartmoor’s bogs are important because they hold both water and carbon and support a large variety of wildlife. They are also the source of many dark legends and stories and the occasional accident. Dartmoor bogs are marked on the Ordnance Survey map (look for blue tufts of grass instead of green ones) and we would recommend only walking near them if you have rock solid map and compass skills. Falling into a bog is a kind of Dartmoor right of passage but it can leave you very cold and in danger of hypothermia (as well as horribly smelly). Just occasionally you will come across a bog that is deep, makes the ground wobble in a disconcerting manner and gives you the sense that it is dangerous. It probably is and we would suggest an immediate retreat to the last place that you found firmer ground. Don’t be fooled into thinking that higher ground on Dartmoor will be drier, upland bogs are found on high, flat areas. A walking pole is a useful tool for testing the depth of a bog before you commit yourself to taking a step. Be warned, Dartmoor bogs can be very deep and they can be dangerous but the good news is that there are plenty of Dartmoor spaces that are made up entirely of solid ground.
Are Dartmoor rivers dangerous?
Any place where people interact with water has the potential for danger and water should always be treated with respect. Dartmoor’s rivers are a particular source of beauty and provide entertainment in many forms including kayaking, wild swimming and storytelling. However, rainfall on Dartmoor can be sudden and of high volume, causing rivers to rise quickly to dangerous levels. If you are planning a walking route on Dartmoor always consider river and stream crossings carefully. It is far safer to reroute and avoid a potential issue than to take a risk when crossing or even walking next to a river. To find out about flood warnings in England have a look at the government Flood Information Service website but do be aware that river crossings can be dangerous even when the rivers are not in flood.
Is Dartmoor weather dangerous?
As well as being infamous for its bogs, Dartmoor is also well known for stories about people becoming confused and lost in the mist. These stories are well-founded, Dartmoor mists appear quickly, often without apparent warning and can be very disorientating. The only way to guarantee a safe route out of a Dartmoor mist is to make sure you know how to read a map and use a compass. GPS devices such as OS Maps can also be useful but you should always be aware of the possibility of battery or connection failure and carry a map and compass as well. If you are using a mobile phone for navigation, remember that it will be using battery power quickly, battery power that you might need in the event of an emergency. Even if you are on a path, it is easy to walk the wrong way in the mist. The good news, however, is that even basic map and compass skills can get you out of a tricky situation and back to safety. We recommend checking the Met Office Dartmoor National Park website and taking particular note of the predicted visibility. If visibility is going to be poor and you don’t absolutely trust your navigation skills, stay low and on routes with well-trodden paths.
Are Dartmoor ‘Danger Areas’ dangerous?
The answer to this one depends on how dangerous you think guns with live ammunition are. Dartmoor is used by the Army for military training who sometimes undertake live firing exercises on three north moor training ranges (Willsworthy, Merrivale and Okehampton). As you walk across the north moor you will notice that some tors and high points have flags on them and that some of the danger area boundaries are marked with red and white poles.
These are a warning that you are entering or leaving one of the firing ranges; if the flags are raised, live firing is possible and you should stay away. The sensible walker, however, will not get to the point of walking close to a raised flag because he or she will have checked the Dartmoor live firing times and designed a suitable route according to their status. The Dartmoor live firing times are posted online, as is a map showing the Dartmoor Army ranges (the Dartmoor firing ranges are also shown clearly on Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 and 1:50,000 maps with red arrows and the words ‘Danger Area’ respectively).
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Of course, as with any environment, Dartmoor can present other dangers; it was a rabbit hole rather than any of the above that gave me my worst Dartmoor moment. A moment that, although it involved the Devon Air Ambulance and a few weeks in plaster, hasn’t put me off exploring Dartmoor’s more wild and wonderful areas and neither should it you. Set out prepared, with the right safety kit and some navigation skills and you will love Dartmoor’s wilderness as much as we Blondes do. Is Dartmoor dangerous? Well yes, but then so is walking down the stairs if you do it with your eyes closed.
If you want to learn some of those basic (or even more advanced) navigation skills that will keep you safe in Dartmoor’s more remote areas (or even in its not so remote areas), we Blondes have plenty of experience and are qualified to teach map and compass navigation. Get in touch today for more information about our Dartmoor navigation courses. Our courses are fun and friendly and our aim is to give confidence through experience.