Monday, 28 December 2015

Dartmoor: The search for Lowton Rocks

Lowton Rocks - for real!
Lowton Rocks - for real!
Back in October 2015, I went in search of Lowton Rocks, buried within Fernworthy Forest. My attempt was a frustrating affair, compounded by the fact the coordinates I had were wrong, the granite tor is low and flat, and the Forestry Commission have re-planted there, making it now impossible to see unless you are actually standing on it. The Tor Bagging equivalent of a needle in a haystack!

So, what exactly is it I was trying to find? Soon after I posted my blog post "A search for rocks in Fernworthy Forest", I received a message from Frank Collinson, who sent me a photo from his visit back in March 2013. Frank has kindly given me permission to post the photo below. As you can see, even a couple of years ago, the saplings were beginning to rise above the tor.

Lowton Rocks back in March 2013. Photo courtesy of Frank Collinson
My failure to find Lowton Rocks, also known as Lowton Borough, Loughton Tor, and Lowton Tor, has bothered me for too long. For the past couple of months, I have been pawing over maps, Flickr photographs, Google satellite imagery, thumbing through various Dartmoor books for clues, such as "Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor", "Worth's Dartmoor", and "Rowe's A Perambulation of Dartmoor". All, except Worth, give mention of the rocks in passing, in times when the plantation and reservoir weren't in existence, and I imagine the valley and the moor was a wonderful sight to behold!

So to my little expedition; Armed with the, hopefully correct, coordinates, some good advice from Phil and Colin, who had been there earlier in the year (proof in the photo below), I returned to add this granite outcrop to my Tor Bagging portfolio.

P1050041
Phil on Lowton Rocks earlier in 2015. Photo courtesy of Colin Astbury
This had been the first day over Christmas that I had ventured out. The weather had been horrible over the holiday season and with plenty of football and cricket on the tv, I had little enthusiasm to get soaked. I think, I had just been waiting for the right conditions to set out on my quest.

This time, with only one tor to get, I parked up at Fernworthy Reservoir car park, the closest place I could, and set off up through the forest on a wide track.

Path up from Fernworthy Reservoir car park
Path up from Fernworthy Car Park
After the first switch back, I left the track to the right, following an old forestry trail. Whilst the route was obvious to see, following it proved trickier, and fallen trees and branches meant diverting occasionally. I found myself being pushed further from my intended coordinates, eventually having to stop and readjust.

First signs of saplings.
First signs of saplings
As I did, back in October, I was between old and new growth, tentatively prodding and peering into the saplings for some sign of granite. Eventually, I had reached a point where I figured a north bearing would take me to the rocks, but once again I found myself forced left, which I tried to correct as often as I could.

Then, I came across a small boulder and it gave me hope. A little further and I spotted a large granite slab to my right, and barged through into the clearing on a moss covered outcrop! This has to be Lowton Rocks!

On an outcrop mistaken for Lowton Rocks
On an outcrop mistaken for Lowton Rocks

I lingered quite a while, smug at finding my objective so quickly. I sent off a couple of victorious tweets, took plenty of photographs, and then prepared to set off back the way I came to return to the car.

Outcrop near Lowton Rocks
Outcrop near Lowton Rocks
Pretty pleased until I checked the coordinates!
Pretty pleased until I double checked the coordinates

But first, I marked the "correct" coordinates on my gps; SX 66618 83523 and then took a look at the google satellite image to see how far off my estimated waypoint was. It was then I realised, when I zoomed in, that this wasn't Lowton Rocks!

Another bearing set, the compass needle pointed towards another seemingly impenetrable barrier!

Lowton Rocks is somewhere through there!
Lowton Rocks is somewhere through there!

The route through took me away from the target again, and at every opportunity I tried to correct myself. I kept seeing more signs of granite, and attempted to follow the breadcrumbs. Eventually, I came out below the real Lowton Rocks.

Lowton Rocks
Lowton Rocks from below
Lowton Rocks
Lowton Rocks

It was a squeeze up along the edge of the tor, before I was able to step out onto the flat top. I instantly recognized it from photos I had seen taken by Colin and Phil.

Lowton Rocks Panoramic
Lowton Rocks Panoramic

Everything checked again, and all good, I noted the correct grid reference at SX 66649 83556, and thought about my exit. 

I now wanted to find a route through that could be used by tor baggers to follow. I saw the high old tree line to the south and picked my way through the saplings to reach the edge. Fortuitously, it was quite straightforward and only about fifty metres. I came out of the saplings by a fallen tree that I had passed earlier in the walk. I took the photo, below, and made a note that once at the roots, the tor lie a short distance NNW.

Find this fallen tree, you're so close!
Find this fallen tree, you are so close!

Out of the darkness, I joined a good grassy track that descended back down to the road and the car park. Mission accomplished!

And the route: