Friday, 5 June 2015

Dartmoor: The Tors and Rocks near Sittaford Tor Stone Circle

Hartland Tor
Hartland Tor
I had a feeling this was going to be a good week. A bunch of us were all converging on Dartmoor this weekend, with the aim of meeting up for a couple of walks and a wild camp. The week would conclude with myself and Jim (@jimwonder) having a crack at the Perambulation of the Forest Boundary. But before all that, we each spent the Saturday forging our own routes in different parts of the national park.

Phil (@daylightgambler) was showing his friend Sarah (@PascallSarah) around his beloved Pew Tor. Matthew (@hillplodder) was off for a wild camp over the "Roof of Devon". Colin (@colinastbury), a newcomer to the fold we were yet to meet, was getting bogged down on the ridge near Steng-a-tor. And me? I was intrigued by the recent announcement of a new stone circle being unearthed on Dartmoor high up on the north moor, west of Sittaford Tor, and so this was my destination.

The gate to the open moor from Postbridge
The gate to the open moor from Postbridge
I was rusty. The crawl out from the National Park car park at Postbridge was laboured and I was thankful my first foray was planned to be a loosening of limbs. By the time I had pulled myself up to the stile atop Broad Down, the good conditions underfoot and favourable weather had me contemplating something more ambitious!

Broad Down
Broad Down
I dropped down to the East Dart Waterfall, a mere trickle after a dry spell. It was a brief visit, veering wide of the meandering river to avoid the worst of the mire, before rejoining the west bank through Sandy Hole Pass.

East Dart Waterfall
East Dart Waterfall
Sandy Hole Rocks (South)
Sandy Hole Rocks (South)
Passing close to Sandy Hole Rocks (South), a short hop away on the opposite bank, I continued to its northern namesake for a break.

Sandy Hole Rocks (North)
Sandy Hole Rocks (North)
Sandy Hole Pass
Sandy Hole Pass
This was a lovely remote spot to linger. I had not seen the area this dry for a long while and looking to Cut Hill in the north-west, it was a tempting prospect to make for Fur Tor while the going was good. But I resisted, and settled for my intended target. I dropped down for a first visit to Broada Stones a short distance away.

Broada Stones
Broada Stones
If I was to visit the stone circle, I was going to have to cross the East Dart, and join the east bank. This was an unremarkable task today, and I was soon hand railing the river to my next objective; Kit Rocks.

The East Dart
The East Dart


Kit Rocks
Kit Rocks
Next, I would have to negotiate Winney's Down; a largely featureless hill where its main attractions are not spotted until the last fifty metres or so. I set a course for Statt's House and began the kilometre climb up across some usually quite daunting bog underfoot. I occasionally had to circumnavigate some of the sphagnum pools, but less than I had encountered on previous occasions.

I spotted the ruined hut, known as Statt's House. On my way to it, I happened upon a stone marking the beginning of the peat pass, dug by a local called Frank Phillpotts. It's a nice tribute from his family, and like other peat passes on the moor, you are grateful for their assistance when the land is weighed down with water!

Peat Pass on Winney's Down
Winneys Down Peat Pass
As I said, there is little to see on Winney's Down apart from the peat pass, some flat granite near its top, and the ruined house, whose low crumbling walls offer respite from a chill wind on a harsh day.

Winney's Down
Winney's Down
The name "Statt's House" derives from the name of a peat cutter called "Stat's" and was also the original name of the hill it stands on; Stat's Hill (now known as Winney's Down). More on this house can be found on Legendary Dartmoor's website HERE.
Statts House fireplace
Statt's House fireplace
Now it was time to stride in a north-easterly direction, with a sharp eye out for signs of the stone circle. I kept to the well trodden path that joins Statt's House with Sittaford Tor, wishing I had made a note of the grid reference before I set out this morning. I dropped down to the small stream that feeds the North Teign, and then began to ascend again, impatiently scouring the landscape, beginning to believe I had missed it. But I hadn't. As I got some four hundred metres from the tor, I spotted a short standing stone leaning off path to my right. Worth a look, I thought, and on approach I came up to the new stone circle.

Sittaford Stone Circle
Sittaford Tor Stone Circle
First discovered in 2007, by Alan Endacott, it wasn't until January 2014 that the Devon Archaeological Society announced it to the world. Situated at a height of 525 metres above sea level, this is the highest stone circle in Southern England. It is also the second largest on Dartmoor. It consists of 30 recumbent stones, including one more lying in a gap just outside the circle and incorporated into an unfinished enclosure wall. It is the first to be discovered on the moors in over a hundred years.

Sittaford Stone Circle
Sittaford Stone Circle
It is impressive to visit a site said to be as old as Stonehenge, but I do hope that further work can be done to restore it, and perhaps the stones will be reinstated, making it even more of a spectacle that will rival its neighbour a kilometre away; The Grey Wethers Stone Circle.

Stone near Sittaford Stone Circle
Standing Stone near the circle, now part of a nearby wall
Pleased with the find, I now joined the wall with the standing stone, and followed it to Sittaford Tor. I've always thought it to be an untidy tor, camouflaged amongst an intersection of stone walls, wooden fences and ladder stiles. I stopped here for lunch and weighed up my options for the journey back to Postbridge.

Ladder stiles at Sittaford Tor
Sittaford Tor
Well, it would be rude of me not to visit Grey Wethers, and a little foolhardy given it was on the path of least resistance. Until the discovery of the Sittaford Tor Circle, this was believed to be the last in a crescent of stone circles that also consisted of White Moor, Buttern Hill, Scorhill, Shoveldown, and Fernworthy. I had a fanciful notion that, maybe one day, the crescent might become a circle itself with yet more discoveries! 

Grey Wethers Double Stone Circle
Grey Wethers Double Stone Circle
Walking south, I had little intention to take a diversion to Stannon Tor, but there appeared, before me, some lively bullocks and the side step and climb seemed a better option.

Stannon Tor
Stannon Tor
The diversion also enable me to visit an enclosure known as The Sheepfold. Reading Dartmoor 365, by John Hayward, there are questions as to its purpose. Be it a factory where it was planned that starch would be produced from potatoes, or a sheepfold, it is a fine enclosure, and the dry stone walls are beautiful.

Sheepfold wall
Dry Stone Wall of The Sheepfold

Sheepfold
The Sheepfold
Cows well and truly avoided, I was back up onto the ridge and on course for Hartland Tor. The coconut aroma of flowering gorse heavy in the air, I found myself smiling like a kid in a sweet shop. It felt great to be back on Dartmoor!

View from Hartland Tor
View from Hartland Tor
Hartland Tor
Hartland Tor View
Hartland Tor
Hartland Tor
I dropped down to the bridle way by the edge of the East Dart, and followed it back into Postbridge and its Clapper Bridge.

East Dart river bank
East Dart bank near Postbridge

The clapper at Postbridge
The Clapper Bridge
Pleased with this session, I looked forward to the coming perambulation with much more optimism. A couple more outings to come beforehand and I'd be ready to tackle the forest boundary with the attitude that I may even complete it!

More on that soon...

The route: