Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Dartmoor: The Tors and Rocks around Ditsworthy

An Akto between two Scarps
An Akto between two Scarps
Way way back on the Saturday of 12th September 2015, I picked Matthew (@hillplodder) and Rich (@FlintyRich) up at the bus stop in Yelverton early and we then drove to the Fox Tor Cafe, Princetown, to fuel up. Well fed, we went out to the Scout Hut near Ditsworthy Warren. I was apprehensive about leaving the car here overnight, so, as we set off, I secretly harboured hopes our circular walk might not involve a wild camp (more on that later).

The conditions were looking better than forecast. We were promised rain at some point, but for now we could make hay while the sun shined. We struck south-west, a first climb up to Gutter Tor. Despite hanging around on the fine tor, waiting for a pushover notification, we were disappointed. I suspected we'd get it at the trig point a hundred metres or so further and that was the case.

Gutter Tor
Gutter Tor
Across Ringmoor Down, fairly easy going to Legis Tor. Our approach was over short grass to this untidy jumbled pile. From its top, the way forward showed a hillside of bracken down to the river, and a more challenging section.

Legis Tor
Legis Tor
Legis Tor
Legis Tor

We instinctively followed old animal tracks, through the foliage, down to the River Plym and I went ahead in search of a suitable crossing. It took a few hundred metres, involved a couple of bogged sections that would have seen the end to a trail shoe, but once over a rickety fence, I had forded the river with little problem.

Matt and Rich had been taking five, or faffing with their packs, or some other such reason, and I managed to rejoin them from the opposite bank further up stream and guide them (not that they needed it) round the worst of the bog to where I crossed.

Crossing the River Plym
Crossing the River Plym

All over, we negotiated some old tin workings and popped up onto Shadyback Tor. This turned out to be one that was incorrectly marked on the Social Hiking website, as we got a notification when we had passed into the remnants of an ancient settlement nearer Trowlesworthy Warren House. A note was made to inform the powers that be at  Head Office.

Matt on Shadyback Tor
Matt on Shadyback Tor

The next two tors were much more satisfying affairs! Little Trowlesworthy first, evidence of a quarry visible as you approach from the north.

Little Trowlesworthy Tor
Little Trowlesworthy Tor
Little Trowlesworthy Tor
Little Trowlesworthy Tor
Little Trowlesworthy Tor
Little Trowlesworthy Tor

Further on, Great Trowlesworthy Tor stood. Named "Great" because it was higher than its "little" neighbour, but by no means grander.
Great Trowlesworthy Tor
Great Trowlesworthy Tor
Great Trowlesworthy Tor
Great Trowlesworthy Tor
At this height, and enroute to Hexton Tor, you begin to appreciate the scale of the Lee Moor China Clay Works. On first sighting this huge hole on the edge of Dartmoor is both impressive and repulsive. Dating back to its beginnings in 1830, it is a part of the moors rich industrial history that has come to shape the area. Whilst it shocks, at first, on closer inspection you can see the regeneration of certain areas, and it does make for a fascinating wander.

Hexton Tor
Lee Moor China Clay Works from Hexton Tor
Hexton Tor
Hexton Tor

We stopped for a rest at Hexton, and contemplated the long stretch south in search of Rook Tor. Once we had crossed the China Clay Works Leat, we met a good track that took us a good deal of the nigh on 4km distance. Eventually, it came to an end so we rose higher to avoid a boundary wall, only to find us rising too high, and having to drop down into the vicinity of where we expected the tor to be. There was little sign.

Following the Lee Moor China Clay Works Leat
Following the Lee Moor China Clay Works Leat

I pulled out the gps on my phone and guided us to the waypoint, only to be underwhelmed by the outcrop that was to be found.

Rook Tor
Rich at Rook Tor

We could scarcely believe it, so it needed Matt to pull out his trusty home made index cards cut from Ken Ringwood's Tors and Rocks, and have his photo taken at the exact spot as that pictured in the book.
Rook Tor
Matt confirms it's Rook Tor with his Ken Ringwood Cards

Another break, sheltering in the "shadow" of this mighty tor, before turning for home, and a climb up to Penn Beacon. Still, the weather was on our side and hopes were high we would make it to the end of the day without a soaking.

Climb up to Penn Beacon
Climb up to Penn Beacon

We likely would have if we hadn't been enjoying ourselves so much. We lingered often on our objectives, and should have really stepped up the pace.

Penn Beacon
Penn Beacon

Penn Beacon had a cairn with shelter, of sorts, positioned well for any south-westerly. We could now see Shell Top from here, further up, so rather than sit within the beacon, we went on.

Penn Beacon, looking to Shell Top
Penn Beacon, looking to Shell Top
Penn Beacon
Penn Beacon

Shell Top is a small outcrop on top of the western end of Broadall Gulf. It was much more welcoming than our next stop, the moated trig point on Lee Moor, at 493m. Skies were beginning to look a little threatening now, so thoughts were of camp.

Shell Top
Shell Top
Trig Point on Lee Moor
Trig Point on Lee Moor

But first, we went off in a rough direction for Hen Tor. Visibility didn't require any serious navigation, as this large tor soon came into sight as soon as we were over the brow of the hill and descending.

Hen Tor
Hen Tor
Hen Tor
Hen Tor

The rain closed in, and our haste was undoubtedly the reason we failed to bag Little Hen Tor. We honed in on the closest rockery to resemble a tor, convinced ourselves it would do, our attention definitely turned to making it over the Plym to find a camp before we took a drenching. If I'm honest, I was more inclined to tread the further couple of kilometres back to the car, but Matt and Rich were keen on a wild camp and so I kept my thoughts to myself.
Mistaken for Little Hen
Mistaken for Little Hen

The march down to the Plym was head long into the rain. We looked for a bridge, but only found one that crossed a leat, and not the Plym and the nearby ford was higher than we cared to tackle. We followed a muddy path back up the bank to avoid the worst of the mire, returning to the river 750 metres further on, at Meavy Pool, where the depth was more manageable.

We then picked our way to Ditsworthy Warren House, looking a shadow of its Hollywood self when it was used in the Steven Speilberg film "War Horse".

Ditsworthy Warren House
Ditsworthy Warren House

Skirting the walled garden, we went up and over Eastern Tor, before descending back down towards the Plym, over a stream that gives its name to a significant stone row; Drizzle Combe.

Eastern Tor
Eastern Tor

I went ahead in search of two spots where I had camped before, close to the edge of the river, but nature had encroached, and the area was engulfed in bracken. Resigned to not finding either site, we topped up our water, then returned to a suitable area I had seen just below Giant's Basin.

We set up camp, with enough light to cook and chat over dinner before dusk. Swatting away crane flies, I eventually turned in. My thoughts were on the security of my car a short walk away, the sounds of distant trail bikes conjuring up all sorts of negative scenarios.

Wild Camp near Giant's Basin
Wild Camp near Giant's Basin

So here is the predicament I'm currently having with wild camping; Whilst the likes of Phil Sorrell and Matthew wax lyrical about their experiences of nights out on the moor, or in the mountains, the past few experiences have left me somewhat unimpressed and I'm finding it more a chore than an adventure.

So much so that I'm much more inclined to complete a walk in one hit and opt to retire to a hot shower and a comfy bunk or bed in a warm environment, and perhaps enjoy a fine pint of cask ale, or Sav Blanc, in a local hostelry. Far more preferable to lying around in the damp air, enduring excruciating cramps whilst trying to discover that sweet spot to ease the discomfort. It's just not pushing the right buttons at the moment.

I've thought long and hard as to why I've fallen out with the pastime and I think my idyll of wild camping has changed with my journey of 52 days on the Bibbulmun Track, in Australia.

I came to embrace the methodical habit of rising at first light, or occasional pre-dawn; Wandering off to complete my morning ablutions, returning to start up the stove, pack while waiting for the water to boil and then consuming a mug of porridge, washed down with a coffee. A brush of the teeth and packing finished, a comforting routine that had me up and on the trail in less than 45 minutes from waking. This often allowed me to complete the days distance by one or two in the afternoon, leaving time to relax in the next camp, savour the surroundings, the environment, and enjoy!

Compare that with my last few wild camps in the UK, which have seen late pitching, and little time left to do more than cook and eat before darkness falls.

As the nights draw in, I doubt I'll be venturing out much. Having just bought a house in Okehampton and not being able to spend much time there, through work commitments, I'm more inclined to return each night rather than camp or even bunkhouse. But, fear not, when I am firmly ensconced in Devon life, I fully expect to head out again and I am yearning for the summer sun already to organise forays that will rekindle a more relaxed experience on a par with my adventure a couple of years ago. I'm sure I'll come to enjoy wild camping again, but I'm happy to wait for winter to bugger off before I find out.

Back to this outing; when light eventually released me from purgatory, I tried my utmost to drag out getting my gear together, as the other two seemed to be enjoying themselves and were in no hurry.

Drizzle Combe Stone Row
Drizzle Combe Stone Row 
Drizzle Combe Standing Stone
Drizzle Combe Stone Row
Drizzle Combe Stone Row
Drizzle Combe Stone Row

We walked the length of the Drizzle Combe Stone Row, across the stream, and up to the extensive enclosure ruins known as Whittenknowles Rocks. Amongst this chaos of granite, archaeologists have surmised that there are at least 38 huts and paddocks, within the walls of the settlement, and evidence of a longhouse.
Whittenknowles Rocks
Whittenknowles Rocks
Whittenknowles Rocks
Whittenknowles Rocks

We moved on down to the scout hut, through its enclosure, back to the car. The skies had darkened in the direction we had come, and we wondered how much of the morning would be left to pick up some more tors before the weekend was gone. We hopped in the car and headed off for our next destination. To be continued..

The route: