A spot of inadvertent Dartmoor tor-bagging...
When it comes to hills and mountains, I can’t really call myself a ‘bagger’.
I remember heading up to the summit of Ben Hope (the most northerly Munro) a year or so ago and someone asking me how many Munros I’d ticked off the list, and I couldn’t answer. If I had a think I would maybe get up to thirty, but that’s not what it’s about for me. I will happily revisit a hill on several occasions: and every time is different, depending on the weather, the company, my general mood.
Bagging the tors of Dartmoor brings with it a bit of a problem, in that there is no definitive list. And when is a tor not a tor? More than 150 of these rocky granite outcrops are marked on the OS Explorer map, but on the ground there are more than seven hundred tors and rocks waiting to be ‘bagged’ (take a look at the new website www.torsofdartmoor.co.uk). But last weekend I did ‘bag’ three new ones, and they were really special.
Every summer I get together with a bunch of like-minded walkers for three days to do some ‘big’ walking (such as the Perambulation of the Dartmoor Forest boundary, which we did last year in intense heat). This year we based ourselves at Dewerstone Cottage, tucked away in beautiful woodland above the River Meavy on the southwest side of the moor. Our first day, after weeks of dry weather, dawned wet and misty. We had a good day out – 14 miles, taking in Brisworthy, Ditsworthy Warren House, Higher Hartor Tor, Sheepstor and Meavy – but, as you can imagine, saw almost nothing and got extremely wet!
So drawing back the curtains on Saturday and seeing the sun glimpsing through the trees was a real tonic. We headed down the Meavy towards Shaugh Bridge, then took a narrow permissive path (which needs a bit of maintenance work) south along the Plym through Bickleigh Vale.
From there we headed up the wonderfully named Hollowgreep, crossed the Bowling Green and the open expanse of Shaugh Moor to reach the trig point on Saddlesborough. What views!
From there we skirted the old china clay works, then headed through damp valley mire full of bog asphodel to cross the Blacka Brook via a little clapper bridge.
A gentle ascent through the tumble-down remains of old farms and field boundaries took us to the ridge between Great and Little Trowlesworthy tors. It was all SO beautiful. The views north from Little Trowlesworthy take in the bulk of Sheepstor, with Leather Tor and Sharpitor beyond. It has to be one of the most picturesque parts of Dartmoor. The header photo captures something of a Dartmoor curiosity, too: an unused base for a flagpole that was destined for Devonport sometime in the 19th century and that never quite made it.
From there we headed northeast across the wide open expanse of Lee Moor – it felt almost prairie-like, populated by large numbers of sheep, cattle and ponies – with stunning views northwest across the valley of the upper Plym to the prehistoric landscape of Drizzlecombe and Ditsworthy Warren House (think War Horse – the film).
Next stop Hentor, again blessed with fantastic views. This area was once home to a large number of rabbit farms: take a look at the map and ‘warren’ and ‘pillow mounds’ appear repeatedly (at one time there were said to be as many as eighteen across the moor).
We reached beautiful steep-sided and tranquil Shavercombe – another first for me, then headed into the valley to find the River Plym, which we followed all the way back to Cadover Bridge (it would definitely be easier to do this when the bracken is less profilic).
Revived by ice cream at Cadover Bridge we followed the pipe track through the woods to Shaugh Bridge, passing the magnificent Dewerstone Rocks en route.
So a brilliant day out on the moor and 14 miles done, and three new tors ‘ticked off’. What different conditions from the previous day, too! But then – isn’t that all part of Dartmoor’s charm?!
Hunting for history in Bellever Forest, Dartmoor
I’ve been out to Bellever Forest a couple of times recently, in connection with bits and pieces for the magazine. DNPA‘s Mike Nendick gave me a guided tour of the new exhibition at the Postbridge Visitor Centre which will link with the Postbridge Trails project, a Moor than meets the eye initiative set up with the intention of getting people to stay longer at Postbridge and explore the local area more easily and in more depth.
One such trail is the History Hunter’s Trail, aimed at families. It’s a great idea: a circular 1.3km walk (so under a mile) to encourage people to get out onto the moor safely and explore Dartmoor’s prehistoric archaeology ‘in the flesh’.
An information sheet and map will lead people around six sites in the forest and on Lakehead Hill, each one marked with an engraved post (where possible existing Forestry England posts have been used to minimise the introduction of additional path ‘furniture’). Each post will have a unique symbol – indicating a settlement, hut circle, basket, arrowhead, axe and flame – which will match a series of letters and numbers on the information sheet – great for kids! Once the sheet and route is complete families will be able to collect their History Hunter’s badge from the Visitor Centre.
It’s a brilliant idea… you’re very quickly out on the open space of Lakehead Hill where the views broaden and you feel that you’re out on Dartmoor proper, without having to stride across open and unsigned moorland (daunting for many people). And the views are good, too… looking south from this point there’s an obvious path up to Bellever Tor, another plus for visiting families.
Mike showed me a cist and stone row that had been ‘mucked around with’ by the Victorians – a pretty poor reconstruction!
As we headed back down the forest track towards Postbridge (this is a very gentle walk) we surprised a young female adder (which surprised me too…).
A few days later (not such a good day for photos) I was back again, this time meeting Becky Morris, Marketing & Communications Officer for Forestry England, with Tim Vowles, FE’s Community Ranger for South Devon who looks after Bellever and the Dartmoor sites. Forestry England (Forestry Commission) celebrates its centenary this year so it seemed appropriate to commission a feature for the autumn issue of Dartmoor Magazine about the workings of the organisation on Dartmoor: sites, history, wildlife, archaeology, management and 21st-century challenges. The three of us had a good walk and talk around the forest, starting from the car park by the East Dart then walking up onto Lakehead Hill past part of the Devon Wildlife Trust‘s Moor & Meadows reserve.
Once on Lakehead Hill we met some of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust‘s ponies (all of which are used to being handled), carrying out important conservation grazing work at Bellever. Something that Mike and I had talked about on our visit was suitable post height for the History Hunter’s Trail, ie so that the posts won’t be used as scratching posts by the ponies on site. As you can see from the header photograph things haven’t quite gone to plan!