This is a retro-report. The ride took place in July 2020, but the story was written in February 2022.
Dartmoor. A unique place.
"Wild, open moorlands and deep river valleys, with a rich history and rare wildlife, Dartmoor is a unique place" says the opening statement on the official National Park website.
If you throw in the mix your bike, enough food for 2 days of cycling and a sleeping bag, you'll create some of the best memories for yourself. If you tackle a challenging route at the same time and do it all solo without visiting any shops along the way, you may even call yourself a hero 😉
July 2020 for many people reminds of only one thing: pandemic. It was that weird time when travelling was forbidden, but exercise was not, and it wasn't all clear if staying outdoors for night was prohibited or not... I couldn't help myself but escape it all and try some proper solo bikepacking for the first time. The pandemic reality meant no other option but going fully self-supported. I carried all the food and water and was prepared to spend the night outdoors.
I started in the afternoon around 2pm from the parking south-west of the Burrator Reservoir. Jut few minutes after I took off North it started pouring down with rain, testing my bags' waterproofness to their limits. The rain didn't last too long thankfully and until it was getting dark I managed to stay dry.
The landscape of Dartmoor is spectacular. Every few miles, there is a place worth stopping. My favourite spots are Foggintor Quarry and Bellever. First one for its uniqueness and an option to take a dip in the cold quarry waters and the second for its calmness and picturesque combination of trees, rocks and the river. I'll definitely consider staying in one of those places for the night next time in Dartmoor.
My planned stay for the night was at half-distance of the planned loop ride, north of Cosdon Beacon. I'm not going to lie - I was exhausted by the end of Day 1 and quite intimidated by the fact that I'm camping on my own, testing out my coffin-style tiny tent. The sound of army practicing shooting behind the hill was not helping either, even though I checked before that I was safe to camp where I was that night. A hot noodle meal and a sip of JD made the evening much nicer.
It rained all night and the strong wind mixed with army noises kept me awake for the most of the night. I was looking at the clouds to spot a chance for me to quickly pack my tent and head down the hill to find a shelter under the trees and warm up with a coffee and some breakfast. That's how I got to Belstone and from there on the sky cleared up again, and I was riding mostly on the beaten tracks and tarmac from there on.
From Okehampton down to Lydford I stayed on the Granite Way - a lovely stretch of cycling road with some lovely cafes along the way. They were all closed at the time, so no coffee for me, unfortunately. I wasn't complaining though - as usual, I packed more food than I needed, so I decided to have a long lunch somewhere by the River Tavy. Baked beans never tasted so good!
Few more hills (very steep hills!) and I was back at the parking. I was quite tired, I admit, mostly due to the sleepless night, but it was well worth it. I could finally tick the solo overnighter off my adventure bucket list. And it didn't take me long to plan the next one...
Bike: Pinnacle Arkose D1 2020
Saddle bag: clothes, food, alcohol stove with fuel, sleeping bag, torchlight, hip flask, cooking pans, spare straps
Frame bag: tools, map, phone, battery, tubes, snacks, water filter straw
Handlebar bag: tent, inflatable sleeping mat
2x 750ml water bottles
I was generally speaking happy with my setup, but next time I'd wage the amount of food (and type of) more carefully. At some point my frame bag zip failed and only thanks to a spare strap I managed to not lose anything along the way (see pictures below).
One of the most useful things I carried was the water filter straw. There's no shortage of water streams in Dartmoor, so there's no point carrying more than 2 bottles of water.
Some useful tips
Plan extra time for taking pictures
Moors get wet and stay wet for a long time. Expect pushing your bike through the mud in some places.
Dartmoor's hills are steep and a heavy-loaded bike is not helping to go up the hill
Check the weather, especially the wind. Find a sheltered place to stay for the night
Check Dartmoor Firing Times on this website! Don't risk entering areas where you can get into serious trouble
If you're planning to wild camp, check where it's actually legal to do so on the Dartmoor Park's website