A winter solstice (almost!) walk across Dartmoor
I always try to go for a long walk on the moor around the time of the winter solstice. It’s become something of a habit – last year the Belstone and Cosdon Hill area, for example; the year before the West Dart Valley and the Beardown Tors. This year (on Sunday 20 December) I joined John Diplock’s ‘Free Spiriters’ (an activity group for the over 50s) at Powdermills for their December adventure: a 12-mile walk across the moor to Dewerstone Cottage, tucked away in National Trust woodland above the River Meavy. Conditions underfoot were wet to say the least… but after a horribly wet and windy stretch across open moorland above the Swincombe Valley we were rewarded with sunshine and fantastic light by the time we reached Gutter Tor and Ringmoor Down, before the final crossing of Wigford Down.
But back to the start of the route. We set off from the former gunpowder works at Powdermills along the ‘old drive’, which leads to the B3212 not far from the Cherrybrook Hotel.
Then we picked up the bridle path across Muddilake (well named!) to emerge opposite the beautiful beech-tree-lined drive to Prince Hall Hotel and the Dartmoor Training Centre.
We got completely drenched crossing the slopes of Royal Hill to gain the old tin workings at Whiteworks (via a tricky crossing of the swollen Strane River), where we picked up a track leading to Nun’s Cross Farm for a lunch break tucked out of the wind behind crumbling granite walls.
But then (weather-wise) things started looking up and conditions improved considerably. We picked up the (quite badly degraded) track past Eylesbarrow tin mine, ending at the Scout Hut below Gutter Tor.
And on Gutter Tor the light, and views, were just fantastic!
It was just so good to see some blue sky again after days of grey… and from there we had a long tramp across Ringmoor Down in near perfect conditions.
The final stretch took us past Brisworthy Plantation, from where we crossed Wigford Down (north of the Plym Valley).
Finally we descended steeply through beautiful oak woodland to Dewerstone Cottage. A counting house for the local quarry during the 19th century, and situated on an old tramway built to remove the worked stone, the cottage has since been home to a tearoom (from the late 19th century), catering for visitors arriving on the now disused Plymouth-to-Princetown railway. In the mid 1950 it fell into disuse, was acquired by the National Trust in 1960 and leased to the Scouts organisation. The NT has now teamed up with John Diplock’s Spirit of Adventure, under whose guidance the cottage has been renovated. It is now a comfortable bunkhouse in a magical location, available for hire via www.spirit-of-adventure-com.
And that was where our walk ended, and Free Spirit’s Christmas party took place! Many thanks to John for organising yet another wonderful day out – and here’s to many more in 2016.