Saturday, 6 June 2015

Dartmoor: in search of Buck Tor

A gap in Buck Tor
Goat Rock
The clag from Sundays walk into Tavy Cleave had gone and I was up early for the drive to rejoin my friends for breakfast at the Fox Tor Cafe, in Princetown. As I drove across the moor, I spotted the three of them hopping atop Rundlestone Tor, before making their way over North Hessary and back into town.

It wasn't long before we all met up for breakfast. After, Matthew and Colin headed home leaving Phil and I to go for a "short" stroll in search of Buck Tor.

We eventually got on the road about half past eleven and were walking by just gone midday. Dropping off the moor to Yelverton, we parked up at a car park near Harrowbeer.

The walk across Roborough Down was all very civilised, more akin to a park, with families picnicking and enjoying the Bank Holiday Monday.

We started seeing odd short structures jutting out of the ground; bunkers of some sort, and sure enough, we found that this was the site of a second world war air force station; RAF Harrowbeer.

When the Germans had invaded France, their captured airfields meant the South-West was now in range of their bombers. RAF Harrowbeer became operational in 1941; its principle aim to protect the city of Plymouth from further attack. If you wish to learn more about this site, go to www.rafharrowbeer.co.uk.

Phil checking out the remains of RAF Station Harrowbeer
The open moor as seen from Roborough Down
The high moor as seen from Roborough Down
The walk across the down is easy, and for those less agile, there are plenty of places to park up and enjoy the vista of the high moor. Whilst it was all very amiable up here, high above the trees and the River Walkham below, we were here to find my namesake tor, and that meant joining part of the West Devon Way, and descending.

Track leading down to Buck Tor
Track leading down to Buck Tor
Now here is the thing with Buck Tor. When researching our list of Tors and Rocks of Dartmoor, I came across the name and grid reference on the Legendary Dartmoor's website. Sure enough, when I checked the Ordnance Survey map, there it was, right on the western edge of the boundary. Given Ken Ringwood had omitted it from his book, we had little hope for its significance, but my ego figured it should be included, if only until it was dismissed.

More Bluebells
Bluebells
So we continued along the lane, off the down, and into woodland looking resplendent in its young foliage. We came to the farm we figured would be named Bucktor on the Ordnance Survey, and we could not get any closer to the grid reference without trespassing. We did peer over the fence into the enclosure, but among the trees we could see no outcrop, let alone a significant one. Disappointed, we concluded that the grid reference I had found was just the farm, and there was a chance it was on the other side of the river, where there was another name on the 1 in 25,000 scale map called "Buckator". Time was short, though and with Berra Tor still to bag, we figured this might need another visit.

So we followed the lane west, expecting to turn south for a long climb out of the valley, but within a couple of minutes our eyes lit up as we happened upon a huge outcrop to the left of us! Surely, we had found Buck Tor!

Could this be Buck Tor?
Could this be Buck Tor?
We were certainly puzzled. How could Ken have missed such a significant tor? The idea of his book was to name all those marked on either the Ordnance Survey or Harvey Maps. This one was on it; incorrectly positioned, I grant you, but it at least merited some investigation to right any injustice MY tor had suffered by its exclusion!

Me below what we think is Buck Tor (photo by Phil Sorrell)
Me, surveying a viable candidate for Buck Tor
We climbed up the precarious leafy mud bank to sit for a while, high above the West Devon Way. It's grassy top and "diving board" style overhang made it all the more appealing. I was chuffed that we had found it and I was happy to claim this non-granite outcrop as the mighty "Buck Tor".

Phil on the diving board of our likely suspect
Phil on the diving board of our likely suspect
Suitably rested, and smug (well I was smug, anyway!), we safely returned to the West Devon Way and struck along the path for our next target. As the lane neared the banks of the River Walkham, our immediate thoughts of Berra Tor vanished, when we saw, across a footbridge, a much more significant outcrop nestled where the Walkham and the Tavy meet at Double Waters. Had we found another candidate for Buck Tor?

Further down the way, we came across a more likely contender!
Bridge at Double Waters
The River Walkham just before it meets the Tavy
The River Walkham
It certainly looked like it! This outcrop blew my mind! The location was magical! Double Waters is stunning. We stumbled around, exploring this giant tor! We could have spent the day here, such was the serenity and beauty of the place. With plenty of spots to placate Phil's urge to wild swim and my desire to delve into every nook and cranny of this outcrop, it would definitely be a place to visit time and time again.

Buck Tor
Another candidate! Now found out to be Goat Rock
I climbed up, and found a passageway cut between the rock, likely created in a time when both these rivers were a more formidable force. It enhanced the mythical feel of this place. This was Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Game of Thrones; all rolled into one! Phil even made a short video of our find, which you can view here.



Double Waters
Double Waters (pic courtesy of Phil Sorrell)
Double Waters
Double Waters (pic courtesy of Phil Sorrell)
From the Tavy to the Walkham through Buck Tor
From the Tavy to the Walkham through this passageway in Goat Rock
Double Waters and Buck Tor
Double Waters below
We stepped up above the main tor, and found that a path went on further, and there were more outcrops as we went! Once again, it begged the question; If this were Buck Tor, how did Ken miss this? The answer, Phil realised later that day, is simple. Once you cross the footbridge over the River Walkham, you step out of the Dartmoor National Park. It seems this particular unnamed tor is out of the bounds of his book.

Buck Tor has more delights above!
The outcrop keeps giving
And the path goes further..
The path goes further!
Our mind made up that we had found the correct outcrop, and let's face it, who was I to dispute my own selfish interests, we traced our steps back over the boundary, to find Berra Tor. On our way, we came across two more large outcrops along the Tavy, within the park, and unnamed.

Another outcrop near Virtuous Lady Mine
Another unnamed outcrop near Virtuous Lady Mine
The ascent to Berra was steady, and not too taxing. The sight and scent of Bluebells across the hill made for a distraction from the toil, but to be honest we were still talking about the plethora of unnamed tors we had just found, and this would buoy us for some time.

Bluebells below Berra Tor
Bluebells below Berra Tor
Berra Tor was another pleasant spot. With a grass lawn, and some shade provided by oak trees, it would make for a good picnic spot. Were it not for Brent Tor further north, it would have laid claim to be the furthest west in the National Park.

Berra Tor
Berra Tor
Berra Tor
Phil on Berra Tor
Time to start back. Contouring saved us any more significant descent. We were soon back on Roborough Down, and making our way to bag Roborough Rock at it's other end. On our way, though, we spotted this sign and did wonder whether it was worth investigating, although its name suggested we might be a little disappointed!

Hmm.. Not really selling it!
Hmm... Not really selling it!
Roborough Rock was swarming with the local kids, and obtaining a picture that would give this tor/climbing frame an air of remoteness, would prove impossible. It's an oddity, placed at the end of the down, in an area so flat it made for a good runway, and local gossip mongers back in the war did spread the false tale that the top would be removed for the safety of the pilots.

Roborough Rock
Roborough Rock
Roborough Rock
Roborough Rock
The car was just five minutes away. Our short stroll had turned into nearly ten miles, but it had exceeded expectations and, in truth, left us with more questions than answers. 

Later, the following week, when I got home, I did some more searching to try to find out more about Buck Tor. I came across another blog called My Dartmoor Walks, which chronicled a hike to Double Waters. In the post there is a photo of a tor hidden up in the trees by the banks of the Walkham, which the author attributes to be Buckator.

Further investigation of the Ordnance Survey map, blown up on Memory Map software definitely shows an outcrop near the name "Buckator".

In Search of Buck Tor
Memory Map shows a definite outcrop which could be Buckator
Still out of the National Park, but it means the tor photographed is located closer to the point on the map.

Later, I was contacted by Mike Kitchener, who confirmed that Buck Tor is indeed the first one Phil and I found near the farm. 

Buckator, whilst out of the boundary, is one to be visited another time.

Update June 2016: I have since found out, that the outcrop found at Double Waters is named Goat Rock. Thanks once again, to Mike Kitchener for providing this information. 

Our route for the walk can be seen here: