Sunday, 1 March 2015

Dartmoor: tors, rocks and tumps east of Moretonhampstead

Moretonhampstead
Moretonhampstead
Right from the start of this task of bagging all the named tors and rocks of Dartmoor, it has been my intention to visit each as part of a substantial walk; be it half a day, a full day, or an overnighter. There would be none of this "car bagging" malarkey on my watch. But, I am beginning to think that achieving this on the outskirts of the moor is going to be tricky and will likely even involve arduous routes with minimal rewards. I must admit, after today's adventure, my legs were feeling the strain, but the rewards were bountiful!

When planning today's route, I happily plotted it across the mapping software on my pc. I could see that a substantial amount was on road, but it wasn't until I'd uploaded it as a route into Social Hiking that I was surprised by its ascent, descent, and distance. Surprised, but I should add, not put off attempting it.

This was my first time into this region. It is little visited and, in fact, the far eastern section doesn't even make it onto the Ordnance Survey OL28 map of Dartmoor! More of that later.

I found the car park on the corner of Mardon Down, after a steep narrow drive up out of the town of Moretonhampstead. With the weather predicted to hold dry for the area, until about 4pm, I was confident I could avoid the expected rain and high winds. But, I'd have to get a wriggle on!

It was straight up to bag Mardon Down, being a Tump (a hill with a prominence of over 30 metres) at 356 metres high. Looking at the map, the down is littered with cairns, and stone circles amongst its gorse, but I had little time to explore it properly.

Mardon Down, looking back to the car park
Mardon Down, looking back to the car park
Crossing Mardon Down, looking south
Crossing Mardon Down, looking south
When on open moor you usually have the luxury of choosing the path of least resistance to reach your destination. Sure, a river or a bog can make you deviate from your intended target, but on the arable outskirts, you are further restricted by a lack of public access resulting in long tramps along metalled lanes, byways and permissive footpaths. A case in point is the route to Hingston Rock.

Bridleway off Mardon Down
Bridleway off Mardon Down
Dropping off the open access of Mardon Down, across the road to a fenced bridleway, the restrictions start to tell. Hingston Down is obvious under a kilometre away on the other side of the valley, but to reach it entails dropping down to a minor road. You then have no option but to head east to North Kingwell to meet the B3212. It is  then a cautious walk along the narrow verge, downhill, to a prominent sign.

One way in and out to Hingston Rocks
The only permissive way up to Hingston Rock
This signifies the path up to Hingston Rock and it is expected that you return by the same route. Across a small area of familiar boggy squelch, courtesy of some handy stepping stones, and then over a couple of stiles, I was finally on the down. The whole side of the hill is covered in bracken and previous footfall is difficult to spot, but there are some waymarked posts guiding you. That said, these markers are quite low and I was thankful to be there in winter; summer would see them submerged in a sea of foliage.

The "public footpath" to Hingston Rocks! Definitely best done in Winter!
The "public footpath" with waymarker centre-right.
Picking your way up to Hingston Rock is worth the effort. It has a wonderful view of Moretonhampstead below, and the high moor beyond. It is a new vantage point for me, but from Cosdon in the north, to Haytor Rocks in the south, it is instantly recognisable.

Moretonhampstead from Hingston Rocks
Moretonhampstead from Hingston Rock
From the rock, I could see my next target. Pepperdon Down was about a kilometre away as the crow flies, tantalisingly close were it not for a band of private land barring my way. Still, the path I had come up didn't appear to stop at the rocks, so I gambled that maybe the map was out of date and I could avoid returning by the same route.

The path led me down to a gate where I stopped to weigh up my options. Across the field, I could see another gate. Studying the map I could see three more fields beyond, but out of view. Uncertain of their access, I chose not to trespass and instead I returned to the rock, wandering off path across the down towards the farm at South Kingwell. I could see a mapped lane was accessible, but, sadly, when I reached the gate to the lane, I could see it cut right through a farmyard. Nothing to it but to pick my way back along to the footpath, a good half hour wasted.

Back on the B3212, I ascended along the road to Cossick Cross, taking a left turn and further ascent up to Pepperdon Down. Looking east, over the hedgerows, I caught first sight of significant granite that would be my next stop after this. It looked large, substantial, and I was eager to explore it. But first, I had to bag this Tump on the way.

Pepperdon Down is a thin strip of Open Access, covered in bracken. I picked my way towards a small copse, where its highest point was situated just before, and despite finding signs of idiocy in the form of fire scarring, I was satisfied to find a granite outcrop here, albeit short and flat.

Signs of idiots on Pepperdon Down
Evidence of idiots on Pepperdon Down
View from Pepperdon Down
View from Pepperdon Down
Pepperdon Down
Rock on Pepperdon Down
I returned to a road below; a left and a right passed Didworthy Cottages, before meeting Blackingstone Rock. I approached through an area of young saplings, the granite beyond looming large. As I stepped out of the trees, I was blown away by this massive dome.

Blackingstone Rock
Blackingstone Rock
Walking around Blackingstone Rock, I came across the hideous concrete staircase to its top. It saddened me to see this eyesore tainting such a wonderful tor, and rather than scale it, I wished I'd packed a jack hammer.
Blackingstone Rock
Ugly staircase up Blackingstone Rock
I stopped here for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat, admiring the views from below the summit.

Blackingstone Rock
Blackingstone Rock
I made my way down to the car park and continued on an approximately three kilometre lane walk. I passed Blackingstone Farm, with its fine barn, then Laployd Barton, before turning south-west to its Plantation.

Fine looking barn near Blackingstone Rock
Fine looking barn

Laployd Barton
Out-house at Laployd Barton
Taking that lane towards Laployd Barton, I was preparing to step off the edge of the world.

As I mentioned earlier, straying this far east has its complications if you have bought the OL28 Explorer map of Dartmoor National Park. In their wisdom, Ordnance Survey decided to save a few inches of paper and crop the edges. That is a particular bugbear of mine and one I would love to see rectified.

I pointed out, in a twitter conversation with Ordnance Survey the day before, that it makes me question how significant this is for the villages just off the most popular recreational map for the national park; many of us hikers have eyed that familiar blue pint pot logo on the map and purposefully diverted in hope of a local ale or a meal. As a result, I know of at least one pub, within the park boundary, that could well be missing out on business because it doesn't make the crop.

It isn't just the east that suffers this indignation; I find it even more incredible that to the west, a significant landmark like Brent Tor, with its iconic church sat atop its rocky hill, also falls foul to the crop. This wonderful national park deserves a 1:25000 scale map that covers it in its entirety!

Left turn into Laployd Plantation
Left turn into Laployd Plantation
Ducking under the locked barrier to Laployd Plantation, it was a straightforward romp through the forest, up to the Tump of Laployd Hill. With the highest point being on the forestry track, there was no view, and no reason to stop, my mind firmly on finding the the next significant rock.

Ascending Laployd Hill
Ascent up Laployd Hill
I chose to ignore a waterlogged bridleway I reached; it deviated from the direction I wished to get to and there was a perfectly good dry track, through Beacon Plantation, laid out before me. I took this short cut and met the same bridleway on the other side of the trees.

Bridleway through Laployd Plantation
Flooded bridleway
Through the plantation, reaching the bridleway, I followed it south, soon reaching a track off towards Bridford. I was firmly off the map now, but with digital mapping on my phone, I was confident of finding my way.

About to go off the edge of the world (or the OL28)
Bridford sign
I descended down the bridleway, through a field to Middle Hole Farm, where I bumped into the owners. Mindful that my next target is on private land, but apparently accessible, I asked about Scatter Rock, as I was uncertain of the route to attack it. They had no knowledge of it, having only moved in a month ago, but they knew of a footpath that may help. Pleasantries exchanged, I moved on.

I hit the road, turned left and a couple of hundred metres further on the footpath appeared through a field to the right. Above the field stood a densely wooded hill where Scatter Rock was hidden. I went off path and approached the fence, but I couldn't get over it. I hand-railed it, seeking out a chink, but there was none to be found. I descended, resigned to the fact I was going to have to enter the wood from lower down, where the footpath passed through the fence and then battle my way up through the undergrowth.

It took quite some time, an ascent negotiating frustrating dead ends, bending under branches, stumbling over moss covered rocks, and slippery mud. But the world within was fascinating. It was tiring but I was enjoying discovering the long forgotten boundaries and evidence of the disused Scattor Quarry.

Stumbling around Scattor Quarry
Stumbling around looking for Scatter Rock
Getting a worthy photograph of Scattor Rock is challenging, even when the trees are bare. I reached the long drop, but capturing it was difficult. Time getting on, I took one rushed shot, and turned back for the safety of the footpath.

Scattor Rock
Scatter Rock
Stumbling around Scattor Quarry
Scatter Quarry
I retraced my way through Middle Hole Farm, taking a higher bridleway north towards Bridford. I dropped down to a bridge that crossed the wonderfully named Rookery Brook where my search for Rowdon Rock was to start.

I mistakenly turned left through a gate into Hedgemoor Plantation and started to follow the brook upstream. Wanting to leave the path I soon realised I was on the wrong side of the brook and also noticed that gates on each side had "Private - No Entry" signs.  Reliably informed by Ken Ringwood's Tors and Rocks book that, although on private land, Rowdon Rock could be reached, I returned to the bridge where I could keep my feet dry and I had seen a gap in the fence.

Ascending through more low lying branches, and uneven ground, but no way on the scale of the quarry, I soon saw a huge wall of granite through the trees. Sitting high above the footpath, you would have no inkling this was even here so standing in its presence had me wondering how often this great rock had been visited.

Rowdon Rock
I spy Rowdon Rock
Rowdon Rock
Rowdon Rock
Rowdon Rock
Rowdon Rock
I returned to the path, and walked into the "lost" village of Bridford. After earlier banging on about the potential loss of business because of OL28, I proceeded to walk straight passed the cracking looking Bridford Inn. I would love to have popped in, but time wasn't on my side. Here's their website to atone for my sins: http://www.bridfordinn.co.uk/

Passing the church, I climbed up out of the village to a permissive footpath up along Rowdon Brook in Woodland Park. It was a welcome diversion from an expected section of road.
Church at Bridford
Church at Bridford
Out of the wood, I was back on road; a kilometre and a half long. Despite the hard surface, it had plenty of good views to distract me, with Heltor Rock in front of me. This was another gem, and my pace quickened to reach it.

To access, there is a short permissive path to walk up. As I approached, the wind struck up and I felt the first drops of rain. At the tor, I hunkered away behind it, finished off my coffee and ate to replenish my flagging energy.
Permissive footpath to Heltor Rock
Permissive footpath
Heltor Rock
Heltor Rock
Heltor Rock
Crack in Heltor Rock
I donned my jacket and set off. With still two more Tumps to bag, I was more focused on finishing than attaining them; They weren't tors or rocks, so they hardly mattered to me. Fortunately, they were on the way home, so I wouldn't need to do too much. From Heltor Rock, I ascended, on road, Heltor Hill. The top sat the other side of the hedge, in a field, close enough to get it bagged without deviation from my walk.

I then dropped down into a hamlet called Westcott then further descent to the B3212. It was over a hundred metres drop in all, and it pained me to know that I had to scale that same height back up to Mardon Down.

Ford near Woodcock Wood
Ford near Woodcock Wood
I soon left the road for a bridleway and crossed a ford near Woodcock Wood, heading up to Leigh Farm. It took me up through more woodland where I stopped to rest on more than one occasion. My legs were feeling it! I came out to a lane above the farm where an old shed was showing its age. Further on it was a left turn along a lane leading out to a gate and Mardon Down.

Rundown Shed
Rundown Shed
I took a grassed path along the wall, then turned onto another that took me over the highest point, a Tump named Mardon Down East Top. Nothing to see here, except the approaching rain. I didn't stop, hurrying on to Headless Cross and the final pull.

Headless Cross
Headless Cross
Good path up to Giants Grave but once atop, the foul weather reached me and it made it difficult finding a way through the gorse.

Cairns at Giant's Grave
Cairns at Giants Grave
I caught a glimpse of the car park low down and now behind me. This was proving frustrating but the gorse proved impenetrable. It took three unsuccessful attempts before I returned to the footpath and made my way to the route I had come up at the beginning of the day.

Back on Mardon Down
Penned in by Gorse on Mardon Down
Path found, I descended, getting steadily drenched. Wet and exhausted, but I was pretty pleased with my first visit to the edge of the map. Plenty more of this to come!

Today's route: