Exploring Heddon’s Mouth
As I drive down a narrow track in a remote part of North Devon searching for a stunning campsite option, my wife Lucy, son Max and dog Thumpa are all convinced I have totally the wrong place and choices for turning around for a hasty retreat become more and more limited. My first thought is how good am I really at reversing 1km up a steep incline? Luckily my reversing skills remain untested and the track opens up to a beautiful bit of farmland with views that stretch down the coast for miles. I have found my IGO base camp.
Like with any recce (short for reconnaissance, a cool word for a scouting trip) the key is to do as much desk research as possible before heading to the location so that you can maximise the effectiveness of the trip but also have a theoretical plan b and c. It is very rare that by just using Google and Google Earth (which is amazing by the way) that you can find the perfect route and wild camp spot. It makes the recce all the more rewarding when bits fall into place, but in my experience takes 2-3 days on average to come to the final decision. If you can stand in one location, look around and think “this truly is a special part of the world” then you have generally have found your spot. The criteria, in IGO’s case, for this feeling is a wild location that is impressive and exclusive in equal measure with very limited signs of human development or activity.
This, of course, must be balanced with accessibility for the tent van to make it in and people to find the way there, but short of using a helicopter to drop in supplies, the general idea is for wild, remote, untouched beauty. I imagine the feeling of opening up the bell tent zipper in the morning after a cosy night sleep (the IGO ethos is very comfortable camping) to a view that would put many Instagram accounts to shame. If I can design the camp set up with a view that would be agreeable to landscape painter J.M.W. Turner setting up for his best landscape paintings then that’s job done in my book! Now balance this base camp with the perfect trail which shows off the best of the local terrain and topography in a circular route that starts and finishes in camp and you will start to get the beginnings of an IGO event design.
In Exmoor’s case, we want to show off some of the best coastal scenery and trails in the UK. It’s not difficult! With the biggest large wild animal herd in the UK, some of the best wildflower valleys, the longest woodland stretch of any coast in the UK and Ireland, an eerie parallel valley called Valley of the Rocks (home to feral goats) and some friendly Exmoor ponies, then you have a melting pot of scenery and wildlife that would convince a Tibetan monk to visit for the weekend. Its key to ask those who know the area best and to make sure they understand what we are trying to achieve. It sounds like a basic requirement for a recce but there are many different routes to go down. I start with the local tourism board and then as we normally operate in areas of outstanding beauty and national parks – the National Trust. Since the skeleton format of an IGO weekend is designed to show the best of the area’s culture and wild beauty, these are normally easy relationships and partnerships to forge. After I have a good overview of the area and what can or can’t be done with regard to permissions and licenses, the next step is to find a good local pub. Sharing an ale with local farmers who have unique insights into the history of an area often produces gems of information and is normally an experience in itself.
I meet Pete from the National Trust on Day 2. Immediately feeling at ease that we are on the same wavelength, it turns out Pete is a keen surfer (he lives near Croyde) and tells me that the marketing slogan for Exmoor National Trust has the word ‘wild’ in it, I’m certain that our goals are aligned. Whilst it is widely accepted that time is our most precious commodity, I am always amazed at how much more time people outside of cities are willing to give – especially to strangers. Pete allocates a good half day to show me around the National Trust land and our imaginations of what local experiences we could provide in a wild camp. Pete leaves me with a friendly wave and parting line “Just pop me an email if you need anything else” as he traipses off back up the Heddon Valley. I spend the remainder of the day with my camera in my left hand making sure I snap some pictures to excite the IGO team in the office and my iPhone maps (GPSies.com is great for route planning) in my right hand exploring and testing out the route options. Once satisfied that a rough plan is in place, all the face to face meetings have been ticked off the list and confirmation from Lucy that I’m not going mad, the car is packed up and we head back to London.