Sunday, 25 October 2015

Dartmoor: A search for rocks in Fernworthy Forest

Fernworthy Reservoir
Fernworthy Reservoir

I had been reliably informed by Phil Sorrell (@DaylightGambler) that if I wanted to bag Lowton and Hemstone Rocks, within Fernworthy Forest, I shouldn't leave it too long as they were being incarcerated by the growth of the trees. With that prevalent in my mind, I hot footed it over there before it was too late.

I parked up next to the Warren House Inn, a beautiful sunny autumn day was reward for my decision to leave the walk until Sunday.

Water Hill
Water Hill
My route was up to Water Hill, and then on to the edge of Fernworthy Forest at Assycombe Hill.

Assycombe Hill
Assycombe Hill
Walking the forest boundary, peering into its claustrophobic and foreboding darkness, I wanted to leave stepping out of the sunshine to the very last minute.

Descending Assycombe Hill
Descending Assycombe
I finally entered the forest at a small gate two hundred metres from the bottom of Assycombe Hill. The latch was pretty tight and so I had to climb over; in hindsight, a sign that today wasn't going to be simple, but with the track expected to lead me close to Lowton Rocks, I was optimistic.

Entering Fernworthy Forest
Entering Fernworthy Forest
On track in Fernworthy Forest
On track in Fernworthy Forest
I found another track turning right, and the map suggested I would get even nearer than I had hoped. Inevitably, I had to step into the darkness and go looking for the prize. The way I tried to follow was a concoction of sodden mud, grass, moss and fallen branches, and that was before I encountered the saplings.

Ken Ringwood had mentioned in his book that Lowton Rocks was; "a very low and small granite tor, with only a few flattish blocks and very little clitter". He also mentioned it was visible thanks to clearing, but I'm not sure when he visited because, as Phil had said, new growth was definitely accelerating. I reached where the old growth met new, and tried to forge a number of routes into the young plantation, but to no avail. I kept checking my gps, which kept telling me I was metres away, but for the life of me I couldn't find any granite. The Social Hiking pushover notification sounded, telling me I had bagged it quite early, but I wouldn't be satisfied until I was standing on the damned thing!

I managed to push my way through one way, only to meet an established forestry track. I'd overshot it so I returned up the track to try again. Forty-five minutes later, I had to admit defeat. I found the original track I had entered the forest on, and followed it towards the reservoir.

Old track in Fernworthy Forest
Old track
On my way down, I saw another rough track that I thought may get me through, so I gave it one more go. This track gradually got worse underfoot, and I was soon having to veer off it. Suffice to say, I failed again.

This time, with an hour wasted, I went down to the road beside the reservoir, and followed it to its conclusion. With time ticking on, I decided to shorten the distance and forget any intention of bagging Manga Rock.

The road was a more relaxed affair, with plenty of autumnal vistas to take my mind of the disappointment of Lowton Rocks. 

Fernworthy Reservoir
Fernworthy Reservoir
Autumn in Fernworthy Forest
Autumn in Fernworthy
I crossed Sandeman Bridge, which spans the South Teign, and was soon at the Bridleway back into the forest.

Sandeman Bridge
Sandeman Bridge
It's a popular route for walkers and it passes the well preserved Fernworthy Stone Circle.

Fernworthy Circle
Fernworthy Circle
Now my mind turned to Hemstone Rocks, which I was expecting to be every bit as tough as Lowton. I followed the map carefully, mindful that not all marked tracks in a forestry plantation are actually still there. Paths disappear and so it came, that one I followed changed direction and I found myself about to cross the South Teign. On the other side, I could see a huge track, but not one I was after and I steeled myself to a trudge back to the last crossroad. I was growing tired of these dead ends and blind alleys. I wanted nothing more than to find Hemstone Rocks and get the hell out of this maze of a forest.

The next track was more straightforward. I soon found myself walking beside a steep hill darkened ominously by tall pines, the floor a treacherous obstacle course. This was Tom Hill, and no prizes for guessing where I was going to have to head to find the rocks!

The climb up Tom Hill
The climb up Tom Hill
The map suggests the hill is in a clearing; it isn't. Great care should be taken ascending into these woods and each step should be taken warily. The darkness is quite intimidating, especially when alone, but without the low light, Hemstone Rocks would not be worth a mention. The prize is an area of moss covered granite boulders.

Hemstone Rocks
Hemstone Rocks
I weighed up my options; I could descend to a track I knew existed or continue up to the boundary wall, without assurance I could get over it. Ascent promised sunlight, though, and I was craving that, at least, so I took the gamble and at the top of the hill I hit upon a good track which led to a gate to the moor.

Escape Route from Fernworthy Forest
Escape route
How great it felt to be out in the open. The oppressive nature of forestry plantations is best experienced in small doses!

Descending to the South Teign
Descending to the South Teign
I followed the boundary wall back to Assycombe Hill; a couple of ups and downs, first being the crossing of the South Teign, near its source. I stopped for, surprisingly, the first break of the day and enjoyed the scene. I recalled the same river just last weekend, further downstream, where it meets the North Teign, and wondered if the length could be walked.

South Teign River
South Teign
Up over White Ridge, it was a descent to cross the boggy Assycombe Brook before climbing back up to its namesake hill.

Ladder stile near Assycombe Brook
Ladder stile near Assycombe Brook
From Assycombe, it was just a matter of retracing my steps, with a slight deviation to avoid some cattle, back to Water Hill, and then the car. 

A walk of mixed success from a tor bagging point of view, but a good experience even if Lowton Rocks still irked me. As I descended from Water Hill, I got a text from Phil, explaining he and Colin had found Lowton Rocks by using Google Satellite imagery and gps to guide their battle through the trees. The tor is clearly visible; I'll give that a go next time and I'll take some company too, as this is not the sort of place you want to get into strife in! Who's up for it? :)

Approaching the car and the Warren House Inn
Approaching the car and Warren House Inn
The Route: