A review of 2019 on Dartmoor – Part Three
Hello again! Welcome to Part Three of ‘what I got up to in the outdoors’ last year, which takes us up to the end of December. Future blogs will take a look at the early months of 2020 before the lockdown, and I’ll share some photos taken on walks from home. Interestingly when I came back to Devon (post a brief spell working in London publishing) to take up a job at David & Charles Publishers (then in Newton Abbot) I moved to Bridford. I spent almost every evening of that first summer exploring the ridge between the Teign and Wray valleys either on foot or on a borrowed pony. Now – forty years later, almost to the day – I’m doing the same from the Wray Valley side! I’m also gathering Dartmoor information and history and photos from a variety of sources, so you may be relieved to hear that future blogs will be decidedly Dartmoor-focused (and not all about me…).
So, back to October 2019 and another world. The above photo was taken at the end of the Belstone ridge (near Higher Tor I think), looking towards Oke Tor and Steeperton beyond, on a day of wonderfully soft light. It’s one of my favourite parts of the moor, and I’d wanted to walk the whole circuit – Belstone, Higher, Oke, Steeperton, Wild, Hound, Little Hound and Cosdon Beacon – but for some reason it didn’t happen and so was postponed to this spring. The best-laid plans… (Moss the Dartmoor Dog Blogger – were you with me that day?).
You may notice that the above photo was not taken on Dartmoor! Every autumn for the last few years I’ve grabbed a long weekend in Scotland with my Scottish hillwalking pals (followers of this blog will know that sometimes they return the favour and come to Dartmoor, staying very comfortably at Budleigh Farm – just along the Wray Valley Trail from home). Last year we had a fabulous weekend staying in Ullapool on the shores of Loch Broom on the west coast. On the Saturday we scaled Ben Wyvis (Munro: 1046m) in bright sunshine and ferocious winds, and on the Sunday explored the Braes of Ullapool, ‘bumpy’ hills above our accommodation – from where I took this photo. We tried for a long time to identify what we could see… I’m not going to risk it now!
Last autumn I started six months of walking book revisions for Crimson Publishing (publishers of the Pathfinder and Short Walks Guides – I look after all the southwest titles). It’s lovely work: I get to rewalk four or five routes from each book and provide route and map updates. Before the weeks and weeks of rain started (remember that? it seemed so dreadful at the time – little did we know) I enjoyed some lovely days out in autumnal sunshine: the photo below was taken in the western ‘spur’ of Halstock Wood, between Okehampton and Belstone, alongside the pretty little Moor Brook. The second photo shows my good friend Brenda on the South West Coast Path above Lynmouth on the north coast of Exmoor. I had to amend a route in PFG Exmoor because a permissive path to the east of Countisbury has disappeared, making the route as described in the book too short. I experimented by starting in Lynmouth and ascending up to Countisbury… not a good idea! Those of you who know the area will be aware that the road here has a gradient of 1 in 4; on foot you climb from sea level to 302m (almost 1000ft) in under 2 miles. Anyone buying a new edition of PFG Exmoor & the Quantocks will no doubt be relieved to hear that I dropped the idea, went back to Countisbury a week or so later and worked out a less challenging option.
October also saw the annual drift sale in Chagford, a traditional (and vital) Dartmoor event. It was great to learn that the 2019 sale was one of the best attended and most successful for years, with an average sale price of £88.
Into November now, and revision work on Dartmoor – and a couple of leat photos. From SW Dartmoor I had to check the lovely circuit which starts from Norsworthy Bridge and visits Crazywell Pool, then returns via the Devonport Leat and Stanlake Plantation (where recent felling has opened up some great views towards Sheepstor). The photo below shows my other half Stuart following the Devonport Leat along the contours of Raddick Hill. The second photo was taken a few weeks later alongside the leat near its take-off point from the West Dart above Wistmans Wood. By the time we did this walk the rains had started – crossing the river at the weir below Longaford Tor was interesting, to say the least!
I had a glorious (and rare) sunny day – working on the same book – wandering around the Avon valley below the Avon Dam Reservoir. The walk heads up the valley from Shipley Bridge, then cuts across rough ground up to Riders Rings (an enclosed hut circle settlement dating from the Bronze Age – think Grimspound, but rectangular, less visited and a great deal larger) before contouring round to Black Tor, from where there are beautiful views across the valley to Shipley Tor (photo below). The tarmac way up the valley may be popular, but once you head up onto the moor you won’t see a soul.
Getting towards the end now… another rare bright day saw me back on Exmoor, double checking a route for the spring 2020 issue of Exmoor Magazine: a very nice circuit from Winsford village (birthplace of trades union leader Ernest Bevin) which scales the heights of Winsford Common via the rim of the spectacular Punchbowl (the photo is taken from the top, looking back towards the village – it’s just round the corner to the right – about 200m/650ft below!). You won’t be surprised to hear that this ‘bite’ out of the side of the hill has been attributed to the Devil… I do love Exmoor’s patchwork of fields and copses.
And so into December... and (almost) continuous rain. My work in that month saw me spending several days in Cornwall, and I can honestly say that I ended every day drenched and muddy and tired… and sort of exhilarated, somehow! I ‘splashed’ out on some really good outdoor gear last year, and it paid off handsomely. The photo below shows me at St Materiana’s Church at Tintagel.
My final photo takes us back to Dartmoor, and to where we started: a view towards the Belstone ridge, taken from East Mill Tor in early December. It just remains for me to say I hope you’re keeping safe and well… and if you think you know of anyone who might enjoy this blog please point them in the direction of the DM website (they can sample it for themselves, and sign up on the home page if they wish). See you soon!