Dartmoor late summer ramblings
I’ve had some good excuses to go walking over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been making the most of some glorious late summer sunshine. It’s always good to get out on the moor when the latest issue has gone to print and there is a small ‘lull’ in magazine demands before the stock arrives and has to be distributed to our 65+ outlets across the moor (happening as I write).
I’m writing a walks leaflet for the Three Crowns Hotel (said to be haunted by the ghost of Royalist Sidney Godolphin, who died here of musket wounds in 1643 during the Civil War) in Chagford: five circular walks from the door of this historic building . I’ve been doing this in the late afternoon when the light is good for photos (Hamel Down from Nattadon Common above).
I’ve been working out routes that take in the River Teign (easy and level), Nattadon (seen above from Padley Common) and Meldon (a little hillier and more taxing), and there’ll be a longer one that follow the Two Moors Way from Chagford Bridge to Teigncombe, then south to Yardworthy, and back over Meldon Hill.
I’ve also been working on next summer’s Walk & Eat route for the magazine. I try to spread these out across the moor, i.e. make sure that I give each corner of the moor fair coverage. So next summer the walk will be from South Brent: a circuit of Aish Ridge, Corringdon Ball, along the edge of Brent Fore Hill to Shipley Bridge, and back through the pretty woodlands of the Avon valley. The photos below shows Brent Hill, seen from Corringdon Ball, and a hut circle on top of the latter (the triangular stone a handy point of reference when trying to give clear directions!).
It’s a beautiful walk. I did it earlier in the summer too, and it’s interesting to see how the colours of the landscape have changed over just a few weeks. It is very obviously ‘late’ summer here on the moor: the heather and gorse are in full bloom (see later photos), and on the South Brent walk the rowan trees were heavily laden with brilliant red-orange berries.
The outward and return route both encounter pretty Lydia Bridge across the River Avon (Aune), and pass close to St Petroc’s church, dating back to Norman times but heavily ‘restored’ in 1870. The church has recently received nearly £200,000 of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for repairs and lighting (more details in the winter issue of Dartmoor Magazine).
Finally I went out earlier in the week to check up on the Highland cattle that can regularly be seen in the Shapley Common/Warren House/Challacombe area of the moor: looking particularly photogenic at the moment against a background of golden gorse and purple ling and bell heather!
While talking about landscape colour I’m pleased to say that the autumn issue of Dartmoor Magazine is on its way to subscribers and is starting to appear in the shops. We are really pleased with this striking cover image by Guy Richardson (www.guyrichardson.com): the view towards Gutter and Hen tors, from Sheeps Tor on a brilliant November day. I hope you think so too!
The Man Engine 'wakes up' in Tavistock's Bedford Square
On Monday 25 July I was lucky enough to be in Tavistock to witness an incredible and moving spectacle: the UK’s largest ever-mechanical puppet, an epic 12-metre-high Cornish Mining Man Engine (PHOTO MIKE THOMAS), ‘waking up’ in historic Bedford Square and setting off on a 130-mile historic journey the entire length of the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site.
Part of the ‘Tinth’ (10th) anniversary of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape being added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, the Cornish Mining World Heritage Site Partnership provided the initial funding for the two-week awe-inspiring journey of the Man Engine, ending at Geevor in West Penwith.
The huge crowds gathered in Tavistock (I was allowed to scale some ‘official’ scaffolding to get a bird’s eye view!) were treated to a remarkable 50-minute ceremony with smoke, lights and sounds creating a high level of ‘industrial drama’, during which the Man Engine ‘transformed’ to the height of almost three double decker buses, aided by the singing of local choirs.
The brainchild of Will Coleman of Cornwall’s Golden Tree Productions, the Man Engine was designed and overseen by Hal Sylvester, a big puppet specialist, using a talented team of engineers, fabricators, welders, smoke and lighting experts and artists, from right across Cornwall and the South West.
The Man Engine was hauled to his full height by a team of ‘Lilliputian’ modern-day ‘miners’ and ‘bal maidens’ against the backdrop of this significant stannary town, largely developed from the investment of miners and the Duke of Bedford, a mine owner. And all this to a ‘Cornish Mining Chant’, shouted out enthusiastically by the huge crowd: I found it all incredibly moving.
Will Coleman said, ‘Kernow… is a tiny 0.002 percent of the planet’s surface, yet beneath our rocky shores can be found samples of more than 90 percent of all mineral species ever identified… This unbelievable geological treasure [copper, tin, arsenic, lead, zinc, silver, etc] has powered the Cornish people’s endeavour through 4000 years of mining history: innovation, triumph and heartbreak… The landscape is deeply rooted in the impacts of that industry and in the successes and the struggles of the real people whose lives shaped our Cornwall and West Devon mining stories.
‘With the birth of our ultimate mining machine, we have toiled long and hard to embed into this single huge object the meaning and feeling of the stories of the real people, and the real lives of those people, their sorrows, their achievements and their journeys, over thousands of years… Now he’s alive and off on the timely pilgrimage, with our team of miners and bal maidens, of more than 100 miles throughout our homeland. I can’t explain how extraordinary the feeling is to see the people on the streets meet him, and be so in awe of him.’
Go and see the Man Engine if you can: he is a phenomenal sight. He’s on his way across Cornwall now: Lostwithiel tomorrow, St Austell and Wheal Martyn on 28 July, Trewithen 29 July, Truro and Wheal Jane 30 July, Wheal Coates 1 August, Redruth, East Pool Mine and Heartlands 2 August, Camborne, King Edward Mine and Godolphin House 3 August, Hayle 4 August, Penzance 5 August and St Just, Botallack and Geevor on 6 August. Note that you won’t see ‘the transformation’ at every venue, so check out www.themanengine.org.uk for more details.
I would imagine that Cornwall will be in a state of euphoric frenzy by the time he reaches Geevor – fantastic!
The Dartmoor Perambulation 2016
Over the last weekend in June we teamed up with Spirit of Adventure at Powdermills to run the Dartmoor Perambulation: a tough walk of more than fifty miles following the boundary of the historic Royal Forest boundary, said to have been defined by 12 knights sent to ride its length by King Henry III in 1240. Although several variations to the route have been recorded over succeeding generations – and even if you don’t visit every point recorded on that first Perambulation – walking that distance through the wilds of the moor is a real treat (especially when you are dropped off each morning/picked up each evening and taken back to the Powdermills bunkhouse for food, drink and a good night’s sleep!).
The following photos record some of the route (the afternoon of Day Two saw low visibility, high winds and driving rain on the long trudge north from Erme Pits to Princetown via Plym Ford and Nun’s Cross, so no photos there).
We were dropped off on the military road near Cullever Steps before 8am, from where we crossed the Taw and started the ascent of Cosdon Beacon (Hogam be Cossdonne) from where the knights are said to have started their clockwise ride.
We headed towards Watern Tor (opening photo), one of my favourites, and originally recorded as the Thirlstane.
The Long Stone (Langestone) on Shovel Down marks the Forest’s boundary with Chagford and Gidleigh (near Thornworthy Tor, where we stopped for lunch).
By Fernworthy Forest (the 1240 route passes through what is now Fernworthy reservoir) we paused to look at the Heath Stone (uncertain as a boundary marker).
The route crosses Chagford Common and then the B3212 at King’s Oven (Furnum Regis). We trudged on through Soussons, then along the old track leading to the stepping stones crossing the brook at the ancient tenement of Pizwell.
The sun came out and we ended our day near Bellever Forest in beautiful conditions. Day One: just under 17 miles and I can’t remember how many hours of walking but all 13 (plus one leader) survived unscathed!
Day Two dawned grey and damp with the promise of rain late morning and for the rest of the day. First stop after Bellever and Riddon Ridge was Dartmeet.
Beyond Hexworthy we followed the boundary up the O Brook for a while then headed for the top of Ryder’s Hill (Battyshull) under increasingly lowering skies.
We crossed the Avon (Aune) via the Huntingdon clapper bridge then headed off for Eastern White Barrow (Ester Whyteburghe), the most southerly point on the Perambulation where you are allowed to turn round and head for Redlake (Redelake), Eylesbarrow (Elysburghe), Nun’s/Siward’s Cross (Crucem Sywardi) and home! Day Two: 21 miles, 13 walkers and 1 leader, all unscathed.
Next day started off dull (I can always remember the name of Mis Tor/Mystor since I have never been there in anything other then MISerable conditions). By the time we reached White Barrow (Mewyburghe) and headed towards Lynch Tor things were really picking up.
We crossed the Amicombe Brook and Amicombe Hill – rough ground, much of it thick with cotton grass – and finally reached Stenga Tor (la Westolle) above the West Okement river which we crossed at Sandy Ford, before the long climb up to Fordsland Ledge, then High Willhays.
And finally – Yes Tor (Ernestorre)!
Day Three: 15.25 miles, 7 walkers, 1 guide (the other walkers dropped out of doing the whole route due to work commitments).
A fantastic three days and congratulations to all those who took part, and especially the ‘completers’ – and thanks to John Diplock of Spirit of Adventure www.spirit-of-adventure.co.uk and our guide Peter Challis. We’ll be running the Perambulation again in 2018 and will be producing a checklist of all known points around the boundary that we can tick off as we go. Nearer the time keep an eye out for more information in Dartmoor Magazine!
PS Thanks to Deborah Martin for her article on the Perambulation in DM105, from where I gleaned the original names of the places mentioned. There’s also a new book out about the Perambulation which will be reviewed in DM124, autumn 2016.
Along the Two Moors Way – a 40th anniversary celebration
This year marks the 40th anniversary (29 May) of the Two Moors Way, a wonderful 100+ mile mainly off-road walking route linking Ivybridge on Dartmoor’s southern edge with Lynton on the north Devon coast, crossing Dartmoor and the western end of Exmoor. In 2005 the route was officially linked with part of the Erme–Plym Trail from Ivybridge to Wembury on the south coast, to form a Devon coast-to-coast walk of around 116 miles.
In June last year Cicerone Press published a new book on the route (written by yours truly), so it seemed fitting that I should join members of Exeter Ramblers last Sunday for a celebratory walk in the Chagford area. Starting from the town car park we crossed Padley Common en route to scaling the heights of Meldon Hill (390m) – a baptism of fire!
It’s amazing how the vegetation has come on in the last week or two: the bracken is well on its way. I was pleased to reach the trig point on the top of Meldon Hill (trig pillars are also celebrating an anniversary this year: it is 80 years since the system was set up across the country, and although now redundant they are still loved by many – there is even a trig-pillar-baggers’ website!).
We dropped off Meldon and picked up one of the lane to Fernworthy via Tunnaford. At the entrance to Yardworthy we finally met the official route of the Two Moors Way where it comes off Chagford Common (at this point the alternative low-level route from Widecombe via the Natsworthy valley rejoins the main route too).
The route passes through Yardworthy’s (the farmhouse dates from the 1700s) fields then drops to cross the South Teign River before climbing past Teignworthy and on to Teigncombe through fields and woodland and across marshy sections via boardwalks. The route to Teigncombe is shared with that of the Mariners’ Way, linking Dartmouth on the south coast with Bideford on the north, and utilised by sailors in the 18th century looking for work.
Parts of the route gave us beautiful views to Meldon Hill, too. We continued downhill past Northill to cross Leigh Bridge, where the North and South Teign rivers meet.
The Two Moors Way runs along the lane to pass Holystreet Manor (dating from the 16th century) to reach the ruined woollen mill at Factory Cross, then turns left to cross the Teign via Chagford (‘gorse ford’) bridge. We followed the route alongside the Teign, and then the leat (leading to Rushford Mill and the swimming pool), before crossing the fields to 17th-century Rushford Bridge. Here the 2MW turns left, but we turned right uphill to finish our walk with a celebratory drink at The Globe Inn!
It’s an exciting year for the Two Moors Way/Devon Coast-to-Coast: the Two Moors Way Association is being re-formed, with the full support of Dartmoor and Exmoor National Parks and Devon County Council. There has been a complete path audit, and we are holding regular meetings with all interested parties. The route will be officially relaunched with an event in September, by which time we should have a new website (www.twomoorsway.org), leaflets, accommodation list and more. Watch this space!
Writing Dartmoor walk routes… and getting the timing right
As those who read Dartmoor Magazine may know, I write the Walk & Eat feature for each issue. I have also written a number of walks books on Dartmoor and Exmoor, in Devon and Cornwall (and a couple further afield) for a variety of publishers (the most recent being The Two Moors Way for Cicerone Press).
Apart from getting the directions correct and easy to follow, getting the right photos can also be tricky. I am forever doing repeat trips to Exmoor (I write the walks for Exmoor the Country Magazine) because the weather didn’t come up to scratch on the day I had allotted to work out the route on foot!
And the same has just applied here: I did my spring 2017 issue walk about 10 days too early (see photo below)…
My plan had been to work out a circular ‘bluebell’ walk from Fatherford near Okehampton, starting near the 70ft high railway viaduct, dating from the 1870s.
It was the most beautiful spring day, as can be seen. The woodland path alongside the East Okement is, I think, one of the loveliest in the area.
But my plan to make this a bluebell walk failed… plenty of wood anenome, and wood sorrel, and celandine, and oaks in early leaf, but very few bluebells (the contrast between my first and second visits can be seen in the photos above). So around 10 days later I walked the route again – and what a difference!
The path leads from Halstock Wood into the valley of the Moor Brook, then meets the drive to Lower Halstock Farm, with lovely views towards the Belstone ridge. The return stretch descends bluebell-covered slopes overlooking Okehampton, passing the station (and the Old Station Tearooms – great for a cuppa and piece of cake!) en route to Simmons Park and a return under Ball Hill to the start.
Every issue of Dartmoor Magazine gives the reader two good walk routes: a long (and largely open moorland) one from Deborah Martin, and a shorter Walk & Eat route which sticks to footpaths and bridlepaths. Both are supported by OS mapping and useful information: and both are planned in the layout so that the route direction pages can be cut out without spoiling the rest of the magazine.
The summer issue of Dartmoor Magazine– with two great walks – will be out at the end of this week!
Joining up the dots... along the Templer Way
Last Sunday I joined around 150 others to walk the Templer Way from Haytor to Shaldon, raising funds in support of the Ashburton Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team. The sun shone, red-jacketed DSRT members were in abundance at checkpoints and all the along the route, and the event fantastically well organised. I went along to support the cause but also because it was a good excuse to tick off the 18 miles (almost all of which were level or gently downhill!).
The history of the Haytor tramway (which the Templer Way follows wherever possible) is well documented (and I know I’ve mentioned it in an earlier blog post too). To recap: it was built in 1820 by George Templer to link his quarries at Haytor with the Stover Canal. Horse-drawn road wagons transported granite along granite rails for 8 miles, descending 1300ft to the canal at Ventiford.
Once the open moor is left behind the tramway runs along the contours through Yarner Wood – a particularly beautiful section, where we passed a milestone (indicating 5 miles to the canal) – before passing through fields behind Lowerdown on the edge of Bovey Tracey. The next point of interest came at Chapple, site of the only remaining bridge on the tramway, where it crosses the Bovey Pottery leat (there are useful information boards at regular intervals along the way: excellent for those of us who need such detail!).
A footpath followed the line of the tramway at Brimley, soon passing Pottery Pond (which I had never seen before: dug in the 18th century to provide power – via five waterwheels – for the Bovey Pottery, in operation 1775–1956). Leaving the tramway behind we eventually cut through Great Plantation (once part of the Stover estate), crossing the A38 via the new pedestrian bridge, for a lunch break at Stover Country Park.
I’m not one for walking with crowds of people, but it was never a problem on this route – and after lunch the group really thinned out and for much of the time we were walking on our own. It felt like an ongoing open-air history lesson… next stop Locksbridge at Teigngrace, and alongside the Stover Canal. James Templer built the canal (1790–2) to transport ball clay to Jetty Marsh in Newton Abbot; Locksbridge is the fifth and last lock when travelling up the canal. We walked on to pass Graving Dock Lock, where restoration is under way and where I learned that ‘graving dock’ is another name for ‘dry dock’: here barges were taken out of the water for repair.
More discoveries were to come in the shape of Newton Abbot’s Town Quay: I worked at David & Charles on the Brunel Trading estate for 20 years, within a stone’s throw of the quay, and never even knew it was there!
A surprisingly pretty stretch alongside the River Teign followed, soon passing under the A38 road.
And from there to Ringmore we walked along the sandy, stony, seaweedy foreshore (only possible at low tide), enjoying the smell of the sea and enjoying views back upriver to Haytor (which did look a very long way away).
The final checkpoint was at Coombe Cellars… and the finish on the green at Shaldon, where we downed a very welcome and refreshing pint of cider (thanks Jason!) and picked up our certificates. Thank you to fellow walkers Lucy and Sharon, and to all at DSRT Ashburton for organising what turned out to be a fabulous (and very educational) day out.
The Postbridge Challenge 2016 - raising funds for DSRT Plymouth
At the end of February I – and around 150 other people – had a great day out courtesy of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Plymouth, taking part in the Postbridge Challenge 2016 and raising over £1700 to support their excellent work. We were so lucky with the weather, too – crisp and clear and bright sunshine right from the start at 9am.
It was a really good walk, too. I did hear people say that they’d have liked a new route this year (it was the same as in 2015) but I have to say I wouldn’t have minded doing it twice (and I’m sure I’ll walk it again on my own). We set off through Bellever Forest to Postbridge, then took the drift lane up to the moor.
Those familiar with this part of the route will know that it enjoys wonderful views up the valley of the East Dart river.
The first checkpoint on the route was at Broad Down, after which we set off southwest to Lower and then Higher White tors, then Longaford, before heading southeast towards Powdermills on the route of the Lych Way.
Then it was back into Bellever Forest again… a wonderful contrast to what we had encountered so far on the day.
The final loop took us over Bellever and then Laughter tors (the latter a first for me: I’ve walked near it and round it dozens of times, but never been to the top – and from there the views are fantastic). On top of Laughter Tor too we found the penultimate checkpoint: the photo shows Darren and Ken from the rescue team, with Moorland Guide Mike (I was one of ‘Mike’s Walkers’ on the day: thank you for letting me tag along).
From there it was an easy leg along forest tracks to the finish, passing some of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust’s ponies en route (and a very friendly robin near Laughter Hole Farm).
A lovely day out and a great circular walk, and all in a good cause. DSRT Plymouth’s next fundraising walk will be Midnight Madness on Saturday 23 July, starting from Princetown: 10 miles in the dark. I did the walk a few years ago on an incredibly hot summer’s night – good fun! Keep an eye on their website for more details in due course.
A walk along Dartmoor's former Princetown Branch Line
This March (3rd to be precise) marks the 60th anniversary of the closure of the Princetown branch line, which ran from Yelverton to the heart of the moor. Now a popular walking and cycling route, on a clear day the extraordinarily far-reaching views just take the breath away: what a fantastic train ride it much have been. Originally a horse-drawn tramway (opened in the early 19th century by Thomas Tyrwhitt to serve granite quarries at Foggintor, King’s Tor and Swelltor) it was later replaced by a steam branch railway line (1883 to 1956 – closed before the infamous Beeching cuts).
The original tramway went into the heart of the village of Princetown (then Prince’s Town) and terminated at the rear of the Railway Inn (no more) on the square. There are no tramway or railway buildings left today, other than that which stabled the horses used to carry goods (brought up by steam train) around the village.
The line has a fascinating history. I’ve walked the line several times before, but was particularly drawn to visit it now for two reasons: Monday’s weather (after a pretty bad weekend) was magical, and the spring issue of Dartmoor Magazine includes a feature by Simon Dell telling the story of the branch line. The timing seemed perfect; and working on any feature about a particular aspect of Dartmoor always makes me want to go see for myself. It’s an easy walk, too: level and not too rocky underfoot, with ever-changing views and bits of industrial archaeology to look out for.
For much of the way as the line runs west the forward route can be seen far ahead, running below Ingra Tor where once there was a halt.
The line sweeps northwest between Foggintor and Swelltor, following level ground and giving fantastic views towards King’s Tor, and later across the open moor to the trees marking the remote Four Winds car park (site of the old Foggintor school) and craggy Great Mis Tor beyond.
The next sharp curve takes the line in a southeasterly direction, via a cutting: there are views ahead as far as Plymouth Sound. We found a sheltered spot out of the wind where we had lunch overlooking Vixen Tor (with the greatest drop of any tor on Dartmoor: 100ft plus) above the Walkham valley.
A quick detour via a quarry siding lead us to the pile of 12 rather beautiful granite corbels, originally made for use in the construction of London Bridge, but surplus to requirements.
On we went, all the way to Ingra Tor (spotting intrepid sheep on Swelltor spoil heaps en route!).
There we turned for home, cutting off the neck of the King’s Tor loop to shorten our return. Back at Princetown we looked across to the buildings of the Dartmoor Brewery…
… but despite being tempted by thoughts of beer and cider 4pm on a Monday afternoon felt just a little too early! So instead we piled gratefully into the reliably great (and buzzing, even on a Monday pm) Fox Tor Cafe for restorative cups of tea and warmth.
As you can see from these photos, the weather was glorious. I can thoroughly recommend a walk along the old line on a sunny winter’s day, when you’re just not in the mood for tramping across pathless and no doubt saturated moorland! And if you want to know more about the history of the line get hold of a copy of the spring issue of Dartmoor Magazine, out at the end of this month.
Dartmoor walking commission cross-fertilisation!
Let me explain: as well as being editor of Dartmoor Magazine I am also the author of several books of Devon walks (including Dartmoor and Exmoor). As well as writing books and articles I am sometimes lucky enough to get commissioned to check out certain routes when a walking book comes up for reprint. Crimson, publishers of the Pathfinder guides, are at present reprinting some of their titles and have asked me to rewalk a couple of routes.
There is a very satisfying cross-over in much of my work. Last week I checked out a route which starts at Stover Country Park. Stover House (now a school) was built by James Templer II, who had the Stover Canal constructed between 1790 and 1792 from Ventiford to Jetty Marsh in Newton Abbot, to transport clay. James’s son George built the Haytor Granite Tramroad in 1819–20 to link his quarries at Haytor (see photo above) to the Stover Canal, down which the granite could be shipped to Teignmouth and the open sea.
The route I followed threw up constant reminders of the influence of the Templer family on this part of South Devon, and their links to Dartmoor. From the lake we followed the Templer Way walking trail through woodland at Stover Park…
… before reaching Ventiford Basin, the starting point of the two-mile-long canal (and where there is a useful information board for fact checking!).
At this point too the Pathfinder route coincides with the recently completed multi-use trail (very popular with cyclists), during construction of which a length of the Haytor Granite Tramroad was exposed: the only section as yet discovered outside the National Park (we reported on this in DM120, autumn 2015).
The route then strikes out across damp meadows alongside the meandering River Teign, where evidence of its erosive force (fuelled by so much recent rainfall) was clear.
Good views of the southern slopes of Dartmoor, and Haytor Rocks – near the start of the granite tramroad – are enjoyed from the route.
The multi-use trail is rejoined briefly near Teigngrace Lock Bridge, where the disused canal is crossed once more.
The return route to Stover gives views of Teigngrace Church, built by James Templer II in 1786, then passes close to Stover School before regaining the woods and Stover Lake. An easy, level walk packed with history and interest, and a satisfying way of revising some of Dartmoor’s industrial history (although it would seem that not everyone agrees with that notion!).
Many and varied excuses for going out for tea on Dartmoor...
One of the (many) great things about being editor of Dartmoor Magazine is that I have a valid excuse to visit our many wonderful tearooms and cafes in the course of my work: checking out new establishments for the News pages, a refreshment stop for a Walk & Eat feature, or through one of the many meetings I have with contributors throughout the year to talk about future features for the magazine.
So it was that last weekend I took a trip to Belstone to a) go for a quick scamper on the moor and visit Nine Maidens stone circle (seen on the Contents page of the winter issue on a much prettier day!) and visit the newly opened Old School Tearoom behind the Methodist Chapel. Cosy, friendly, relaxed, with space for dumped rucksacks, comfy sofas and a welcoming wood burner – and pretty good lemon drizzle cake to boot. Good luck to Marion and her team (and thank you for joining the ranks of Dartmoor Magazine sales outlets).
Another fairly recent new sales outlet is the Dartmoor Bakery at Leg o’ Mutton Corner, Yelverton, owned and run by Avis Jones and her daughters Sorrel and Autumn. I went there last week for a meeting with Lisa Jenkins of Dartmoor Accommodation. Another wonderful place for coffee (supplied by Voyager Coffee of Buckfastleigh, featured in the winter issue, and quite delicious!). The bakery is brilliantly situated just on the edge of Roborough Down (and will be featured in this autumn’s magazine: I did a Walk & Eat route from there last year). Very well worth a visit.
And thinking of other teas I have enjoyed recently (there seems to have been a bit of a run)… in November last year, as covered in an earlier blog, we held Dartmoor Magazine’s 30th birthday cream tea party at The White Hart in Moretonhampstead: a lovely occasion with scones and cream and jam to die for! Soon after my brother David and I were treated to a very smart afternoon tea at Bovey Castle (for which thank you very much), complete with a glass of champagne in front of a blazing fire…
… closely followed (for me) by afternoon tea in the Library at Hotel Endsleigh, helping a colleague who is writing a ‘doggy’ Dartmoor blog. It was a marvellous affair where you are invited to help yourself to a fantastic range of tempting homemade items (we both found it difficult to stop eating!).
And if that wasn’t enough, in December I had an author meeting with Nick Baker at The Old Forge in Chagford, recent winner of the Afternoon Cream Tea Experience Challenge (as reported in the winter issue), where we enjoyed a cream tea. And it was indeed fantastic…
So – it’s clear that the life of a magazine editor is not all about editing and writing and reading proofs!
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.
Winter away day – to Princetown
Question: how do you entertain 10 Scottish and Lancastrian hillwalkers on a cold wet day on Dartmoor in early winter (when they have come to Devon by air and not brought walking gear with them)?
Answer: you treat them to a day out in historic Princetown!
Last Saturday was grey, damp and surprisingly chilly and blustery in Princetown. First stop the wonderful Dartmoor Prison Museum (lead photo above, and open all year): a real Tardis of a building, stuffed to the gunnels with everything you always wanted to know about the prison and much, much more… Curator Brian gave my visitors a brief run down on the prison today, then left them to explore. They were completely fascinated, and came away having learned a huge amount about the prison’s history and how it all works today.
A quick cuppa and a bowl of chips at the Old Police Station Cafe (most appropriately: many of the party were ex coppers) and then it was on to the National Park Visitor Centre to learn more about Dartmoor. Out visit coincided with the Christmas Fair, where the fantastic ‘Dartmoor Range’ was on sale, represented by photographer Anna Curnow (the autumn issue’s featured photographer), Kim Stead of Twool (Whiteface Dartmoors: an article coming up in 2016), photographer Tracey Elliot-Reep, HK White’s wonderful Dartmoor mugs and tea towels, Clare’s Preserves (article in 2016), Lily Warne Wool (Greyface Dartmoors: article in 2016), Dartmoor Soap Company… the Centre is open this winter (to 28 February 2016) Thursday to Sunday 10.30am–3.30pm: lots of gift ideas for Christmas in stock too.
I even managed to buy my Christmas tree from Mr Steer, selling them outside the Centre, and who kindly dropped it off at my cottage on his and Paula’s (Lily Warne Wool) way home to the Teign Valley. Many thanks to both of them.
Next stop was the fascinating church of St Michael and All Angels, built between 1812 and 1814 by prisoners captured in the Napoleonic War with France and the War of 1812 with the USA, and held at Dartmoor gaol. On a better day we would have explored the gravestones in the churchyard – there’s a free leaflet available in the church – including the four rows of small gravestones, each bearing a set of initials and a date: prisoners’ graves. Before 1910 prisoners were buried here anonymously, but have since been identified. The photo below shows just how lovely the church can look on a bright and sunny day.
By this time everyone wanted to go home, so sadly we didn’t make it into the lovely Fox Tor Cafe for tea and cake and a warm up by the fire…
But on the way back to Moretonhampstead we did call in at Powdermills Pottery where my visitors had a good look around the fantastic range of local arts and crafts on sale (gallery and cafe open winter weekends only until Easter: photo obviously not taken last weekend!).
So there you have it: even on a grey, damp and rather dismal day there’s much to see and do, and fun to be had, in Dartmoor’s highest settlement. A great place to take newcomers to the moor.