Monday, 15 June 2015

Dartmoor: Forest Boundary for DEC Nepal Earthquake Appeal - Day 3

River Walkham below Clay Tor
River Walkham below Clay Tor
Day 3 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

The weather had turned. Outside, the clag had its grip on the moors and there was a steady drizzle making it thoroughly unpleasant. The previous day had taken its toll on Jim's leg, and I had a restless night mulling over our course of action for today.

I realised it would be an even longer distance over the highest section of the moor, so the prospect of finishing in three days was non-existent. In an effort to keep Jim in the game, I proposed we could split the final stretch into two legs, and come off the moor at the Fox and Hounds Hotel, in Shortacombe. Unfortunately, with the hope of completing in three days, Jim had made arrangements to be back in London, so this would be his last day.

The change of plan, however, relied on the ever dependable Phil, who was currently bivying at Church Rock, near Merrivale. We were going to need a lift from the pub! I text him to explain the situation and he agreed to meet us for breakfast, at the usual, as soon as he could muster the enthusiasm to face the rain, and get out of his bivvy.

We delayed departure as long as we could. The Met Office weather app suggested the skies would clear around midday and with that glimmer of hope, we left the womb, that is the Fox Tor Cafe, and stepped out into the world just before eleven.

Dragging our way up to Boundary Mark #24: Another Ysfother - North Hessary Tor ( SX 57872 74213), the mizzle escalated to rain. We reluctantly moved on from the sheltered calm of its granite outcrop, and passed through the gate to our right, to bag Herne Hole Tor. The rain was at its most violent; my Paramo jacket felt it was in danger of being compromised. In reality, it wasn't but we would have been forgiven a retreat to Princetown. Forearmed with the forecast we soldiered on to Rundlestone Tor.

I decided to skip Hollow Tor. We couldn't see it, the rain was still battering us and it was simpler to take the TV Mast's metalled service road down to the B3357.

Where the track up to Great Mis Tor begins, we found Phil, who had parked up. He was watching our progress whilst deciding what to do today, and figured we'd be passing. I told him I had an escape route in mind, should this deluge continue; that being the track from Cocks Hill down to Wapsworthy, via the Lich Way and Brousentor Farm, and I promised I'd keep him informed should it need to be taken.

Apologies for the lack of pictures on this section, but I wasn't going to destroy my phone for the sake of this blog. It wasn't until we took refuge at Little Mis Tor, that I took it out of my pocket for a quick selfie.

Sheltering below Little Mis Tor
Sheltering below Little Mis Tor
We discussed our options again, agreed it was still too early to throw in a drenched towel, and took the track, as best we could follow it, up to boundary mark #25: Mystor - Great Mis Tor (SX 56272 76928).

At this point, something unexpected happened; the rain stopped and the clouds parted enough for us to see where we had to be next. We could see up onto Cocks Hill, the direction of the ancient boundary, but first there was some unfinished business for me.

We crossed over Greena Ball, on a bearing for Clay Tor. I had hoped to have visited this tor back in the winter on a Social Hiking meet, but the grid reference was out by fifty odd metres and stood on the other side of the River Walkham. Given conditions, none of us relished trying to cross it and we gave it a miss.

Today, was different. We went in search, and found an easy traverse immediately below the tor and with it bagged, we ascended further to find a track to take west to Dead Lake. As we went, another shower passed over, but fortunately it was brief.

Clay Tor
Clay Tor
With the stream found, we followed it north, until it petered out. The visibility was now good enough to progress without a bearing, leaving the re-entrant at the head of the stream, striking north-east up Cocks Hill to its unspectacular summit.

The grass was awkward across the dome of the hill, but it eased as we neared boundary mark #26: Mewyburghe - White Barrow (SX 56847 79318). 

You would be forgiven for walking straight over this small unobtrusive mound, positioned next to the Lich Way, without giving it a second glance. It is a bit of a bugger to photograph and show it off in all its "glory", and makes for a strange choice of boundary mark. Perhaps it was more prominent some seven hundred and seventy-five years ago. Michael Hedges, in his book "Walking the Forest Bounds of Dartmoor", suggests its location on the Lich Way may have contributed to its choice, in an otherwise featureless landscape.

Heading up Cocks Hill
Boundary Mark #26: Mewyburghe - White Barrow (SX 56847 79318)
We were fortunate we could now see our next objective. With our first escape point reached, we felt the day had turned for the better, and marched on.

If the visibility is good, then the need to take a bearing and hit some awkward boggy ground is negated. Instead, you can see a semblance of a wide grassy path veer right, and approach Lynch Tor in an arc. The track is not all plain sailing, as it also has its damp moments, but it does avoid the worst of the mire.

Lynch Tor
Boundary Mark #27: Lullingesfote - Limsboro Cairn (SX 56560 80548)
We reached Boundary mark #27: Lullingesfote - Limsboro Cairn (SX 56560 80548) at about a quarter to two in the afternoon. We took a break at the lower granite outcrops of Lynch Tor, a short distance further north from Limsboro Cairn and the military flag pole. We were going well. I figured the biggest task of our day lay ahead now, and I looked carefully at the landscape before us.

We went north with the intention to reach a deep cutting that is an old track called Black Lane. Once there, the idea was to take the lane a short distance north-east, then follow the stream called Eastern Red Lake down to Sandy Ford. This was all to avoid what I recalled to be a tiring section of long grass across The Meads, back in 2007, but when we reached Black Lane, I was surprised to see a definite track cutting north, the work of farming or maybe the military. We followed that track, which would take us down not Eastern, but Western Red Lake.

The track did become a little difficult to make out further on but the bulk of the worst had been avoided and we picked our way down to the place we would cross.

Sandy Ford is usually low enough to cross without hesitation, but we had reached the River Tavy about five hundred metres further downstream and had some rock hopping to do before we reached the other side of the river.

Tavy near Sandy Ford
River Tavy
Heading downstream along the bank is a mixed bag. The trickiest points are negotiating some clitter and a couple of trees, that require the use of your hands and knees. Once over, you start to approach an easier section where the River Tavy is joined by the Rattlebrook.

Near Rattlebrook Foot
Tavy near Rattlebrook Foot
Boundary Mark #28: Rakernesbrokyfote - Rattlebrook Foot (SX 56017 83751) is where a perambulator would begin to go north following the stream to its conclusion, and the next boundary mark at its head. For us, though, it was time to leave the knight's route and bag a few more tors.

Rattlebrook Foot
Boundary Mark #28: Rakernesbrokyfote - Rattlebrook Foot (SX 56017 83751)
We eventually found the best place to cross the Rattlebrook and took a saturated "path" along the bank to where an obvious path began to ascend the valley. The path was good and the gradient was gradual as it took us around the hill instead of straight for Hare Tor, which had been my original intention. But, with the weather now beautiful, it was worth the diversion to revisit both Tavy Cleave Tors and Sharp Tor (Tavy Cleave).


Jim and Rattlebrook
Jim and the Rattlebrook below
Had it really been just five days previous that Phil, Colin, Sarah, Matthew and I had stood here in the mist trying to imagine the scene before us? My decision to change route had been vindicated by the far reaching extensive views that greeted Jim and I.

Tavy Cleave Tors and Sharp Tor
Tave Cleave and Sharp Tor (Tavy Cleave)
Sharp Tor (Tavy Cleave)
Sharp Tor (Tavy Cleave)
With the added bonus of a couple of extra tors bagged, we started for Hare Tor in good spirits. I saw a tweet from Phil saying he was in the Fox and Hounds enjoying a pint and waiting for us to join him. Knowing we still had at least another hour and a half still to go, I phoned him and suggested he pops up the hill to meet us at Arms Tor. He didn't sound too enthusiastic, so it wouldn't have surprised me if he didn't show up.

Hare Tor
Hare Tor
Hare Tor
Hare Tor
Up and over Hare Tor, the route to Sharp Tor (Lydford) is easy. From there, we dropped down below Rattlebrook Hill, crossing Doe Tor Brook amongst the workings of Fox Hole Mine. 

View north from Hare Tor
View north from Sharp Tor (Lydford)
Now it was the final pull up of the day. Up and over the clear track that passes east to west through the saddle between Bray Tor and Arms Tor, making for the latter. We found a lovely grassy spot on a lower outcrop with a natural wall, that would make for a great bivvy, and we waited to see if Phil would join us.

Jim on Arms Tor, last one before called it a day
Jim on Arms Tor
Just as I was about to send a text, he was spotted, making his way up to reach us, for a change. When he arrived, we sat for a while, admiring the scene.

Phil joining us on Arms Tor
Phil joining us on Arms Tor
View from Arms Tor
View from Arms Tor
This would be Jim's last tor of the challenge. We wandered down the hill, basking in the late afternoon sun, to the ford at Nodden Gate. We left the open moor for the Fox and Hounds pub. A leisurely pint of Dartmoor IPA downed, Phil then took Jim and I to Belstone to pick up my car. Phil said goodbye; he, like Jim, would be leaving Dartmoor for home, tomorrow. I was very grateful to both for the company and the support received! Thanks lads!

I would return, drop the car off and Jim would then take me back to the Fox and Hounds, so I could complete the perambulation alone. Twenty-one kilometres today, slightly more left for tomorrow over the "Roof of Devon", and the weather was promising to behave for long enough. I was looking forward to it! 

To be continued...

Today's Route: