Thursday, 1 January 2015

Dartmoor: The Tors around the Merrivale Stone Rows

Vixen Tor from Little Kings Tor
Vixen Tor from Little King's Tor
Foul weather on Boxing Day had me changing my mind, and I did not travel up to Princetown until the next morning. Today, conditions were forecast to be “sunshine and showers, maybe wintery in places”, so I booked into the Fox Tor Cafe Bunkhouse about 10am, and after breakfast, I was back out to the car park above Merrivale, on the B3357.

It was certainly chilly, and I remained fully layered for the day. I crossed the road and headed up to Little Mis Tor on a good track. I can’t recall, for certain, the first and only time I visited this tor before; it must have been when I was doing a recce for my perambulation of the forest boundary attempt, way back in 2007. Despite its name including the word "little", it is a fine tor, and I was happy to return, and log it properly.

Little Mis and Great Mis Tor behind
Little Mis Tor, with Great Mis Tor behind.
The sun was out now, and the golden browns and lush greens of the landscape were accentuated. Despite the cold, I was revelling in being back here. I descended to a wall and hand railed it for a short while, over a small stream running through some tin workings.

Ladder Stile
Ladder Stile, looking across the Walkham to Roos Tor
Getting over the large ditch proved no problem, and once on the other side, it was short work to Church Rock, a large thick slab on the brow of a hill.

Church Rock
Church Rock
From there, it was down to Over Tor, close by. This is an untidy low tor, surrounded by clitter, making its actual position tricky to locate. I took a waypoint of the largest outcrop, as the Social Hiking grid reference was out a touch.

Over Tor
Over Tor
It began to rain, and then hail. as I made my way to the road. Further down the road, I ducked down and sheltered behind the bank of a small car park to put my waterproof trousers on. Suitably attired, I continued down to a public footpath that ran through Longash Farm. The track affords great views of Vixen Tor, on the other side of the River Walkham. It really is tempting, despite it being forbidden.

Vixen Tor from Longash Farm footpath
Vixen Tor from the footpath near Longash Farm
I left the path where it turns sharply to meander down to the farm, and wandered through some open access fields in search of my next bag. Early on, there is a significant outcrop, which I thought might be the lower levels of Longash Tor. However, I could not be certain; the place I stood was a fair distance from the official bagging point.

Longash Tor
Lower section of Longash Tor
Vixen Tor from Longash open access
Vixen Tor from Longash open access land
The official point actually sits about 50 metres from a wall, on private land. However, the wall is intermittent and poorly looked after, if maintained at all and I noticed an un-gated opening with an obvious trodden path. I saw no issue with the short wander up to the base of the tor to bag it, taking care to return the same route.

Longash Tor
Longash Tor
Vixen from Longash
View of Vixen Tor from Longash Tor
Back on open access land, I made my way down by a fast tumbling stream, contemplating how I would cross it. The field was saturated, but my Scarpas performed admirably in keeping my feet dry. A ford of the stream proved unnecessary as I returned to the public footpath and a bridge that made it simple.

Stream near Longash
Stream near Longash
Stream near Longash
Un-fordable stream near Longash
I had planned to enter more open access and follow the southern side of the stream up to the wealth of archeaology at Merrivale, but the track proved to be a pretty one through some enticing woodland, and I was easily drawn into exploring Hucken Tor. On my previous visit, with +Phil Sorrell, back in September, Hucken Tor was covered in foliage, and it was difficult to gauge how big it was. 

Hucken Tor : Exploring it's surrounds
Hucken Tor: Exploring its surrounds
Hucken Tor : Exploring it's surrounds
Hucken Tor
Hucken Tor : Exploring it's surrounds
Hucken Tor surrounds
Winter is the best time to visit this place; Phil and I just scratched the surface of this area on our visit. It was pretty expansive, and a delight to discover! I came out over the top and back onto open moor and stopped to take in some impressive light across the Walkham Valley; Vixen Tor looked perfect!

Hucken Tor
Vixen Tor from Hucken Tor
I passed Little King's Tor then followed the old railway track round the base of King’s Tor, before veering off to join a footpath that crosses a stream through some more tin workings. I was intent on keeping my feet dry at this late stage of the walk, so it did take me a while walking the bank to find a suitable spot to avoid a dip in the freezing waters. 

Once across, I could have cut the walk short to the car park, but it would have been a crime not to have diverted to check out the remains. Merrivale is a renowned area, believed to be a significant ceremonial location over three and a half thousand years ago. I arrived at a large standing stone, situated next to a small stone circle and single stone row that I followed north-east.

Standing Stone, Merrivale
Standing Stone, Merrivale
Cairn and stone row, Merrivale
Cairn within the southern stone row
I soon reached a double stone row. This is the southern of two that run parallel from east to west. I followed it east, over a large cairn and, further on, to my right, a deep cist with a heavy cap stone, broken in two; reading later, I found that it was damaged in 1860 when a local stonecutter removed the middle for a gate post.

Cist and broken capstone, Merrivale
Large cist and broken capstone
Stone Row, Merrivale
Looking west along the southern stone row
By the time I had reached the end of the stone row, the rain had swept in again, so I did not linger too long. I was now just minutes from the car park, and, following a path by a small stream, I made it back before the weather worsened; perfect timing!

It is a fascinating area, and rued the change in weather curtailing my explorations, but I will, no doubt, return on a better day.

The route: