Friday, 12 June 2015

Dartmoor: Forest Boundary for DEC Nepal Earthquake Appeal - Day 2

Clapper Bridge near Wallabrook Foot
Clapper bridge near Wallabrook Foot
Day two of our perambulation of the ancient forest boundary of Dartmoor to raise funds for the Disasters Emergency Commission Nepal Earthquake Appeal. If you wish to donate, you still can by visiting our JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/DartmoorForestBoundary4Nepal

Phil (@daylightgambler) was proving invaluable to have around! With our decision to crack on from Runnage to Princetown, he took our camping gear and booked us into the Fox Tor Cafe Bunkhouse whilst we concentrated on the small matter of traversing over 38 kilometres to get there.

Jim (@jimwonder) and I began at just gone nine in the morning. The first leg is relatively flat to Dartmeet and we made good time, going at  a fair lick. It involves leaving the true boundary along the Wallabrook for a spell, to get around private land, which takes you through the hamlet of Sherwell. Eventually we did rejoin the river, and it was then a pleasant stroll along the Wallabrook to boundary mark #9 and its confluence with the East Dart (SX 67208 74708).

River Dart near Wallabrook Foot
Boundary Mark #10: Wallabrokesfote - Wallabrook Foot, confluence with the East Dart (SX 67208 74708)
I mentioned it was fairly flat to Dartmeet, and that would be the case if a perambulator was staying true to the route along the East Dart. But we were Tor Bagging too. On paper, the close proximity of Yar Tor, to the east of the river, was tempting bait, and my eagerness when planning took it. On the ground, looking up at the 160 metre valley side we would have to scale was daunting. Had it not been for the fact we were supposed to be meeting Phil up there to get the keys to the bunkhouse, I would have knocked this one on the head. The lack of a mobile signal meant there was no choice. It took some time to decide on a suitable starting point but we eventually began the ascent. We adopted a method of switch backing as much as we could, but our choices were heavily influenced by conditions.

Atop Yar Tor, Phil watched our slow progress, and even he was questioning my decision to bag this one. When we reached him, we took a break. Phil handed over the key to our room, Jim aired his feet, we had a snack, and then after about ten minutes we parted ways again, leaving Phil to wander off to bag some of the other tors in the vicinity.

Yar Tor
Yar Tor
We reached the Yar Tor car park, crossed the road and then turned towards Dartmeet, keeping a look out for the Coffin Stone. Finding it proved to be no drama. Jim looked at it quizzically; what was the big deal that made this granite any different from the rest? Well, back in ye olden times, it was a requirement for the folk in the parish to have to bury their dead at Widecombe. They used to have to carry the dead up and over this hill, where they would take a well earned breather at this point. Whilst there, some would chisel a mark into the stone, and you can just about still see them.

Coffin Stone
Coffin Stone
Folklore has it that it was cut in two by a bolt of lightning that struck the coffin of a nasty chap who The Almighty had decided didn't deserve a proper burial. Somewhat more dramatic than the actual truth which was that it was a victim of a touch of frost!

We descended further to busy boundary mark #11 - Dartmeet. A favourite haunt of visitors to the moor. It's easy to see why. We shuffled on through, taking a footpath up across a field to a selection of old enclosed rocky lanes.

Dartmeet
Boundary Mark #11: Dertam Usque Dertam - Dartmeet (SX 67190 73105)
On the outskirts of Huccaby, we began to descend on a bridleway to the West Dart and the Week Ford stepping stones. I have crossed them many times, but this time I found myself at the front of a queue, which always unnerves me in such situations. True to form, a moment of hesitation at a skew-whiff boulder, half way across, dented my confidence. Luckily the stone my feet were firmly planted upon was sufficiently wide enough for me to shift aside and allow Jim and two other walkers pass me by. With no one waiting, I regrouped and took my tentative step and made it to the other bank unscathed. 

Week Ford
Week Ford
We took a break at Boundary Mark #12: Okesbrokesfote - O Brook Foot (SX 66233 72425), for a paddle. The water of the West Dart was very cold here, it was a brief dip but sufficiently long enough to keep the feet engaged in the challenge.

Onwards, we crossed the less impressive stepping stones at O Brook Ford, passed through some gates and rather than follow the brook all the way to its head, we turned left up onto Holne Moor. I had never been up here before, previously taking the forest boundary route, so I was pleased with the good path and fields of Bluebells on our ascent to Combestone Tor.
Holne Moor
Holne Moor
We took lunch at Combestone Tor. It was pretty popular being only a few metres from its own car park. We enjoyed the views, high above the wooded valleys of the River Dart, and I tried to work out a future tor bagging route in and around the area that would take the very best of a long summers day.

Combestone Tor
Combestone Tor
After lunch, we crossed the road and went to return to the boundary. We were on good path, so to leave it was a wrench. We delayed as long as possible, but, in time, we had to drop down to a leat and then to the banks of the O Brook again. 

O Brook
The O Brook
The path along the bank was narrow, and undulated often, but it was a pretty section all the way to Boundary Mark #13: Dryworkesfote - Drylake Foot (SX 66060 71008).

O Brook near Dry Lake
Boundary Mark #13: La Dryeworkesfote - Drylake Foot (SX 66060 71008)
We started up Drylake, a re-entrant that was riddled with tin workings, called Wellaby Gulf towards Boundary Mark #14: Dryeworkeshede- Drylake Head (SX 65948 69700). By now, Jim was beginning to voice a concern. He had mentioned before that he was finding the uneven tufted grass terrain tougher today but now his leg was in considerable pain. Many miles plodding across this landscape meant my legs were desensitised to it. Jim surmised I was more suited to multi-day hiking whilst he was much better at long distances in one go, and I have to agree because yesterday I struggled at points to keep with him. With personal knowledge of what was to come, I tried to reassure where there would be a respite but, in truth, there wasn't going to be much of that.

Once out of the gully, and across the Sandy Way, the going gets no easier with a featureless landscape of long grass. From the O Brook it is two kilometres of ascent on no path to the summit of Ryders Hill. Navigation is tricky and I can recall why I wasn't prepared to do this leg all those many years ago, when the weather was horrendous.

Ryder's Hill
Boundary Mark #15: Battyshull - Ryders Hil (SX 65970 69063)
Weather was ideal today, though and we saw Boundary Mark #15: Battyshull - Ryders Hill (SX 65970 69063) very early. There is a clear line to the next collection of hills to bag. Enroute to Snowdon, there is little deviation to Boundary Mark #16: Wester Wellabrokeshede - Wellabrook Head (SX 66535 68355). Normally, perambulators would follow this gully to its conclusion, but we wanted to bag Snowdon and Puper's Rock before rejoining it further down.

Wellabrook Head
Boundary Mark #16: Wester Wellabrokeshede - Wellabrook Head (SX 66535 68355)
Snowdon
Snowdon
The untidy cairn on Snowdon visited, we crossed Buckfastleigh Moor to reach Puper's Hill. I was already scanning ahead to our next big climb. Eastern Whittabarrow looked impenetrable from our vantage point and coupled with the fact I knew there was more uneven grass to fight through to reach it, I didn't want to alarm Jim.

Buckfastleigh Moor
Buckfastleigh Moor
Pupers Rock
Puper's Rock
From Puper's Rock we took a bridleway south-easterly, away from the point we wished to reach . This was just to make things easier by picking up another track and avoiding the worst of the grass. Unfortunately, where we struck right, the track forked and we chose the wrong one. As a consequence we cut west to the Wellabrook, and had to handrail our way down to Boundary Mark #17: Wester Wellabrokefote - Wellabrook Foot (SX 66473 66160), instead of making a bee line for it. It mattered only in that it took us more time because, in truth, it meant we followed more of the boundary than expected.

Before the climb, we stopped at the boundary mark which is where the brook meets the River Avon. Once again, we revived our feet in the chilly waters. Being able to cross the Avon here, instead of seeking out a clapper bridge a kilometre upstream, clawed back the lost time and saved our legs. 

Initially steep, climbing up from the river, the gradient eased and left us more to concentrate on not spraining our ankles in the grass, than test our lungs. When the huge barrow came in sight, the work was nearly done. Boundary Mark # 18: Ester Whyteburghe - Eastern Whittabarrow ( SX 66538 65170) is a significant milestone in that from here, we are at the forest boundaries most southerly point; technically, we were turning for home!

Eastern White Barrow
Boundary Mark #18: Ester Whyteburghe - Eastern Whittabarrow (SX 66538 651770)
Taking into account its proximity to Eastern Whittabarrow, I expected to see a well trodden path to Western White Barrow, but we are in some remote country now and I guess that my assumption was born more of hope than considered judgement. 

Western White Barrow and Petre's Cross
Western White Barrow and Petre's Cross
We dropped down to pick up the disused tramway. It's good surface is a temptation to follow but to do so would turn this perambulation into a North to South expedition, as it soon turns for Ivybridge. We left the tramway after a few metres to descend to the marshy expanse of Boundary Mark #19: La Redelakesfote - Redlake Foot (SX 63590 66105).

Red Lake Foot
Boundary Mark #19: La Redelakesfote - Redlake Foot
We took another break at Blacklane Brook Ford. We were tiring now and it was nearing six in the evening. We still had at least another couple of hours still to go. With time short, fatigue increasing and injury hampering progress, I wrote off a side trip up the brook to bag Black Rocks.

We weaved our way through Erme Pits, passing Boundary Mark #20: Grymsgrove - Erme Head Ford (SX 62143 66868), in search of the Abbots Way that would lead us to Broad Rock.

Broad Rock
Broad Rock
We were now at a stage where the tors come thick and fast. Ignoring the cairn to the north, on Great Gnats Head, we left the bridleway soon after Broad Rock, striking west to both Little Gnats Head and Calverslake Tor.
Little Gnats Head
Little Gnats Head
Calveslake Tor
Calverslake Tor
Across the Plym we could see Lower Hartor Tor, close by, but we took longer to find a way over the river than Phil and I did the previous September. We pulled up to the tor and moved on to Higher Hartor Tor. In our thoughts was the end and a race to beat the food serving cut off at the Plume! 

Lower Hartor Tor
Lower Hartor Tor

Higher Hartor Tor
Higher Hartor Tor
Reaching the Eylesbarrow Tin Mine, and the cycle track was a psychological boost. We still had a slight deviation to take, but the bulk of the walk into Princetown would be along this bridleway. Having joined it, we left it almost immediately, climbing up to Boundary Mark #21: Elysburghe - Eylesbarrow (SX 59963 68598). 

Eylesbarrow and new cobra boundary mark
Boundary Mark #21: Elysburghe - Eylesbarrow (SX 59963 68598)
I got a tweet from Phil. It read; "track all the way home now!" It was ten past seven, and whilst this may be the case in a kilometre or so, there was still well over an hour of walking still to go! We followed a succession of boundary stones to join the cycle track just before Boundary Mark #22: Crucem Sywardi - Syward's Cross (SX 60163 69918).

Siwards Cross
Boundary Mark #22: Crucem Sywardi - Syward's Cross (SX 60163 69918)
I took a quick photo, for prosperity, then we turned our attention to the nigh on five kilometre slog into Princetown. We barely broke our pace when we reached Boundary Mark #23: Ysfother - South Hessary Tor (SX 59730 72366). The light was fading and we were just about done!
South Hessary Tor
Boundary Mark #23: Ysfother - South Hessary Tor (SX 59730 72366)
It was twenty past eight when we staggered into the Plume of Feathers pub. We asked when last food orders was and it gave us forty minutes to dump our bags off at the bunkhouse, get changed and return. All I really wanted to do was hit the pillow, but fuel for tomorrow was needed.

We were out on our feet. The thought of a march of a greater distance tomorrow was a real concern, especially as Jim's issue with his leg was getting worse. He decided he would wait to see how it felt after a nights sleep. Add to that the weather forecast was about to take a turn for the worst.  A decision had to be made.

To be continued....

And today's route: