Crossing Dartmoor on foot… from Cawsand to Shipley Bridge
Last weekend saw our annual Dartmoor Magazine/Spirit of Adventure ‘big walk’ – this year ‘The Postman’s Round’, from north to south, visiting the only two permanent letterboxes on the moor. Every spring John Diplock (from Spirit) and I have great fun working out a new theme for a two- or three-day walk, and to date (luckily!) they have all been really successful.
After a comfortable night at the Spirit bunkhouse at Powdermills we were minibussed to South Zeal, from where we headed up to the triple stone row on the slopes of Cawsand (a first for some of the group).
From there it was up to the Cawsand trig point, then south towards Little Hound (and stone circle) and then Hound Tor under increasingly gloomy skies…
Weatherwise things started to get pretty nasty around Wild Tor (views to Watern Tor below), and by the time we got to Hanginstone Hill it was chucking it down and blowing hard. We sheltered from the wind behind the stable and ranger’s hut, but it was impossible to get out of the driving rain.
A brief window of sunshine around Taw Head raised our spirits…
… but it wasn’t to last! We made our wet and soggy way to the letterbox at Cranmere Pool, originally set up by Dartmoor Guide James Perrott of Chagford in 1854. From there we went due south for around 7km in heavy rain and poor visibility, eventually bearing SE towards Longaford Tor and onto Powdermills for the night… when of course the sun came out again! Today’s tally: 13.5 miles and 7.5 hours walking (all bar 1.5 hours in heavy rain – but overall it was great!).
Sunday dawned bright and sunny, and – much refreshed – we set off across Muddilake towards the lovely clumps of beech that mark the drive to Prince Hall Hotel.
Dartmoor looked stunningly beautiful the whole day. We crossed the West Dart river (view downstream below), and then the Swincombe via Fairy Bridge.
From there we climbed up to Ter Hill, adorned with two crosses: a replica of the medieval one which was damaged, removed and restored, and can now be seen in the Dartmoor Conservation Garden at Princetown; and a memorial dating from the 1990s.
We lunched in Fox Tor Girt, then passed the post at Cater’s Beam (see header photo), which was replaced last year (we reported on this in the News in a recent issue of Dartmoor Magazine so it was nice to see it in ‘person’!). Then it was on to the letterbox at Duck’s Pool (placed here in 1938 to commemorate the Dartmoor author William Crossing), where the visitor book was signed.
We then headed SE towards the spoil heap at Red Lake… something of a trudge… it was great when the peak peeped over the horizon!
Down the old Redlake Railway, then across the line of the Two Moors Way to pick up the line of the old Zeal Tramway, constructed to carry peat off the moor to a naphtha works at Shipley Bridge. You can still see some of the granite set into the ground. It makes a lovely path today (a first for me).
An finally – in complete contrast to the vast majority of the walk – the brilliant greens and soft landscapes around South Brent and the South Hams beyond came into view, drawing us on to the minibus at Shipley Bridge (thank you Mr Dell!).
Today’s tally: 13 miles (and I forgot to look at the time). One of the best things about these long walks (apart from the company, obviously!) is how they help me to make sense of the Dartmoor landscape, and how they help me join up all the bits and pieces I already know – and also introduce me to new places and sights and experiences. Thank you John for organising the weekend and leading it so efficiently, and to everyone who came along. It was just fabulous.
Spring walking on Dartmoor
The last two weekends have seen some stunning weather here on Dartmoor, and I’ve managed to get out on the moor two or three times. One of my favourite short walks is a circuit from Meldon Reservoir and up the West Okement river to Black-a-tor Copse and Black Tor, then over Longstone Hill and back to the car park. I first wrote the route up back in 2000 for 50 Walks in Devon, and each time I go back and do it again it’s just as good as that first time: tranquil reservoir, tumbling river, ‘ancient’ oak woodland, magnificent tor (Black Tor, above), open common and views of Dartmoor’s highest ground. And all this within a stone’s throw of the A30.
The walk starts from the car park at Meldon Reservoir, from where you cross the impressive dam (1970–2) with its view towards the 150ft-high Meldon Viaduct, towering over the West Okement river. The structure dates from 1874 when the L&SW railway line was extended to Lydford (from Exeter). A narrow path is followed along the southeast bank of the reservoir. The little island at the far end of the reservoir seems to be home to a colony of Canada geese.
From Vellake Corner the beautiful West Okement river is followed upstream.
Black Tor and Black-a-tor Copse (NNR) come into view, the latter one of three remaining areas of ancient high-altitude oak woodland on the moor (the others being Wistman’s Wood and Piles Copse). The views upriver and across the water to Corn Ridge are magical.
A steep climb up the valley side past the outcrops of Black Tor is rewarded with a lovely level track that runs over Homerton and then Longstone hills: Dartmoor’s loftiest tops, High Willhays and Yes Tor, rise above the route to the east.
The views all around are still stunning, especially when looking up the valley of the Red-a-ven Brook towards Row Tor and West Mill Tor.
All in all it’s a fabulous walk – I never tire of it. And what a wonderful day to be out on Dartmoor!