Monday, 2 February 2015

Dartmoor: The Tors (and rocks) of Throwleigh, Gidleigh and South Tawton Commonland

Me at the trig on Cosdon Hill
Me at the trig on Cosdon
The pull up the road from the car park in South Zeal, towards Ramsley Hill, was a rude awakening after nigh on three weeks recuperating from my previous visit to Dartmoor over the holiday season. After so long suffering from a mystery chest infection, I was apprehensive about the day but eager to prove to myself that I had turned a corner; that I was back!

Shuffling out from the dark recesses of my mind is a fast approaching Easter trip to Australia and a 145km walk to tackle, and as preparations had suffered it was important to my confidence that I could have a successful weekend with no ill effects. That wasn't too much to ask, surely!

I was joined this weekend by +Richard Flint. I had planned two walks for us that had the intention of mopping up the unvisited tors and rocks that sit north of Hangingstone Hill. While today would only bag me six, it was nine for Richard. It had some undiscovered country for the both of us.

We topped out on Ramsley and began to follow a lane, ignoring the Two Moors Way that veered right, over the grassy hill. Immediately, a nearby resident, who was getting into his car, remarked that the lane we were making for was private and there was no access. He directed us to the accessible Two Moors path, assuming we were lost, despite being far from it. Had I studied my map a bit more diligently beforehand I would have seen that it had clues to its accessibility.  But after having just read "The Compleat Trespasser" by John Bainbridge, that very week, a part of me rued this man's guidance. I would have liked to have seen for myself but his advice seemed well intentioned, polite and after all, it was just a lane, so we thanked him and took the right path.

Cosdon from Ramsley Hill
Cosdon from Ramsley Hill
We descended Ramsley, onto metalled road, which we followed for well over three kilometres. Despite this, plenty of the road was unfenced, views were plentiful and it didn't hinder our enjoyment. We eventually stepped off onto the moor as we reached Shilstone Tor.

Shilstone Tor
Shilstone Tor
Shilstone Tor
Shilstone Tor
We dropped down to the road again, briefly, to avoid the worst of the mire around two small unamed streams that flowed into the Blackaton Brook. Over the stream, we took a gnarly track beside Ensworthy Farm, and up onto Buttern Hill.

Buttern Hill, looking to Cosdon
Buttern Hill, looking to Cosdon
There are many named hills on Dartmoor, and a lot have little to show for your efforts (apart from the views, of course!). Buttern Hill has a granite outcrop on its highest point, and one worthy of a visit.

We slowly made our way across Gidleigh Common, in the direction of a highly visible huge distant lump of granite. This was Kestor Rock, and it sat on the other side of the North Teign. Whilst prominent, and on the bearing we were taking, our objective of Scorhill Tor was nearer, nestled discreetly above the north bank of the river.

Scorhill Tor
Scorhill Tor
I like Scorhill Tor simply for its view of the North Teign valley. I would happily enjoy a sunny summer's afternoon lazing on its manicured lawn with a picnic, admiring the vista. If it got too warm, there was a leat directly below, perfect to cool your feet rather than traipse all the way down to the river.

Looking to the North Teign
North Teign from Scorhill Tor
Scorhill Tor
Scorhill Tor
Moving down to the river, we picked our way to the edge, somewhat fortuitously right to our next significant rock, the Tolmen Stone. It was also a significant milestone for me as it was my two hundreth official bag on the Social Hiking Dartmoor Tors and Significant Rocks list.

Tolmen Stone
Tolmen Stone
The Tolmen Stone is a large boulder perched on rocks on the river bed, with a huge hole through it, the result of river erosion. It is a significant stone, with fanciful tales like a cure for rheumatism if you crawl through the hole. Today, the river was flowing too high to test this theory.

Tolmen Stone
Tolmen Stone
We turned away from the river, up to Scorhill Stone Circle. This is regarded as the best example of a Bronze Age stone circle in Devon. It is certainly impressive, but I think it unfair to compare the many that are dotted across this landscape; they all have their charms.

Scorhill Stone Circle
Scorhill Stone Circle
North-west, along a damp path, we met with a more prominent track and turned east towards a saddle between Kennon Hill and Rival Tor. This was the best option, as a "crow flies" approach to the tor would have had us labouring through the saturated ground by Walla Brook.
Rival or Rippator
Rival or Rippator
We reached Rival or Rippator, and stood around awhile waiting for a Pushover Notification that it was bagged, but nothing. A further investigation of the map showed the waypoint further north, on the highest point, rather than at the outcrop. Coordinates noted of the actual tor for correction later, we passed over the spot height, and began our climb up to Kennon Hill.

Rival or Rippator
Rival or Rippator
Kennon Hill proved to be a bit of a slog up through heavy high grass, with hidden obstacles and traps.
With no sight of a tor to aim for, I roughly navigated from stunted gorse bush to stunted gorse bush. In my peripheral, though, I could see an ancient settlement, and my bearing was quickly ditched to check it out.

Ascending Kennon Hill
Ascending Kennon Hill
There is little left of the settlement at Kennon Hill to get enthused about. It is obviously man made and the remains of an enclosure wall point to that, but hut circles and other evidence were scattered thin on the ground. Hardly worth the side trip, but it was a reprieve from the ascent, at least.

Settlement remains on Kennon Hill
Settlement remains on Kennon Hill
We finally reached the top, and were underwhelmed by the "cairn" on its summit. No matter how I tried, I couldn't find an angle to make it any more impressive.

Kennon Hill cairn
Kennon Hill cairn
A wide path, sandwiched between Raybarrow Pool and Gallaven Mire, heads directly for Hound Tor.

As we approached, we spotted a large group of Ten Tors Trainees ascending from the path at Reulake Pit, with the same destination in mind. We made it first and took a prime sheltered spot for a late lunch and to break out some hot Ribena!

Hound Tor (Okehampton)
Hound Tor (Okehampton)
The school kids were well behaved and little disturbance to us. I admire their enthusiasm for the Ten Tors Challenge, and it is always a delight to see them out and about at this time of year. It is a character building experience and I wish there were more similar challenges throughout the national parks of the UK.

The view from Hound Tor (Okehampton)
The view from Hound Tor (Okehampton)
The group soon moved on and so did we. Hound Tor affords a spectacular view of the north moor; to linger longer would have been great but days are still short and we had some way still to go.

Enroute to Little Hound Tor, we veered off the dark peat track to visit the White Stone Moor Circle. I'll always remember a photo of this circle being featured in Trail Magazine as one of the fine examples of archaeology to see on the Two Moors Way; a trail that passes more than five kilometres to the south-east. Excellent research by the magazine and one of the reasons I chose to end my subscription.

White Moor Stone Circle
White Moor Stone Circle
Little Hound Tor could easily be missed if you were deep in conversation or day dreaming. It sits to the west of the obvious ridge path just as it begins its climb up Cosdon.

Little Hound Tor
Little Hound Tor
Cosdon. I have scaled this hill on countless occasions. It is a significant place for me. It is the first glimpse you get of the open north moor, as you journey down the A30. It is a comfort seeing its huge form rising in front of you, a satisfying realisation that the long journey from London is near its end and I have returned to my beloved Dartmoor.

Cosdon Hill
Cosdon Hill
Cosdon cairn
Cosdon cairn
With the sun setting, and its eastern flank falling into shadow, we descended through a clitter field to a safer path. Below, on a small plateau, lay one of the highlights of this walk, and one I simply had to take Rich to see; a wonderful triple stone row and cist.

Descending Cosdon Hill to the triple stone row
Descending Cosdon Hill to the triple stone row
The occupant of this burial must have been quite an important person, and the site itself, running east to west, must have been hugely significant to the community that inhabited the hut circles across my favourite hill.

Cosdon Triple Stone Row
Cosdon Triple Stone Row

Cosdon Triple Stone Row
Cosdon Triple Stone Row
Leaving the stones as Cosdon's shadow engulfed it, we left the moor via a number of walled lanes, returning to the road, which took us back to the car in South Zeal.

A great day, and one that deserved a quick beer in the Oxenham Arms. With a welcoming landlady, a roaring fire, a good ale and a friendly cat, Rich would have been perfectly happy to have sat there the rest of the night. Unfortunately, I had the duty of driving back to Base Camp, and there was no way I was going to nurse a half for too long.

Note made of the pub, though, and we will surely sort out a night there later in the year.

And the Route: