Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Dartmoor: Forest Boundary for DEC Nepal Earthquake Appeal - Day 1

Ladybrook Tor. first of the day!
Ladybrook (aka Ottery) - first tor of the trek!
With preparations complete, there was little more to do than head for the start of our trek. On Wednesday morning, 27th May 2015, Jim (@jimwonder) and I met up with Jenny How of Visit Dartmoor at Belstone. Jenny was here to wish us well, take a couple of photos of us setting off, and keep promoting our cause on social media to raise valuable funds.

So what exactly was our cause and what exactly were we attempting to do? Well, I'm glad you asked! We were about to walk 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

For those not in the know about the "Perambulation of Dartmoor", it is a route that twelve knights took to define the boundary of Dartmoor Forest back in 1240. This boundary has 32 distinct points that you must visit if you are to emulate them. Some are obvious, some, are not so obvious. 

Normally, it is about 45 miles, and takes 3 days across some of the most remote parts of the moors, but, in true tor bagging style, this attempt would involve some deviations along the 45 mile route. Our aim was to bag over 61 peaks (Tors, Rocks, or Hills) in just over 61 miles. We anticipated that this twist on the perambulation would likely take five days; anything less would be a bonus!

We said our goodbyes to Jenny, and began at about a quarter past nine. First thing we noticed as we dropped down to the River Taw then up onto the side of Cosdon, was how warm it was today. When it gets above about 22 degrees centigrade, I find hiking more of a challenge.

I would argue that this first hill is the biggest obstacle of the perambulation and reaching the top by the well worn route is an achievement in itself, but, of course, we were headed to Ladybrook Tor on its lower flank first. We joined a narrow path for much of the way to the tor, crossing a small watercourse that gave the tor its name, but there soon came a time to hit the clitter and hop up across the granite to reach the outcrop. First tor of the day!

Jim Robinson  on Ladybrook Tor
Jim on Ladybrook Tor
Satisfied we had bagged it, we steeled ourselves for a slog of one and a half kilometres, with 150 metres of ascent over rough terrain, to reach Cosdon Beacon. As we laboured, we were passed by a horse rider, and I thought back to those knights, envying them making the journey on horseback.

It's always a joy when that stony cairn pops up on the brow and you spot the worn path. We made a beeline to said path, making the last fifty metres to the beacon much easier.

Cosdon with Jim Robinson
Boundary Mark #1: Cossdonne - Cosdon (SX 63600 91523)
The beacon is listed in the ancient documents as the first mark, where the knights began plotting the forest boundary. I adore this hill. It tests me every time I climb it, but I could spend the day just pottering around its lower and mid levels, delighting in the triple stone row and cists to the east, seeking out its faded boundary works and settlements to the west. It is the first recognisable Dartmoor landmark you see on the A30 and it is a reassurance, to me, that I am "home".

We mainly kept to the obvious southerly path along the ridge, with a brief diversion to bag Little Hound Tor along the way. Having done the hardest work on the long ascent of Cosdon and enjoying the relatively flat ground, I had a misplaced sense the rest of the day would be a formality as we reached boundary mark #2: Hound Tor.

Little Hound Tor
Little Hound Tor
Hound Tor
Boundary Mark #2: Hundetorre - Hound Tor (SX 62883 89033)
Of course, it was almost immediate when my over confidence disappeared. It was way too warm for my liking, and the mere 60 metre climb up to Wild Tor required some digging deep from me. Jim had forged ahead and it took me some time to join him for a short break at the tor.

Wild Tor
Wild Tor
From Wild Tor, the route to Watern looks more arduous than it actually is. That always tends to be the way when looking from one ridge to the next. We crossed the Wallabrook easily and were up at boundary mark #3; Thurlstone. This is the name given to the gap between these outcrops. Watern Tor really is one of the more interesting formations, with its layered effect.

Thirlstone
Boundary Mark #3: Thurlestone - Watern Tor (SX 62908 86823)
Watern Tor
Watern Tor
It had been my plan to take lunch here, but there were quite a few cattle so we moved on. Partly distracted by the desire to steer clear of the livestock, we overshot the ladder stile that allows you to scale the wall and gain entry to Hew Down, above the North Teign. It was good fortune we found a low part of the wall to save walking back.

We went to look for Manga Rock but it soon became clear that our target was further south than anticipated, too far out of our way, and so we dropped our first target of the trek. It wouldn't matter, as there were some I had in reserve should we fall short.

We followed Hew Lake down to the North Teign, its foot being the boundary mark #4. The use of stepping stones and hand rails help make short work of crossing the North Teign. We also took the opportunity, here, to have a break and a paddle to revive our feet. I thoroughly recommend this practice, as it works wonders!

Crossing the North Teign
Boundary Mark #4: Wotesbrokelakesfote - Hew Lake Foot (SX 63955 86053)
With our feet re-invigorated, we were gifted a cooling breeze that grew steadily for the rest of the afternoon. My strength returned and my pace quickened with the lower temperatures. A bit more undulation, down over Stonetor Lake and up to bag Stonetor Hill, although I can't swear to seeing a tor, just a wall and plenty of rocks. Michael Hedges, in my favoured guide book "The Forest Bounds of Dartmoor" cites it as a good example of a decaying tor which probably explains how it is difficult to pinpoint the tor itself.

Wall up to Stonetor Hill
Wall over Stonetor Lake and up to Stonetor Hill
We used a couple of parish boundary stones to locate a wide grassy path that led over onto the fascinating Shovel Down. There is a lot of archaeology to be seen here, with stone rows, an ancient field system, and most impressive of all, boundary mark #5; Shoveldown Longstone.

Longstone
Boundary Mark #5: Heigheston - Shoveldown Longstone (SX 66025 85678)
As can be seen in the above photo, it was a straightforward route to Kestor Rock. This was our first big deviation from the accepted route of the twelve knights, but Michael Hedges speculates that a tor of such prominence could have been the boundary mark, and not the Longstone.  It certainly is worth consideration. Just as well we visited both! In all, the diversion gave us three tors, all of which I had never visited before.

Kestor Rock
Kestor Rock
Once at the towering Kestor Rock, had we ventured a few hundred more metres further north, we would have made it four with Little Kes Tor making up for missing Manga Rock. But, bizarrely, I found myself adopting Phil Sorrell's practice of leaving one behind to ensure another visit to the area. Besides, it was now gone two in the afternoon and I was mindful we still had some way to go.

Middle Tor
Middle Tor
Middle Tor was another fine outcrop worthy of a return. Evidence of its popularity was a fresh fire pit scar at its sheltered base with enough spare wood to cremate a Bronze Age dignitary. We cursed the idiots responsible, and moved on.

Unsightly fire pit below Middle Tor
Fire pit below Middle Tor. There was a stack of firewood (not shown) piled up against the tor.
The third of our excursion from the forest boundary was Frenchbeer Rock. It commanded wonderful views of Thornworthy Tor, our next target, and gave us the vantage point to work out our route to it.

Frenchbeer Rock
Frenchbeer Rock
Thornworthy Tor next
Thornworthy Tor in the distance
We dropped down to a stream and found a gate that saved us from following the wall west to the nearest ladder stile, over a half a kilometre away. I made it to the top of Thornworthy Tor first, and sat atop to survey Fernworthy Reservoir and much of the remaining route for today.

Fernworthy Reservoir from Thornworthy Tor
Fernworthy Reservoir from Thornworthy Tor
Back in 1240, the knights would not have had to suffer the inconvenience of circumnavigating the reservoir. They likely had a steep descent to tackle before and after they crossed the South Teign, but so did we, albeit on a rough path of mud and gravel.

As we made our way below the imposing reservoir wall, we passed an area of rhododendron bushes which served as a reminder of our cause for Nepal, having walked in the Annapurna range when they were in bloom. This non-native invasion is unwelcome on Dartmoor, though, and it appears the authorities are waging a lengthy battle to eradicate them, I hope that is the correct assumption, anyway.

Out of the car park, we followed the edge of Fernworthy Forest to Boundary Mark #6; Heath Stone.

Heath Stone near Fernworthy Forest
Boundary Mark #6: Langestone - The Heath Stone (SX 67120 83721)
Referring, once again, to Michael Hedges book, he questions the validity of this boundary mark. It is quite unremarkable for such an important purpose. Whilst he admits that in 1240 it may have had some great significance for inclusion, it begs the question was "Heigheston" really Kestor Rock and "Langestone" really the Shoveldown Longstone? It's close proximity to the next marker also gives credibility to the theory.

Boundary mark #7 is the first of those that are vague; more an area rather than a specific object. The "Turbary of Alberysheved" is Metheral Marsh (SX 67365 83246). We simply crossed it with no fanfare or stop to mark the occasion. On my last perambulation I recall the journey across here being a toil across unkempt marshland, but today, I could see wide, almost manicured, tracks, likely the result of farmers using quad bikes. I wasn't complaining, it was making the task of crossing these remote areas a lot simpler.

Time was ticking on and I made a last moment decision to drop Amicombe Hill from the route. Not long after I got a text from Phil, asking why. It amused us when we realised he had been tracking us and decided to meet us there instead of the pub. Imagine his dismay when he saw us bypassing it.

We met up with Phil at Water Hill. This has long been recognised as the real position for Furnum Regis - King's Oven; Boundary Mark #8, as opposed to where the Ordnance Survey map puts it, nearer the road. That location is a non-prominent prehistoric closure and no way could it be the marker.

Water Hill
Boundary Mark #8: Furnum Regis - King's Oven aka Water Hill (SX 67473 81296)
We made our way down to the Warren House Inn, where, instead of stopping for a pint, it was decided we would continue to our accommodation at Runnage Farm, and come back for dinner later. We left Phil to drive to the farm, while we visited Boundary Mark #9: Wallebrokeshede - Wallabrook Head (SX 67555 81051) by the road.

Having followed the true path of the boundary back in 2009, I was in no mood to experience it again. It was a lengthy descent to the farm without path, and culminated in an awkward crossing of the Wallabrook to reach the farm gate.  We, instead, set off along a narrow succession of ridge paths above the extensive tin workings. These deep rifts in the landscape are, in themselves, a good place to explore as they have long been reclaimed by nature.

We eventually made it to the Soussons Down Plantation. My feet were tiring on this last section, not helped by the stone track we were slowly descending to the metalled road at Runnage.

Soussons Down
Soussons Down
It was five-thirty when we offloaded our rucksacks at the excellent Runnage Farm Camping Barn. We showered and then Phil drove us back to the pub for dinner. I was so tired, I struggled to stay awake in the warmth of the inn, but on returning to the farm, I woke up and we all sat around chatting into the night, enjoying Phil's whisky. 

Runnage Farm, home for the night!
Runnage Farm
Buoyed by our first days progress, and reluctant to carry more gear than necessary, at some point that evening Jim and I made the decision to forego the wild camping on the next leg, and make for Princetown; a testing leg of over 38 kilometres loomed tomorrow, but the prospect of doing the entire journey in three days was a goal worth aspiring to. It was a risk, would it be our undoing?

To be continued...

Today's Route: