Call David's Dartmoor rescue service if you ever find yourself lost

Friends on the Two Moors Way who didn't need rescuing!

Friends on the Two Moors Way who didn't need rescuing! - Credit: David Phillips

Last week, I had a phone call from a woman who was walking on Dartmoor, and who was getting anxious as she had come off her intended course and was feeling a bit disorientated - I hate the word lost - so, with the wonders of modern technology, I was able to rescue her and get her back on track!

That was a first for me, but not the first time I’ve helped out fellow walkers.

The woman in question had contacted me via my Facebook Dartmoor walking group page.

She was in the area for a few days and wanted to know if I had a walk planned during her stay.

Sadly, I didn’t, not a group one anyway, but I did suggest other guides she might find online who would be able to accommodate her.

She came back to me later asking if I could recommend a route she could attempt on her own, that would be safe for a solo walker not au fait with the area.

As she was staying near Totnes, I felt a walk out of Ivybridge, following the Two Moors Way, would best suit her, as there was an old railway track there that she could follow as far as she liked making the return route easy enough.

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I thought nothing more of it... until last Friday afternoon when I received a phone call asking for my help.

Fortunately, I had given her my number in case I could be of any further assistance in planning her route.

It turned out she had taken my advice to follow the railway track but before she could get to it, she had encountered a rather aggressive cow, forcing her to run to get away from it!

It’s very unusual for cows to act like that, usually only when they are protecting newborns.

She had continued walking, but now the time was getting on a bit and she was unsure of her way back, so, with her phone short of battery life, she had turned to me for help.

From the description of her surroundings, I surmised her best route was to get to higher ground where she would find the track, it’s sometimes not obvious from lower down until you stumble across it.

As she had been walking for hours, and now feeling quite tired, an unnecessary uphill climb was not what she wanted, but I was able to convince her this was the direction to go in.

She turned off her phone to conserve the charge, and when she next rang me, it was with live video feed of her surroundings.

Sure enough, she had reached the gravelly track bed, and by panning around I was able to point her in the right direction to get her back to her car. Job done!

She was most grateful, as she was starting to get a tad concerned!

Weirdly, the route she had taken in error is the very same one I’m intending to take my group on! 

That’s the first time I’ve successfully given someone directions via a phone, but I have, in the past, joined forces with other walkers to get them safely off the moor. 

On one occasion, while I was letterboxing on a fine summer’s afternoon in the Huntingdon Warren area, above the Avon Dam and insight of Buckfastleigh, I was approached by two foreign ladies who asked if I could direct them back to Holne.

It turned out they had just arrived in the area, had checked into their accommodation, and, after lunch, had gone for a stroll up on to the moor.

Now time was getting on and they were concerned they wouldn’t get back in time for their evening meal.

Knowing that not only had they got to get themselves back off the moor, but they still faced a fair old walk along lanes they weren’t familiar with, I did the chivalrous thing and, forgoing my letterboxing, I suggested they followed me back to my car and I would give them a lift back to their B&B.

The ladies gratefully accepted my offer and, in no time at all, we were off the moor, back at my car and back in time for their evening meal. Two more satisfied customers! 

An unexpected Dartmoor mist rolling down the hills towards you is not something you want to see while out for a stroll in the middle of the north moor, but that is exactly what happened to myself and my friends a few summers ago.

It was during one of our Sunday walks, I had just taken my group to Cranmere Pool, the Mecca for Dartmoor letterboxing, and afterwards we had split into two parties.

One group had headed straight back to get to the pub, while three of us had kept on walking in order to put out some letterboxes for a friend who was unable to make trips to remote parts anymore.

Task completed, we too headed back to the pub, and that was when the mist appeared... it wasn’t long before we were enveloped in it.

However, I wasn’t unduly worried, for, being in the Okehampton army range, I knew all we had to do was keep heading north and it wouldn’t be long before we hit one of the many tracks that circle this part.

Much to my friend’s surprise I was proven correct!

As we stood on a mound trying to get a phone signal to contact our other friends, we uncovered a letterbox attached to an observation post, which I knew would be within yards of a track, and sure enough there it was!

My unerring sense of direction and knowledge of the terrain hadn’t let me down, so I count my friends among those I have rescued, just by being with them! 

However, there is one occasion when I will admit to being concerned about a slight sense of disorientation, but even that led to a happy ending.

This particular event took place just before Christmas many years ago now, when my letterboxing buddy and I had gone in search of a stamp featuring the Star of David... well, as we were both called David it had to be done!

The weather on that particular day was foggy with a layer of snow underfoot, not ideal walking conditions, but as we were in an area I knew well, I wasn’t unduly worried.

It was quite an exhilarating feeling walking out into expanses of untouched whiteness, and it wasn’t long before we found our quarry among the rocks on King Tor, just up from the well-preserved remains of the hut circles of Grimspound.

Job done, we did an about turn and headed back to the car - or so I thought.

We hadn’t gone far, when tall pine trees started looming up in front of us.

I knew our route back didn’t include trees, so we turned again and kept going, until more trees appeared!

This time I realised we had inadvertently gone too far down into the valley, so all we had to do was go back up the hill, where we would find the car waiting for us on the other side.

As we started heading upwards, I noticed some torchlights in front of us.

My first reaction was that my wife had got concerned and had called out the Dartmoor Rescue, and so, as I knew we were now on the right track, I adjusted our route to avoid them, to save myself any embarrassment.

As we got closer, I could see they were consulting a map and it became obvious it was they who were lost.

Wanting to help them out, I introduced myself and offered my services.

It transpired that they had parked up in Widecombe in the Moor and gone for an after-lunch walk, intending to get back in time for an evening meal.

By now it was dark and getting late and they were well hungry!

So as not to create an incident where the Dartmoor Rescue would have to be called out, I suggested we joined forces and I would lead them back to their cars in return for a lift back to mine.

Heading back down the hill, we soon reached a hedgerow that separated us from the road, and in the dark the only obvious way to get to it was through it, into someone’s garden, through another hedge dropping down on to the lane beyond.

We did try to ask permission before doing this, but the owners of the property seemed oblivious to a group of strangers waving at them from their garden!

Once in the lane, it was just a few miles jaunt back to Widecombe.

As we walked, we got to know our new companions, and it turned out they all worked for the same company which had recently presented their staff with selection boxes at their Christmas do, and some of our new friends happened to be carrying theirs in their rucksacks, so we weren’t short of chocolate on our journey back!  

I’ve always maintained that fate lent a hand that day, causing me to get disorientated in order to put me in the path of people who genuinely needed rescuing.

So, if you ever find yourselves lost up on the moors, hopefully you now know who to call!