Saturday, 24 October 2015

Dartmoor: The Tors around Gidleigh

Shilstone Tor
Shilstone Tor
Parking below Shilstone Tor, on the north-east edge of the north moor, saved us a good half hour walk out of the last public car park, at Sticklepath. I was fully aware we would need the extra time because the tors and rocks we had our eye on were likely going to take a while tracking down and trying to attain. Such are the joys of exploring the rural areas of Dartmoor National Park, as opposed to the obvious towers high on the open moor.

After a quick nip up to Shilstone Tor, we set off, on tarmac, which we would be spending a lot of time on today. I figured we may as well take a road that would let us check out a remote pub at Wonson. The Northmore Arms looks an inviting hostelry despite the artillery gun guarding the entrance to the car park.

Artillery gun at the Northmore Arms
Artillery gun at the Northmore Arms
It was early, the pub was closed so we couldn't make enquiries as to why it was there, but we would be back, I was sure of it.

Northmore Arms
The Northmore Arms
Early on, we encountered the Mariners Way; a route we would come across a couple of times throughout the day and spend some time treading. I had heard of this way, having read Eric Hemery's book "Walking Dartmoor's Ancient Tracks" but had not considered following it until now. It is long regarded as a traditional route, walked for centuries, by Sailors, between the ports of Dartmouth and Bideford. It isn't an official path, but a collection of byways across the county. In parts, it's true route is open to speculation, but it is estimated to be seventy miles. The section across Dartmoor is twenty miles, and goes from Holne Bridge to South Zeal. More can be read at the excellent Legendary Dartmoor Website

We left the road near the chapel at Providence Place, dropping down through Coome Farm, and then up a leafy ancient droving lane to the village of Gidleigh.

Ancient droving lanes
Ancient droving lanes
Passing through the village, we beared right, taking the road to the forestry commission plantation that dominates North Park. We approached the forestry track with some apprehension. It was unclear whether we would be welcome, as Ken Ringwood states, in his book, that Gidleigh Tor is on private land. There were signs everywhere warning of extensive clearing due to disease, and the forest was looking decimated in places.

Up ahead, we could see a couple working; no harm in asking if it was ok to be here, we thought, but as we approached we were warmly greeted without question, and we continued into the enclosure where the tor is located. I've since found out that, back in 2013, access was restored to the tor and Gidleigh can be visited without the need to trespass.

Gidleigh Tor
Gidleigh Tor
We took our lunch atop the granite, potted with numerous rock basins, enjoying the views over the forest and further to the open moor. Phil also took an interest in a small ruin near the tor. Further investigation later revealed mention of it by good old William Crossing; "Crowned with the ruins of a house, which a Mr. Prinsep commenced to build upon it and never completed, and in consequence known as Prinsep's Folly. The tor is also generally referred to by this name."

Now, with only a rough idea of our intended route, we consulted the map and came up with a more concrete plan. Back through the forest to the road, we returned to Gidleigh and took the road east in the direction of Murchington. Hopes were raised when Phil spotted a footpath through Gidleigh Park that could potentially save us at least half an hour, only to be disappointed when we saw it was only accessible to patrons of the Gidleigh Park Hotel. Neither of us were prepared to fork out over a hundred pounds for lunch, so we kept to the road.

We dropped down to Highbury Bridge, where we noticed an unnamed tor hidden in the trees by the roadside, and it proved difficult to photograph. If it were to be named, I figure Highbury Tor would suit. 

Over the bridge, we began to ascend again, Eventually, just before Murchington, we found a public footpath that took us down to Leigh Bridge, via a narrow moss covered sunken lane. 

Ancient lane down to Leigh
Ancient lane down to the North Teign at Leigh
Narrow Lane
Narrow lane
With Phil navigating, I had neglected to study the map and was surprised to encounter stepping stones across the North Teign, when I had been expecting Leigh Bridge! Turns out the bridge actually crosses its southern namesake a bit further on.

My walking poles were regrettably left in the boot of the car, so when Phil declared, from the other side of the river, that a couple of the stones were a tad slippery, I had second thoughts that I could trust my short gait. I considered the river and went for it; removed the boots and socks, hoisted my trousers as far they could go, and tentatively stepped into the water using the stones as a hand rail. Not as cold as I was expecting, but the depth surprised me, over my knees at one point, but I was soon over in one piece.

Stepping Stones across the North Teign
Stepping stones across the North Teign, near Leigh
Back on road, we crossed Leigh Bridge where the North and South tributaries meet to become simply "The Teign". It is a stunning location. We noticed the river was the boundary of a huge lawned garden and realised, although fully aware it was on private land, that we would have difficulty in attaining our next objective; The Puggiestone.

Where the North and South Teign meet
Leigh Bridge: where the North and South Teign meet
Making our way up the road beside a shoulder high wall and impenetrable higher hedge, we caught a teasing glimpse of the tor, which appeared to have been made a feature of the impressive house. Near the entrance, we saw a "For Sale" sign and Phil did a quick Google to find this residence was fetching a cool £2.75 million! Tempting as it was to ring on the intercom at the gate to ask for a viewing, I reckon we would soon be rumbled! Maybe we should ring ahead! 

Closest we can get to Puggiestone (Private Land)
Closest we can get to the Puggiestone
Unfortunately, the next day the property had gone from the Estate Agents website before we could set up a Kickstarter page to raise the money, but I did find a link with some photos HERE.

Although we could not get to the Puggiestone, we were close enough to get a notification that we had visited it, so that would have to suffice.

My attention turned to a tractor labouring high in a field about a kilometre away. The field lay next to private woodland that housed a hidden Coombe Tor. I considered the walk up to ask the landowner if we could enter, but it would have involved trespassing through at least three fields to get to him. A lot of effort for no guarantee of a warm welcome, Coombe Tor would have to wait.

Instead, we returned to Leigh Bridge, with a poor photo of the Puggiestone, through the autumn foliage.

Closest we can get to Puggiestone (Private Land)
Puggiestone looking over the fence
We did spot an unnamed tor by Leigh Bridge, though, and had I the powers to do so, I would call it Leigh Tor.

Unnamed tor near Leigh Bridge
Unnamed tor near Leigh Bridge
From Leigh Bridge, we went west, along a metalled lane to Teigncombe. It had some lovely autumnal views that I'm sure are a week or two away from putting on quite a show if the winds don't arrive first!

Autumn Colours
Autumn Colours
At Teigncombe, we joined the Mariners Way again, and began the climb up to the open moor.

Out of change
Out of change
On the Mariners Way
Back on the Mariners Way
Upwards to the moor
Upwards to the moor
Moor gate
Moor gate
Kestor Rock loomed large above on the open moor, but we weren't going that high, heading for the more understated Little Kes Tor, where we stopped for a break and some excellent "house warming" cake provided by Sarah Pascall.

Little Kes Tor
Little Kes Tor
View north from Little Kes Tor
View from Little Kes Tor
We nipped down the hill to see an old enclosure called "Round Pound", by a well hidden road to Batworthy Farm. We then rounded the boundary of the said farm, down to the Teign-e-ver Clapper Bridge.

Teign-e-ver Clapper Bridge
Teign-e-ver Clapper Bridge
Across the bridge, we followed the river in search of the Tolmen Stone. We made a slight error and found ourselves at a point where the Wallabrook joins the North Teign, and had to retrace to cross a second bridge. On the plus side, the error found a wild swimming spot for Phil to return to!

Tolmen Stone
Tolmen Stone
Despite our hiccup, the Tolmen Stone is hardly difficult to find. This granite boulder has been ground and worn by the swirling river and smaller rocks, to have a hole form through it. Large enough for someone to pass through, as Phil was all too happy to prove.

Phil in the Tolmen Stone
Phil goes for treatment
Folklore has it that passing through the hole was a cure for Rheumatism, amongst other ailments, but Phil confirmed it had no effect on his Multiple Sclerosis.

Highland Cattle
Highland Cattle
We deviated from our next tor, to visit Scorhill Stone Circle, although I was more smitten by the cutest highland cattle. With the breed appearing more across Dartmoor, they are fast becoming more popular to photograph than the ponies!

A sit down on Scorhill Tor
A sit down on Scorhill Tor
We took another seat on Scorhill Tor, waiting for notification we had bagged it. Fine views to be had here across the North Teign to Kestor Rock in the south, Watern Tor, Wild Tor, Steeperton Tor in the west, beyond Gidleigh Common. 

What was left was a traverse of Buttern Hill to our north. Enroute, our eyes were on a group of DofE youngsters stood near the mire to Rival Tor. They were spending an age deliberating their location and next bearing. Not one to interfere, we simply monitored to ensure they weren't lost or in trouble. As we reached the brow of the hill we passed what looked to be a group leader, likely looking after them, and we put them out of our minds.

Buttern Hill
Buttern Hill

Over Buttern Hill, we dropped down to Ensworthy Farm and the road back to the car. With a pint in mind, we drove the very narrow lanes to the Northmore Arms, only to find the pub was shut. No matter, Sticklepath had plenty of options on the way home!

This walk was a real delight; Dartmoor is not just about expansive open moorland, and this route had shown us some beautiful ancient droving lanes, leafy woodland and tempting rivers. In our tor bagging efforts, I was wondering if the objectives off the open moor were going to be a chore with little reward, but I am won over by the more rural areas of the national park. Sure, some of the tors and rocks will not be within our reach because of private land, but I was certainly enjoying travelling through the region. There is always the hope to find them accessible, through a change of heart, like Gidleigh Tor. There is also the hope to come across a friendly landowner to grant permission but more often than not we leave with a semblance of a scheme to either try and gain access in the future, or admit defeat.

Today's Route: