Fust it rain’d then it blaw’d
The it ‘ail’d then it snaw’d
Then it com’d a shower o’ rain
Then it vreez’d an blaw’d agean.
Wet, misty, foggy, windy, cold, and even wetter – all descriptions of Dartmoor’s weather that readily comes to people’s minds. Hardly ever do you hear sunny, hot or dry but believe it or not these conditions frequently occur on the moor. Being situated in southern Britain the Dartmoor plateau tends to be heavily influenced by the mid Atlantic drift. The predominate winds tend to come from a westerly to south westerly direction but look out when they are from the north, then it gets cold. This basically means that the predominant south westerly air currents tend to off-load their burdens on the first high ground it meets, namely – the high moors, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. The result of this is that Dartmoor has a much wetter, windier, mistier and colder climate than its surrounding fringes. There can be no clearer example of this than the photograph below. Here you can see that whilst the high moorland ridge of Hameldon is covered with snow the lower moorland fringes are perfectly clear.
Very often you will find that even the moor can experience different weather conditions insomuch as that the north can be dry whilst the south wet or visa versa. Often you will hear people say how they got soaked on the north moor and others will note how they were basking in sunshine down the south. The trick is working out what way around it is going to be, something I have never learnt to do. The table below shows a comparison of monthly statistics between 1971 and 2000 between Princetown and Teignmouth. Princetown stands on the moor at an altitude of 417m whilst Teignmouth lies 35km to the west at an altitude of 50m.
Maximum Temp (ºc)
Minimum Temp (ºc)
Statistics – Met Office 2007
As can be seen while their is no big differences between the maximum and minimum temperatures, Princetown was blessed with almost twice the average rainfall of Teignmouth. It will be interesting to compare the same figures for the period 2001 to 2030 to establish the full effects of global warming, a task that won’t be mine I suspect. Catastrophic weather such as thunderstorms and torrential rainfall are fairly uncommon but when they do occur it is usually very dramatic. A while back I was caught out on Quickbeam hill in a thunderstorm, streak lightening was flashing down all around and I was not sorry when the storm abated. There does seem to be a recent trend of tornados occurring on Dartmoor, last year (2006) saw a couple of spectacular ones on the southern moor. Whether this too is part of our changing climate I know not but they add a bit of excitement to a days walking.
But one thing that is guaranteed is that in inclement conditions the moor can provide a spectacular backdrop for the photographer. The clouds can form some dramatic shapes and the sunsets are breathtaking. If you are prepared for a soaking, it can be assured that such days on the moor will result in some stunning photographs. Even the mist can provide an opportunity for some very atmospheric shots especially when taken in monochrome. It may seem strange but a hot hazy day can in fact be the worst kind for taking photographs on the moor as the wider landscape is often lost in a shimmering fug.
So, you are planning a walk on the moor and want some indication of the weather, what’s the best thing to do? Simple, make sure you have waterproofs, a map and compass then go out there and find out. If things become too unbearable you can always turn back provided you don’t wait until the last moment. The Dartmoor National Park information centres usually post pretty reliable weather forecasts but as always they never get it quite right. Many, if not all of the centres don’t open until 10.00am by which time most serious walkers are trundling their merry way across the moor having set out at first light. The other good indicator is the shipping forecast on radio 4 which is broadcast early in the morning. Listen out for Plymouth, Sole and Fastnet and they will normally give a clue as to what’s coming in from the sea a good few hours in advance.
Personally, I think the worst walking weather is a day of heavy, dispersed showers, when this happens you have to keep putting on and taking off your coat and leggings, which is a real pain. If these conditions occur in summertime some people advocate wearing shorts and not bothering about wet legs which seems a good idea.
There is a wealth of local weather lore that has been handed down from the days when the Met. Office consisted of a bunch of seaweed hung over the porch. Many of these old sayings still work today and it is worth remembering that they have come from moorfolk who have lived and worked out in the moorland weather all of their lives.
But in all seriousness the Dartmoor weather can at times be very unforgiving so it is essential to carry the full walking kit at all times – No Fear, Just Respect !
Here is an excellent example of the Dartmoor weather variations taken on the 29th March 2007. The spot from where the left-hand photo was taken is about 1 mile from where the right-hand picture was shot – six minutes apart!