How I almost won the Darwin Awards – 1

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle is set in Dartmoor.  He paints a beautiful yet bleak and utterly unforgiving picture of the area with his descriptions of the bogs on the moors.  Let me quote one passage for you…

“A false step yonder means death to man or beast. Only yesterday I saw one of the moor ponies wander into it. He never came out. I saw his head for quite a long time craning out of the bog-hole, but it sucked him down at last. Even in dry seasons it is a danger to cross it, but after these autumn rains it is an awful place. And yet I can find my way to the very heart of it and return alive. By George, there is another of those miserable ponies!”

Something brown was rolling and tossing among the green sedges. Then a long, agonized, writhing neck shot upward and a dreadful cry echoed over the moor. It turned me cold with horror, but my companion’s nerves seemed to be stronger than mine.

“It’s gone!” said he. “The mire has him. Two in two days, and many more, perhaps, for they get in the way of going there in the dry weather and never know the difference until the mire has them in its clutches. It’s a bad place, the great Grimpen Mire.”

That’s some evocative stuff right there.  It made the moors seem mystic and dangerous – nature, untamed and wild.  The child I was when I read this book was enraptured by the romance of the area.

Other random reading over the years just added to this mystique.  I picked up factoids  about the mists that settle on the moors.  Mists that waft out of nowhere and blanket the region within minutes.  Mists that confuse and perplex, robbing hikers of all sense of direction as they wander within its opaque veils. Mists that seem really freaking deadly when conflated with the Doylean bogs and mires.

All this atmosphere and build up served to put Dartmoor near the top of my must-visit list.  That child who read The Hound of the Baskervilles twenty years ago really, really wanted to go there.  And now that I was on the same continent, in the same country, I decided to carpe some diems and make her happy.  My husband and I fixed on a trip over the Easter weekend.  A-hiking we would go.

I was over the moon, picturing the vistas, the craggy tors, the feel of bracken and heather underfoot.  Maybe we would find an arrowhead some prehistoric hunter dropped.  Maybe we would even hear some poor, wretched animal sink into a fog-enveloped mire.

Although I’m sure that was a purely fictional passage Doyle inserted just to build tension.  Purely fictional.


Feeling extremely self-conscious about being led by fears picked up from Sherlock Blooming Holmes – it’s the 21st century for heaven’s sake! – I purchased The Compass.  I use capitals because it turns out, 21st century compasses are fairly complex and this one felt like an entity in its own right.  It wasn’t just a needle indicating North – there were also rotating dials and measuring marks for map scales and an inbuilt magnifying lens and all sorts of arrows pointing everywhere.  In fact, The Compass was so complicated, it came with a 12 page guide booklet.

The day before Easter weekend, I very self-consciously read this guide.  I still felt embarrassed about taking the whole thing so seriously because, come on!  A jillion hikers tramp around the moors on a daily basis.  Even Boy Scouts go there to earn their badges.  Boy Scouts!  And here I was picturing death and dismemberment by phantasmal hound in a fog-ridden, bog-riddled Hades.  Good grief.

So we went there, armed with backpacks filled with The Compass – in case we got lost on the moors for days and needed help getting out.  And a book of maps – in case we got lost on the moors for days and needed help getting out.  And our car’s GPS – in case we got lost on the moors for days and needed help getting out.  And an internet-enabled mobile phone with GPS – in case we got lost on the moors for days and needed help getting out.

As you can see, redundancy was key.  Paranoia?  Heck, no.  Dartmoor was just not going to have the satisfaction of seeing me floundering in its foggy boggy morasses, no sirree, Bob.  Not me, not mine.

We also loaded up on chocolate bars and potato crisps – in case we got lost on the moors for days and needed sustenance.  And 2 litres of water –  in case we got lost on the moors for days and needed non-bogliquid potations.  And a DSLR with a tripod – in case we got lost on the moors for days and it was very beautiful.

All this for what was likely to be a 6 hour hike in broad daylight.

We Were Prepared.


Continued in Part 2.

I'm the Manasi behind Majaama. I created this website on a whim and fell in love with it. It's my baby, my preciousssss.

7 Responses to “How I almost won the Darwin Awards – 1”

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  1. Kritika says:

    ok – only read part 1 yet ( makes for a good midday break from work), but HA!
    I’ve hiked in some remote places and I ALWAYS hike with food and water for a day and a half, rain and cold protection even in the middle of summer, light sources and all that stuff. Preparation is a good thing. Often it’s why someone lived to tell a tale. Good for you.
    (so far.)

    • Manasi says:

      This hike certainly taught me the value of preparation. It was probably nothing compared to the shenanigans you must get up to, but heck, lesson learned.

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