The Stars Are People-Gazing Oodles of Dartmoor remains open to backpack camping, a sign that landowners too stand by our right to the night sky

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every time I visit Dartmoor, the sun will shine strongly.

That’s why I’ve picked the gloomiest photo I could find, from our wild camp on the leeward (ha!) side of Great Mis Tor on Tuesday night.

I wrote at length in January about the current court battle for the restoration of our right to wild camp on Dartmoor.

Last week, members of the Dartmoor National Park Authority, emboldened by a spring tide of public support, decided to appeal the High Court decision.

This action is encouraging and it’s good to remember that oodles of Dartmoor remains open to backpack camping, a sign that landowners too stand by our right to the night sky:

Dartmoor National Park Authority camping map

Camping is free in these areas by permission, rather than by right, with landowners receiving an annual fee of £300 in return (although some have indicated that they will donate the fee towards conservation).

You’ll see from the map that camping isn’t generally allowed off the main roads onto Dartmoor.

This is, I guess, to discourage ‘fly camping’: people piling out of cars, spilling onto the moor with paper cups and beer kegs.

But I’m afraid that it only serves to discourage (as I wrote in 2021) people ‘not like us’.

I was writing about proposed changes to the byelaws governing Dartmoor — changes now on hold until the High Court judgement has shaken itself out — but my words apply equally to any and all attempts to curtail popular access to the outdoors:

The outcome […] is that campers who are not white, wealthy and middle class enough will be discouraged from communing with one of our last expanses of wilderness.

We need education not litigation. We need more access, not more control.

Learning is what humans do best: we are (in the words of anthropologist Clifford Geertz) unfinished animals. Meanwhile, access to nature gives us somewhere to practice being what we are.

With education and access, our human footprint is lightened and distributed and generations will rise up, ready to take their place in nature, as one of nature.

Even with my experience and resources, I’m far from being an expert in the ways of the moor.

I might look proud, but this was a noisy pitch, an hour’s hike from the Whiteworks car park, on Higher Hartor Tor (the clue should’ve been in the name, really)

I still haven’t found the perfect campsite: the open moor is exposed to wind that bends the laws of meteorology, wraps itself around my ears, rattling the brain and shuddering me from sleep.

And, yes — this is a call out for recommendations!

I’ve been back home for less than a day and I’m already yearning to return for another night on the moor.

For, even in the long sleepless delirium, there is a moment, perhaps two a.m., when you brave the elements for a wild pee, look up at the fast clearing sky and see, returning your awed look, Gemini’s twins, Castor and Pollux.

A quiet strong voice rose beside me in the darkness:

While we’re stargazing, the stars are people-gazing.

Gemini as depicted in Urania’s Mirror, a set of constellation cards published in London c.1825. (Wikipedia)


Special thanks this week to the breath of Dartmoor and my companion beneath the stars.

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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

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