Editor's Blog

The Dartmoor Sheep Gather

I like sheep… and I like getting out onto Dartmoor… and so I was delighted to be able to combine both this weekend and watch the Dartmoor Sheep Gather, courtesy of the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project and Russell Ashford of Bowden Farm near Scoriton. This is the first time that this ‘aspect of Dartmoor’s unique cultural heritage’ has been opened up to the public, and both BBC Spotlight and Radio 4’s Farming Today were on hand to record the event.

It was a brilliant day. We were split into several small groups, each led by a ‘guide commoner’ – an active hill farmer, each one ideally placed to explain what was going on and to answer questions about the historic links between Dartmoor farms and their relationship with the moor. As we assembled I took the chance to photograph the traditional breeds most commonly seen on the moor, which were penned on site: Scottish Blackface, Greyface Dartmoor and Whiteface Dartmoor.

We headed up the beautiful track (down which some of Russell’s Scotch Blackface flock would later be drifted) towards Lud Gate and the open common.

Once out on Buckfastleigh Moor our guide, Philip French of Corringdon Farm, South Brent, talked to us about how the moor is cleared of sheep for a two-week period each November. Flocks are brought back to the farm to be treated for sheep scab and various diseases, and ewes put to the ram. Some farms put their stock straight back on the moor, some keep them off for longer; depending on the farm and its location. Sheep are ‘leered’ to a particular landscape area (lambs following their mother’s example), and different groups of sheep tend not to mix up (other than those that go ‘off-leer’). Philip explained that after the main gather members of the Commoners Council scour the valleys and crags for those sheep that have somehow evaded ‘capture’! (He also talked about the history of the legislation of common rights, which I am not going to go into here for fear of getting something wrong…)

We headed up onto the slopes of Puper’s Hill, with lovely views across the autumnal landscape to Holne Moor and Hamel Down beyond.

And then we caught sight of Russell and his dog, bringing the sheep across the moor (he later told us that a ‘proper’ gather would take all day and involve more people – and more sheep!).

Once the sheep were gathered at Lud Gate – look at the OS map and you can see how the walls bordering the common serve to ‘funnel’ livestock towards the gate – Russell was interviewed by the BBC.

Then it was back down the drift lane to the farm, where the sheep (mainly Scottish Blackface, with a few Texel cross lambs) were penned.

The next part of the event involved Russell and David Attwell, Hill Farm Project Training Coordinator, selecting a ewe (left) and lamb (right) and talking through their life cycle and physical attributes. It was fascinating. I learned that the ear tags carry hold information relating to location (ie Devon), the farm and the individual animal. Questions flowed from the interested onlookers,  concerning financial value, health care and passports (sheep don’t have to have them – any suggestion that they might is being strongly resisted). The children present were allowed to get ‘up close’ to the two ‘examples’ on show, which seemed remarkably calm (David told me that if you get a sheep into a certain position it just doesn’t move!).

Russell says, ‘As an owner of common land and a grazier I am passionate to share with the public how we manage the commons and the benefits that delivers for the environment. These areas not only produce livestock but our grazing supports some of our rarest plants and birds while preserving our historic landscape.’ The value of inviting the public onto the farm and common to witness the sheep gather was clear, and I hope that yesterday’s event kicks off many more. My last photo shows a sheepdog demonstration by Kenny Watson from Postbridge, which the assembled company watched while tucking into local lamb and beef from Dartmoor Farmers catering van. The weather had closed in, and the wind picked up – it was getting decidedly chilly – so we beat a hasty retreat.

I’ll leave the last word to commoner Mat Cole of Greenwell Farm near Yelverton. ‘It’s really important that events like this share with the public how the landscape is managed and help to build a bridge between the consumer and the farmer. Many people don’t understand what a common is and how it’s used…’

 

 

 

On the trail of Dartmoor's infamous Hound...

It’s been a funny summer/early autumn for me. I’ve had to drop out of a couple of ‘big’ walking trips – a long weekend in Kintail in the Scottish Highlands to do the Five Sisters, and (today) 23 miles along the Abbot’s Way between Tavistock and Buckfastleigh. My tendons (damaged on the Dartmoor Perambulation in very hot weather) have prevented me from wearing boots until the last few days (normal service should resume shortly!). So walks have been shorter and less taxing than usual… but this has made me think about other ways of seeing Dartmoor, other than tramping across the high moor on foot. To that end (and in connection with a future feature in Dartmoor Magazine) last week I was delighted to be able to join Alex Graeme of Unique Devon Tours on his Hound of the Baskervilles Tour (2019 marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series of novels).

Alex has devised a brilliant tour that looks at Conan Doyle’s links with South Devon, and Dartmoor in particular. I’ll just pick out a few details of the day here, but I loved it all – and I learned so much. Alex disseminates a mass of information in a wonderfully relaxed manner – the story is of great personal interest to him, too (see below) which adds a really ‘warm’ element to the tour.

Many will know that Foxtor Mire, near Whiteworks, is said to be the inspiration for Conan Doyle’s dreaded Grimpen Mire in the story (see below), but Alex starts the tour in the village of Ipplepen – ‘surprisingly crucial to the evolution of The Hound of the Baskervilles’. There we saw the home of Bertram Fletcher Robinson,  friend of Conan Doyle, and who CD often visited to explore the moors. And Robinson’s coachman, who drove them on their moorland visits, just happened to be one Henry Baskerville…

Alex’s ancestors come into the back story at this point, too. His great-grandfather, Revd Robert Duins Cooke, served the community in Ipplepen from 1897 to his death in 1939. He was a friend of Robinson, and knew Dartmoor well. The two visited the moors together.

Next stop Ashburton, where we saw the later home of Henry Baskerville, and his grave in the churchyard of St Andrew’s. Alex also pointed out a plaque recording the fact that Sir Walter Raleigh was arrested in a hostelry (now the Exeter Inn) on West Street in 1603 ‘to be taken to the Tower’. I’ve been to Ashburton loads of times, but I never knew that! (Alex’s tours are remarkably civilised, too, with time for refreshments built in… we stopped for coffee at Taylors on North Street – just managing to resist the tempting array of cakes!)

Then it was off to the atmospheric ruin of Holy Trinity Church on the hill above Buckfastleigh (somewhere I have never been, but always intended to go). It is a beautiful spot, and steeped in history: sadly subjected to two attacks by arsonists, the second of which (in 1992) destroyed much of the building.

Next to the ruin can be found the tomb (seen in the photo below) of the infamous Squire Richard Cabell, a ‘monstrously evil man’, said to have sold his soul to the devil and whose ghost roams the moors at night with his evil pack of wisht hounds… thought to have given arsonists cause to fire the church. It is thought that his story inspired Conan Doyle to pen his most famous Sherlock Holmes novel.

From Buckfastleigh we made our way up to the moor, passing above Brook Manor, thought to be the inspiration for Baskerville Hall in the story. We stopped at Combestone Tor, which overlooks the Dart valley. The spot as nothing to do with The Hound of the Baskervilles’ story, but bizarrely our bright and sunny day had disappeared, to be replaced by howling wind and low cloud…

We had lunch at the wonderful Rugglestone Inn in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, after which we headed back to Ipplepen (we’d run out of time – too much talking!).

Alex’s tour goes on to visit the Bronze Age settlement at Grimspound (below), thought to have been Conan Doyle’s inspiration for the stone huts in which Sherlock Holmes hid on the moors. And finally Foxtor Mire (see header photo), which Conan Doyle, Robinson and Baskerville visited together. Alex takes his guests to the National Park Visitor Centre at Princetown too, formerly the Duchy Hotel, where Conan Doyle is known to have stayed.

Alex shares much, much more information than I have covered here – and the day went by in a flash. Thank you for a really enjoyable tour – and congratulations on being named UK Tour Guide of the Year at last week’s Wanderlust magazine’s World Guide of the Year Awards 2018!

 

A Dartmoor Perambulation... 2018 style

Over three days in mid July a bunch of us got together to walk the 52-mile boundary of the ancient Royal Forest of Dartmoor. Different people took responsibility for recce-ing each day’s walk, sticking as far as possible to the ‘original’ route of AD1240 which was perambulated on the orders of Henry III (notwithstanding obstructions such as Fernworthy Reservoir which have appeared in the intervening years!) Day One was Cosdon to Dartmeet; Day Two Dartmeet to Princetown; Day Three Princetown to Cosdon.

It was fantastically hot, with little breeze and not much shade (or cloud cover). We each carried at least 2.5 litres of water, and constantly dunked hats in streams and placed them, dripping, back on our heads. It was tough going – around 19 miles on the first day, and over 16 on the second. I had to drop out on the third due to boot (and therefore foot) problems, which I have since discovered was down to the extreme heat coupled with an unusually heavy rucksack. Disappointing, but sensible in the circumstances. The photos below give a taster of the two days on which I walked (and if any of the captions are wrong I apologise – I did mean to take notes, but it was almost too hot to think!).

Many thanks are due to those who worked out our route so diligently (some going out several times to seek out hard-to-find boundary ‘markers’, many concealed under dense grass) – and congratulations to those who completed the course (I met them with ice creams in Belstone at the end of the last day and they were quite tired)!

The group at Belstone at about 8am on the first day. Somehow we managed to leave enough cars in the right places each day to enable us to get back to the bunkhouse at Powdermills each evening.

View across Taw Marsh towards Steeperton, before crossing the Taw and ascending to the top of Cosdon Hill (Hogam de Costdonne), from where we dropped down to Little Hound Tor, the Whitmoor Circle and the White Moor Stone.

 

Then it was on to Ruelake Pit, where we hunted out a marker… then onto Rippator (Rival Tor) from where there is a fantastic view along the valley of the North Teign river, with Fernworthy Forest on the horizon.

Next port of call was the Long Stone on Shovel Down, then over Thornworthy Tor and below the dam at Fernworthy Reservoir.

We walked over Chagford Common to the cairn on Water Hill (see header photo), then crossed the B3122 at King’s Oven (Furnem Regum).

The next stretch was interesting, threading our way through the open workings below the Warren House, then following the western boundary of Soussons to pass Runnage Farm, and then the ancient tenement of Pizwell. A lovely airy walk along Riddon Ridge came next, and then we followed the East Dart to Dartmeet (aliam Dertam).

Day Two dawned hot and bright again, and we set off at about 7.30am from Dartmeet, soon crossing Week Ford. Today’s leaders had done a fantastic job locating a run of boundary markers on the slopes of Ryder’s Hill, many of which were really hard to spot…

… while others were rather easier to locate (Petre’s Bound Stone on the top of Ryder’s Hill)!

We headed around the slopes of Huntingon Warren and crossed the Avon via the clapper bridge (I managed to cool my feet in the river for 10 welcome minutes) before heading up to Eastern Whitebarrow (Estere Whyteburgh), the most southerly point on the Perambulation.

From there we turned north and headed for ‘home’ (it’s a long way!). Crossways to Red Lake to Erme Pits, beyond which we found Broad Rock (not an original Perambulation boundary marker as far as I am aware) which kicked off a discussion as to whether such engravings on Dartmoor boulders should be preserved or allowed to gently fade into obscurity… this one is showing up well since someone had recently rubbed peat into the indentations. It’s a tricky one.

Next stop Plym Ford, then over the hill to Nun’s/Siward’s Cross.

We spotted the cobra head boundary marker on South Hessary tor, then headed across the common to reach the B3212 (and transport) near Sailor’s Pond.

So that was it for me, but I am determined to do the ‘last day’ soon! I’ve walked the Perambulation twice before, but never in such a detailed way and with so much work invested in working out the route beforehand. Once again a very big thank you to everyone who put so much into making it a fantastic experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Post summer magazine recreation for the editor!

Once the summer issue of Dartmoor Magazine is out of the way I can look to other tasks, and so I’ve just got stuck into some revision work for Crimson Publishing‘s Dartmoor Pathfinder Guide. I’ve been working on all the southwest titles for several years, and researched and wrote PFG North & Mid Devon in 2011 (reprinted and amended in 2014 and 2017). People often refer to the books as ‘those green books with OS maps’. The series has been around since the early 1990s, but have really stood the test of time.

The decision behind which routes to check depends on what may have happened since the last update – in the case of PFG Dartmoor I wanted to alter the end section of one walk to avoid the now-very-fast stretch of road between the drive to Prince Hall Hotel and Two Bridges. I checked out four circular routes: Lydford Gorge, Horrabridge (beautiful, but on a dull day), Mary Tavy and Two Bridges (photos from these two to follow). It’s highly enjoyable work – and always interesting to see what has changed in the intervening years.

The Mary Tavy walk (c. 8 miles) starts from the church, and wends its way through fields and via tracks onto Horndon Down – which is where the views start! Once over the brow of the hill (this photo was take looking back along the route) you get great views towards Ger Tor, Hare Tor and Tavy Cleave. The way then drops down to Hill Bridge, where we stopped for a bit to eat (it was a hot and muggy day) by the cooling waters of the River Tavy.

We followed the beautiful leatside path through Creason Wood (the leat feeds Bennett’s Reservoir) to reach Horndon Lane. Then it was on to Cudlipptown, past Boulters Tor on Smeardon Down, and back to the start via Peter Tavy and a crossing of the Tavy river. It’s a wonderful walk (Walk 22 in the book).

Yesterday a friend and I tackled Walk 25 – 9 miles in the book, but they always end up longer for some reason – and this one needed to be extended at the end anyway – we ended up walking 12 miles in great heat! It was the most beautiful afternoon. We started from Two Bridges, and headed up the West Dart valley towards Wistmans Wood.

We crossed the ridge to the east of the river by Longaford Tor, then skirted the old gunpowder factory and associated buildings at Powdermills (header image). A bit of welcome relief from the hot sun came as we walked through Bellever Plantation before ‘up and over’ Bellever Tor.

Next stop Dunnabridge, and down to cross the West Dart via the blocky stepping stones near the junction with the Swincombe river. Nearby we found the most beautiful hawthorn tree, smothered with blossom.

On we went across the Swincombe, through the farm at Sherberton and over the common to cross the West Dart again. Then it was up the amazing beech-lined drive that leads to Prince Hall Hotel and the Dartmoor Training Centre.

On reaching the B3357 we turned right, then crossed the road and headed up the bridleway across Muddilake (not very after all this dry weather!). We crossed the B3212 near Cherrybrook Hotel, then skirted the field wall… through a gate, then headed for Crockern Tor. From there it was easy to drop back to the outward path and return to the car park at Two Bridges.

I’m pleased to say that the amended finish worked really well (I only hope that the publisher likes it too). We ended up having a refreshing drink in the garden at the Two Bridges Hotel… in the company of those famous geese, looking remarkably relaxed in the evening sunshine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out in the wilds... crossing Dartmoor's wide open spaces

I’ve almost finished revising my Cicerone Press guide to the Two Moors Way/Devon’s Coast to Coast walk. I’ve walked the vast majority of the 117-mile route (Wembury on the south coast to Lynmouth on the north) over the last few months, and now have to finish the writing up, mark up the maps and sort out new photos and captions. It’s been something of a challenge in the recent weather conditions – there’s a lot of mud in Mid Devon! – but I’ve had some magical days. Last week saw me trudging across the south moor with a friend, checking out the section between Holne and the former Red Lake Railway. As the photos show it’s a wonderfully remote part of the moor… the image above is Huntingdon Cross, a 16th-century Dartmoor Forest boundary marker on the Abbot’s Way. The route of the Two Moors Way passes this as it crosses the Western Wella Brook (bridgeless and often a bit of a challenge!). I have heard rumours that a clapper bridge may be installed there one day…

We walked it in both directions, so this is the view as you drop into the Aune valley heading south towards Ivybridge(and then on across the South Hams to Wembury if doing the Coast to Coast). The Western Wella Brook runs into the Aune at the lowest part of the valley seen ahead, and Huntingdon Warren (rabbits were farmed here from the 1800s to 1930s) is on the hill to the right. And just up the WWB valley lie the remains of Keble Martin’s chapel, built in 1909. There is so much to explore in this part of the moor!

Here’s the 19th-century Huntingdon clapper bridge over the Aune, which carries the Two Moors Way across the river. We spent too long enjoying the peace and sunshine and skylarks and so ran out of time – the climb out of the valley to the Red Lake Railway will have to wait for another day (soon!). We had some fabulous skies on our way back over Hickaton Hill (first photo taken looking back towards the river).

The path crosses Buckfastleigh Moor, forever dropping towards Chalk Ford – and on a good day you can see the tower of Buckfast Abbey in the distance.

This part of the Two Moors Way/Devon Coast to Coast route is unsigned – it’s OK on a clear day (even then you need to keep a close eye on the map), but tricky in bad weather and for those unsure of their map-reading skills. The new edition of the guidebook will include a low-level alternative route between Ivybridge and Scoriton – and it is hoped that one day two more granite marker stones will be placed on the route at Crossways and on Buckfastleigh Moor – all up for discussion at the moment.

The path leaves the moor at Chalk Ford, from where an easy track is followed to Scoriton. What a perfect day!

 

A Dartmoor spring – unlike any other!

I thought I couldn’t let the experiences of the last couple of days go without recording a few images on this blog… after all, this is the second time in a fortnight that we’ve had weather like this – especially unusual when we are really supposed to be in early spring!  These few photos were all taken yesterday from the Wray Valley Trail that runs behind the Dartmoor Magazine office/home about a mile down the road from Moretonhampstead.

Today is bright and sunny and the snow is melting. All is not lost – spring is definitely on the way!

 

A winter walk on Dartmoor Magazine's 'doorstep'

I researched the Walk & Eat route for this year’s winter issue recently. Walks in the magazine (and seasonal articles) have to be thought about at least a year in advance to get photos taken in the right season, so I made the most of a bright and cold day last week and worked out a route around Drewsteignton and Fingle Bridge. It’s sometimes easy to ignore places ‘just up the road’ when thinking about walk locations, but walks in the magazine need to come from every part of the moor – and it was good to pick an area relatively close to home this time.

And – surprise, surprise – the start and end (and some of the outward route) follows the Two Moors Way! Four marker stones were placed along the Two Moors Way to mark its setting up in 1976 (at Ivybridge, Drewsteignton, Morchard Bishop and Lynmouth). The Drewsteignton one is definitely in need of some TLC, as can be seen here… I soon left the TMW and found a wonderful path that snaked its away up through Rectory Wood. Higher up in Drewston Wood I was delighted to come across a veteran beech tree that has a starring role in the National Trust feature in this spring’s issue of the magazine!

What’s really lovely about this part of the route – which joins the Hunter’s Path along the north side of the Teign Gorge below Castle Drogo – is that in winter you get stunning views across the gorge through the leafless trees. And once you break out of the wood you are rewarded with a panoramic vista looking west over Sharp Tor (in the foreground) and Hunter’s Tor to the open moor beyond.

It looks as if ponies are being used to do a spot of conservation grazing in the Castle Drogo estate. The quizzical expression seen here came about as a result of me inadvertently clicking ‘play’ on my dictaphone – the pony seems remarkably interested in my description of the route so far!

The route descends to the River Teign, which is crossed via the suspension bridge from the Fisherman’s Path. A broad track is then followed alongside this fantastic megalithic wall (I’ve always loved it) along the lower edge of Drogo’s Deer Park. Once through a gate in the wall Drogo’s newly restored hydro turbine – built 1928/9 and once again in fully working order – is soon passed.

Rather than just following the river I decided to add a bit more adventure to the route, so I set off up the valley side again on the Deer Stalker’s Path, which zigzags its way steeply up through Whiddon Wood – it was really nice to get up high again (and back into the sunshine). The path then runs on through Hannicombe Wood. More great views are enjoyed from the steep and rocky downhill track to Fingle Bridge and the beautifully sited Fingle Bridge Inn.

From there I decided to provide a choice of routes back to the start: either an easy return along the lane and then the bridlepath on the north side of Rectory Wood, or – much nicer – a climb back out of the valley again along the Hunter’s Path. Height is gained surprisingly quickly as you negotiate your rather rooty way uphill…

The Two Moors Way is picked again and followed all the way back to Drewsteignton (the opening photo shows the view of the village and Mid Devon from the path over Piddledown Common). Walk & Eat features sometimes manage to cram in two good eating places, and this route actually manages three: the Fingle Bridge Inn, the cafe at Castle Drogo and the Drewe Arms in the square at Drewsteignton. The pub’s purple umbrellas/sunshades add a welcome bit of colour to a winter image!

There you have it – I felt that the walk turned out really well. It’s pretty up and down (something of a leg stretcher) but is packed with interest and there are plenty of places to stop and catch breath and enjoy the incredible views. The full route description will appear in the winter 2018 issue of the magazine. The final photo shows Drewsteignton Post Office Stores, a welcome refreshment stop for walkers on the Two Moors Way – and a Dartmoor Magazine sales outlet to boot!

 

 

Happy New Year from Dartmoor Magazine! Part One

Welcome to 2018! It’s a fantastic bright and breezy 1 January here on Dartmoor – unlike the photo above, taken at Cranmere Pool on the North Moor on a very wet day last June (it bucketed down for a full six hours while we were walking from South Zeal to Powdermills, via CP).

At the end of each year/start of a new one I always like looking back photos taken during the previous year, just to remind myself of how the moor changes throughout the seasons and what an incredibly beautiful part of the country I am lucky enough to live in (and lucky enough to be able to share through the pages of Dartmoor Magazine too). So here are a few photos from the first six months of 2017 (Part Two coming soon – I need to go for a walk now!).

JANUARY Easdon Down seen from the slopes of Shapley Common.

FEBRUARY I had to put this in – what a change in conditions! – the East Dart at Dartmeet after a day or two of torrential rain.

MARCH Looking up the valley of the Red-a-ven Brook towards West Mill Tor.

APRIL Glorious skies over Longaford Tor, above the West Dart River.

APRIL In complete contrast, flower-filled hedgebanks flank a Devon lane near Milton Combe.

MAY Grey skies oversee the start of the 2017 Ten Tors Challenge near Okehampton Camp.

MAY And just a few days later – soft spring sunshine lights up magnificent Vixen Tor.

JUNE I’ll finish the first six months of 2017 with one of my favourite hills: Cawsand, looking south – Haytor in the distance.

Once again, all the best for 2018 – and see you soon!

Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year!

It’s that time again – time to wish you all a happy Christmas and a wonderful 2018!

I had hoped to be able to post a snowy photo from Dartmoor, but it’s not to be – so this is me at Hookney Tor, taken on a sparkling 2 January this year. Thank you to everyone who makes Dartmoor Magazine ‘work’: my brother David who does so much to keep it all on track, designer Emily who makes it look so beautiful, ad sales chap Grant who valiantly fills all the ad pages I ask him to! – and Rhoda and Bill for a) keeping me sane b) doing excellent work delivering the magazine far and wide. Thanks to my fantastic team of contributors and featured photographers, who continue to provide me with brilliant text and stunning images. Many thanks to all our loyal advertisers and sales outlets across the moor.

Finally huge thanks to everyone who subscribes to or buys the magazine – thank you for keeping me in gainful (and very enjoyable) employment!

Autumnal 'work walking' in Mid Devon and on Dartmoor

As many of you will know, as well as being editor of Dartmoor Magazine I’m also the author of a number of walking and guidebooks. I’ve recently been commissioned to update my last book – The Two Moors Way – Devon’s Coast to Coast walk for the publishers Cicerone Press. It won’t be out until late next year, but it’s an opportunity to walk the whole 117 miles across Devon (with a section in Somerset too) again, in both directions! I’ve also got to write up the new low level route between Ivybridge and Scoriton, and check out the various alternative route options along the way. All good fun.

So my friend Emma and I have been enjoying some wonderful days out lately. We started checking the route in Mid Devon, walking from Morchard Road towards Down St Mary and then south past Clannaborough Barton.

That’s where you start to pick up some fantastic views of Dartmoor’s northern slopes (see the header image too). We turned around just west of Yeoford, and on the way back stopped for coffee at the recently opened and very lovely Paschoe House Hotel – a little spot of luxury and a nice break from ploughing through the muddy red fields of Devon’s heartland!

Our next jaunt saw us walking north from Morchard Road through the rolling fields and woodland tracks to Morchard Bishop, where we had an obligatory stop (and shop – coffee and cake) at the wonderful Church Street Stores (at the halfway mark on the 102-mile Two Moors Way).

The trouble with these shorter days is that we invariably get back to the car in the dark!

This week saw us back on Dartmoor. On yet another beautiful autumn day we walked from Widecombe (a short way off the official route, but we just had to stop at The Cafe on the Green…) via Dunstone Down to Jordan, then along the pretty West Webburn river to the ford at Ponsworthy. Then up across the moor towards Bel Tor Corner, via the lovely hedgebank beeches at Primm Cottage.

The next section of the route – along Dr Blackall’s Drive above the wooded Dart Valley – is stunning at any time of year, but I’m starting to think that autumn may be my favourite season in which to walk it.

We stopped for a bite to eat at Leigh Tor –so much more extensive than it appears at first sight, and with great views towards Buckland Beacon – before dropping steeply downhill to the Dart. The fallen autumn leaves caught in calm spots on the surface of the crystal-clear water were just beautiful.

We followed the bank of the river and crossed the green sward at Deeper Marsh – no one there for once! – to New Bridge, where we watched a group of kayakers for a while before turning round and retracing our steps back to Widecombe. What a glorious day to be out on Dartmoor – one of those really ‘good to be alive’ ones!

PS And yes – we did get back in the ‘almost dark’ – yet again!

 

'Extra-curricular' activity for the editor of Dartmoor Magazine

Alongside my role with Dartmoor Magazine I’m involved with various Dartmoor-related committees and organisations, two of which – the Dartmoor Local Access Forum and the Moor than meets the eye community stakeholder group – have held training days recently (the above photo was taken from Buckland Beacon on the MTMTE day out in late September – more of that below).

In July I went on the annual Dartmoor Local Access Forum (DAF) day out, this time joined by members of the Devon LAF. We visited Fingle Woods to take a look at developments since the woods were purchased by the National Trust and Woodland Trust in 2013. We were shown around by NT area ranger Tom Wood, and  WT Community Engagement Officer Eleanor Lewis (seen below – note the new and highly informative information board, found just over Fingle Bridge).

Among other works a variety of circular and linear trails have been devised, and a multi-use trail developed alongside the River Teign.

We looked at various items of path furniture (for example a tree-trunk bench, in sympathy with its surroundings) and issues such as bank erosion along heavily used stretches of the multi-use trail.

After  lunch at the perfectly located Fingle Bridge Inn we spent the afternoon listening to presentations on (and discussing issues related to) the Dartmoor Way (cycle route, with plans in hand for a revised walking route),  the recently relaunched  Two Moors Way, the new long-distance bridleway (Cookworthy Forest to Meldon, north Dartmoor) the Pegasus Trail, and the Wray Valley Trail (a multi-use trail which, when complete, will run from Bovey Tracey to Moretonhampstead). A very interesting and rounded day, looking at many aspects of user access on and around Dartmoor.

Last week three members of the Moor than meets the eye Landscape Partnership Community Stakeholders Group (honestly!) enjoyed a day out with scheme manager Mark Allott. Our day started somewhere I have always wanted to visit – DNPA’s Conservation Works HQ at the former station yard in Bovey Tracey. Here we met Head of Conservation Works Jon Stones and his two apprentices, Ben and Leo (part funded by the MTMTE scheme). The next intake of DNPA apprentices is due at the end of the year.

As a great lover of all things ‘signposty’ it was good to see Leo midway through creating a new fingerpost – and many finished ones propped up in the yard, waiting to be installed! The team covers a vast range of work on the Dartmoor – ‘everything from re-puttying windows to strimming banks to making signposts and felling trees’ – and it was good to be able to chat to two enthusiastic apprentices who are clearly enjoying their training and gaining a great range of skills to set them up for future employment.

Next we stopped at the middle Trendlebeare Down car park, with its stunning views over the wooded Bovey Valley. Here work has been carried out to prevent the encroachment of parking on the open moor (bunds have been established around the car park perimeter): a practical solution to managing problems associated with increasing numbers of visitors to the moor’s most popular spots.

Opposite the car park a new access path is being constructed by MTMTE volunteers into the top of Yarner Wood, to link with a new multi-use trail leading to the reservoir (clearly visible on OS OL28) and new bird hide, providing opportunities to watch species in a different habitat from the rest of the NNR at Yarner.

A lovely walk across the common took us to our next destination, Buckland Beacon, to view the newly restored Ten Commandments Stones, originally carved in 1928 under instruction of the Lord of Buckland, Mr William Whitely of Wellstor. Here we met Guy and Annie Hillhouse from Buckland-in-the-Moor, who lead the restoration initiative within the MTMTE Parishscapes project (with funding too from the DNP Communities Fund). The perfect spot for a picnic on a warm and sunny autumn day – and oh! so much delicious cake!

We then dropped down to Widecombe to meet David Ashman from the Widecombe History Group, who showed us a number of new informative interpretation panels that have been installed around the village and inside St Pancras Church, linking with a new leaflet about the village. This falls within the ‘Discover the Dartmoor story’ Parishscapes initiative. David told us about plans to install a ‘rubbing’ trail around the village (seven posts bearing an embossed motif on the top, for people – in particular children – to collect).

Our last stop of the day was the DNP Visitor Centre at Haytor, where MTMTE’s Chrissy Mason updated us on plans to develop a wildlife hub there, with interpretation panels on local wildlife and birds, focusing on an area of rhos pasture that lies just behind the centre. And Fiona Freshney, MTMTE’s new Moorland Bird Advisor, talked to us about some early indications regarding species health and population density derived this summer’s moorland bird survey. She also – very interestingly – talked about the relative merits of cattle and ponies as conservation grazers – it was good to hear that ponies come out on top!

I ended the day suffering from a degree of information overload, and it’s been a useful (if lengthy!) exercise writing this blog post and trying to get my thoughts in some sort of order! Thanks to Mark and members of the MTMTE team for a fascinating day out.

 

Dartmoor summer walking: from Watern Tor to Shipley Bridge!

July has been an excellent walking month! I’ve had lots of ‘walking work’ to do, and even managed a couple of non-work walks – just going out onto the moor with a friend, a sandwich and a map – and seeing where the mood takes us.

Early July saw me down on the South Devon coast revising a walk from Short Walks South Devon (Crimson Publishing). It was the most beautiful hot day: the image shows the mouth of the Yealm, just downriver from Newton Ferrers and Noss Mayo. Good to get off the moor for a change!

Emma and I had a lovely Sunday walk from Kestor: out across the North Teign to Watern Tor, then back via Scorhill and the Wallabrook/Teign clapper bridges. Didn’t see anyone until we got to Scorhill stone circle. All so good for the soul!

Next it was time to work out summer 2018’s ‘Walk & Eat’ walk for the magazine: focusing on the Forest Inn at Hexworthy. A really lovely circular walk – only about 4.5 miles, but so pretty. We went through Sherberton and out onto the common, then dropped down through the old fields and buildings at Swincombe and crossed Fairy Bridge. You so quickly feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere…

In the middle of the month I took part (with two friends) in the Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team (Plymouth) Midnight Madness walk: over 11 miles along tracks, starting at Princetown: South Hessary, Older Bridge, Leather Tor Bridge, Cross Gate, then the old railway line past Ingra Tor back to Princetown. No photos obviously, but we were treated to a cracking sunset over North Hessary as we headed south.

My last main ‘outing’ this month has been trying to work out an alternative Two Moors Way route between Ivybridge and Scorriton. That 13-mile section is the most difficult of the whole 117-mile Devon coast to coast (particularly if the weather is bad) and some people struggle to follow the route. So I’ve been thinking about coming up with a lower level option and this week spent two days walking from Holne to the Avon Dam (Day 1) and then Ivybridge to Shipley Bridge (Day 2). If you add the 1.5 mile section from Shiply Bridge to the Avon Dam the alternative route comes to just over 15 miles: all quite possible, but some fine-tuning required! It’s a really pretty route too, as the following photos show.

If you want to know more about the Two Moors Way/Devon’s Coast to Coast walk click on the link above. I’m currently working on a new edition of my Two Moors Way book, published by Cicerone Press – another great excuse to get out there and explore!