Paul takes on Dartmoor for Prospect Hospice

Monday, 11 September 2017

In May, Paul Bassett took on our Source to Sea challenge to raise money in memory of his wife Claire who was cared for at the hospice before she died. In this blog, Paul talks about his experience of the challenge...

"Driving across the beautifully sunny open landscape of Dartmoor, my satnav told me I was less the half a mile from my destination. Yet, looking out of the car windscreen, I could see nothing but miles and miles of barren hillsides. Following the satnav’s instructions, I turned left and found Powder Mills Bunkhouse at the end of a long driveway. My fellow adventurers and new yet-to-become-friends, who were sat enjoying a chat and evening drinks, welcomed me with a smile and a can.

"There were ten of us taking part in the adventure, accompanied by our guides John, Helen and Gary. The bunkhouse is pretty much what you might remember a youth hostel to be… clean and tidy, with basic homely, shared facilities. There was no TV and no internet signal unless you walked up the hill to the main road – what were we going to do in the evenings? Talk to each other, make friends, have fun and play games – that’s what we did, and what a great time we had! The wood-burning stove in the living room kept the chill off in the evenings and provided a lovely snug atmosphere. We sat and chatted – some nervous about the weekend ahead, others relishing the adventure, but all looking forward to the challenge.

"The first night brought the most incredible lightning storm – our wordly-wise guide, John, said it was the worst he’d seen for over 20 years. Starting shortly after midnight, the lightning flashes constantly lit up the sky for over four hours, with a biblical rain, hail and a wind storm in the middle, which thankfully only lasted a quarter of an hour. I’m sure we were all a little apprehensive of what the morning would bring. Thankfully, it had eased off to just being windy and rainy by the time we were ready to go.

"The trek across Dartmoor was spectacular (after the rain, mist and wind cleared enough to see more than 100 metres!). The landscape and wildlife were beautiful. We walked about 13 miles the first day, stopping for lunch along the way. Some found the going up hills a little challenging, but we all worked well as a team, encouraging and helping anyone who needed it, but that’s what it’s about – we weren’t walking to the shops. There were picture book stepping stones to cross the river, adding a little excitement as some wobbled their way across, trying not to get a wet foot – or more. At the end of the day we were collected and taken back to the bunkhouse.

"Day two saw us dropped back to the same place as we were collected from at the end of day one. The terrain was different as we progressed on the second day, it varied from wild open moorland, through knee-high heather and bracken, down steep valleys, through dense woodlands and along riversides. It was so breath-taking; I almost forgot we were walking 12 miles that day – but only, almost!

"That evening was a little quieter in the bunkhouse, after getting our briefing on the following day’s canoeing expedition there were a few sleepy eyes, with most in bed early, except a few hardened politics debaters!

"Day three started with a 30 minute minibus trip to the riverside, where we had finished off the day before. After unloading the canoes and getting kitted out with everything we needed, we all nervously – some more than others – climbed in our boats and paddled around, zig-zagging from side to side of the river whilst getting used to who should be paddling and who should be steering. But, after the first few minutes, it all fell into place and concentrating on staying dry-side-up and in a straight line became less of an issue, and enjoying the views from the river was worth all the hard work and nervousness.

"Following the meandering course of the river, dodging other more experienced mariners along the way, we were treated to many wildlife treats: an otter popping it’s head out of the water for a look at the spectacle passing by, and a young deer who ran down the field and jumped off the riverbank straight into the water, before realising that his mid-morning dip was being interrupted by several boats full of splashing, laughing fools.

"We stopped for lunch at a yacht club just over halfway along our journey, having carried our own food with us in the canoes. As we continued our progress downstream in the afternoon, the river got wider, and the passing boats larger and more frequent. Suddenly we found ourselves in Dartmouth Harbour – WOW, what a sight! One unfortunate couple did get a little wetter than hoped when they got too close to the harbour wall and capsized, but they were safely returned to their boats and the journey continued. Arriving at Warfleet, a secluded little bay within sight of the open sea, our jubilant little band of merry explorers whooped and hollered, and congratulated each other on a fantastic weekend.

"After a little more work, packing up and loading the boats onto the trailer, we all bid each other farewell – new friends, promising to keep in touch, to meet up for a meal, recount our stories and plan to do something similar, if not the same again, sometime soon.

"A fabulous weekend of adventure, exploration, friendship, laughter and fun, with a little hard work mixed in, but above all, raising money for Prospect Hospice."