Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Dartmoor: The Tors (and rocks) on and around the roof of Devon

Black Tor (Okehampton)
Black Tor (West Okement)
As well as a good day on the hill, today's objective was to pick up a couple of bags that have eluded me, despite my walking here for over a decade. There was also an outside chance that if the day progressed well, then +Richard Flint might even overtake +Matthew King in the Dartmoor Tor and Rocks Bagging List, albeit for a week. Let the games commence!

We were up and out fairly early. If we were to get a decent walk in before the drive back to London, then it had to be. I saved us some time by parking up near Okehampton Camp, at the foot of Rowtor, so in a matter of minutes we were up there for our first tor of the day.

Rowtor
Rowtor
I have fond memories of Rowtor. A wildcamp weekend in the area a few years didn't pan out as planned, and a group of us ended up only getting this far and we pitched here. It turned out to be good luck as we enjoyed an early morning inversion. For more read the post here.

But back to today; we hit the rocky track that ran around the base of West Mill Tor, taking a southbound track at a fork. Pretty soon, I could see the oddly named Curtery Clitters, and we left the track to visit.

What can be said about Curtery Clitters? It is a large band of fragmented granite boulders, particularly striking because of its appearance scattered amongst an area of rough grass and moorland. Where the clitter originates from, I do not know, but could it be the tumbled remains of a larger outcrop that is now known as Yes Tor?

Curtery Clitters
Curtery Clitters
We ventured up above the clitter, to an observation post and then further south, passing an Okehampton Parish boundary stone. Meeting up with a military track again, we walked to its conclusion by Dinger Tor.

Boundary Stone above Curtery Clitters
Okehampton Parish Boundary stone near Curtery Clitters
Dinger Tor
Dinger Tor
It was here that I realised we may be able to bag a couple more tors today for Rich to overtake Matthew in the leader board. Rather than turn for Fordsland Ledge, we looked south and Lints Tor, below.

Unlike my first traverse between Dinger and Lints, I chose to take the safer route, avoiding the valley cut between them by what is now a small stream. With deep holes in the peat that could swallow you to your waist, if not careful, we contoured around it, gradually dropping where the stream was a mere hop across. Once up at Lints, we stopped out of the wind for a break.

Lints Tor
Lints Tor
With Lints Tor bagged, Rich required just two extra additions. I scanned the map and came up with the route back. Next stop; Black Tor!

Sunshine on Fordsland Ledge from Lints Tor
Sunshine on Fordsland Ledge from Lints Tor
The sun broke through the grey morning, and made for a pleasant traverse down through the West Okement valley. Here, we encountered many more walkers, presumably originating from the car park at Meldon Reservoir, nearby.

West Okement Valley
West Okement River
It was a respite from the winds atop, and a contrast to the rest of the day. Black-a-tor Copse is always a treat to wander through, although in winter its allure and magical qualities are diminished with the lack of foliage on the ancient alpine oak.

The West Okement
A stroll on the banks of the West Okement
Black-a-tor Copse
Black-a-tor Copse
Through the copse, we had a tiring ascent to what is still my favourite; Black Tor. The granite, the view, the positioning high on the lip of the valley make it a special place. A bivvy here is still on my Dartmoor wish list!

Black Tor (Okehampton)
Black Tor (West Okement)
We left the last of the three outcrops at Black Tor, bound for Fordsland Ledge. The sky and atmosphere had changed, a mist was forming from the south, and the vistas were disappearing quickly.

Fordsland Ledge
Fordsland Ledge
From Fordsland Ledge, we thought it best to step up a gear. The wind was increasing and the weather was closing. Standing up by the cairn on High Willhays was difficult, so we bagged it quickly and continued.

High Willhays
High Willhays
Cairn on High Willhays
Cairn on High Willhays
Hampster Tor was soon upon us. Rich made the effort to touch the tors on both sides of the track to make sure he had the right outcrop, and then we were buffeted all the way to Yes Tor.

Hampster Tor
Hampster Tor
Despite the winds, we climbed to the top of Yes Tor, where a cairn and flag pole stand, but it wasn't a safe place to hang around on. We dropped around to the more sheltered north-eastern side and began our descent over difficult terrain of extensive clitter.

Yes Tor (Okehampton)
Yes Tor (Okehampton)
We made it down to the military track again, and used it for a short distance, before off roading over some boggy ground to Little Tor. This was my second new bag of the day, and tidied up my unvisited tors north of Hangingstone Hill.

Little Tor
Little Tor
Little sits below West Mill Tor, so the latter is the obvious direction to head for a tor bagger.

West Mill Tor
West Mill Tor
We climbed up to its highest point to enjoy the views. Up here, we disturbed two guides with walkie talkies, directing the goings on of a large number of Ten Tors groups walking across this vast north moor in the direction of a posse of minibuses parked at different points along the network of military roads. They were too engrossed in their task to engage in conversation, or even pleasantries, so we left them to play their game.

West Mill Tor
West Mill Tor
We had one more tor left for Rich to move back into third. It was a bit of a diversion, but it also gave us the chance to visit the Rowtor Firing Range Railway. Housed in a stone hut is a Range Engine, which was used to pull a target along the rails, for artillery to shoot at during the second world war. 

Shed housing "Captain", a range engine.
Rowtor Firing Range Railway
Rowtor firing range railway
Rowtor firing range railway
We followed the railway to the point where it turned south. We continued east, picking our way down to a weathered track that meets Middle Ford, across the Black-a-ven Brook. It took us some time to find a suitable place up stream to hop across the brook, the ford being too deep to cross dry.

Middle Ford across the Black-a-ven Brook
Middle Ford on the Black-a-ven Brook
Once across, we were up to Hart Tor (Okehampton Common). We stopped for a rest, watching yet another party of Ten Tors moving by, their day, same as us, near its end.

The weather never did catch us today. It threatened but never escalated. We followed the metalled road from Hart Tor, up across the bridge near Cullever Steps, and up the small hill to the car, now surrounded by school minibuses and a lot of tired, but no doubt, proud kids.

So this weekend was done. Another beckoned in just five days time...

And the Route: