Sunday, 17 January 2016

Dartmoor: Blackator Rocks

Blackator Rocks
Blackator Rocks

I first became aware there was something amiss when Phil Sorrell mentioned that my photo of Blacka Tor (East Dart) in my post "Dartmoor: The Tors and Rocks around Bellever" didn't look like the tor he had seen on Twitter. He sent me the tweet and it bared no resemblance to where I had visited. I did some digging, or Googling, and I found further images of "Blackator Rocks"; an impressive outcrop perched on the bank of the East Dart. Far more imposing than the short rounded granite, partially hidden in undergrowth, further up the hill.


Soon after, Dartefacts Dartmoor Artefacts concurred with Phil. And yet, the tor I had visited further up the hill was at the grid ref where Ken Ringwood had said it would be in his book, and Dartefacts confirmed that his photo matched.

Blacka Tor (East Dart)
Blacka Tor (East Dart), according to Ken Ringwood, at SX 6657 7503
I considered that maybe we had two tors here; Blacka Tor (East Dart) and Blackator Rocks. 

When I got home to Devon that evening, I consulted Ken's book "Dartmoor Tors and Rocks; "Aka Blackator, Blackator Rocks. Pictured is the highest outcrop on the W hillside above the East Dart River. This is a very small granite tor in two parts with scattered clitter. There are walls to the W and Little Newtake Plantation to the S. Babeny hamlet is across the river."

Blacka Tor (East Dart)
Blacka Tor (East Dart) at an angle similar to that in the book.
Now, Ken said this was the highest outcrop so could he be lumping it in with the one at the bottom? If he was, it wouldn't make it "small" as the lower set was over one hundred and fifty metres or more away. All very interesting but it was particularly annoying that I hadn't wandered down to the river the other week, where I would have certainly discovered the more widely accepted outcrop! Only one thing for it!

It was near midday when I set off from Dartmeet. Despite the lure of the first settled snow on higher ground, the senseless verge parking I witnessed on my drive across the moor vindicated my decision to give it a miss. I was pleased to leave the masses enjoying themselves, and be assured of some solitude where I was heading.

Footpath gate at Dartmeet
Footpath gate near Dartmeet
Perhaps, if I had ventured out earlier, I might have enjoyed harder ground along the bank of the East Dart. Instead, the ground was half defrosted and I was soon unhooking my idle walking poles from my rucksack to steady myself.

Clambering over clitter along the East Dart
Clambering over clitter along the East Dart
Stepping Stones at confluence with Wallabrook
Stepping Stones at the confluence with Walla Brook

I made it to the ancient forest boundary mark where the Walla Brook flows into the East Dart, with its nearby stepping stones crossing to Brimpt's Northern Woods. I only needed to be across the brook, not the river, but to achieve either you still need to head further up to a clapper bridge, before returning down the other side to the East Dart.

Wallabrook Clapper Bridge
Walla Brook Clapper Bridge
I thought my expedition was almost scuppered when I reached a stile into some access land. The wooden structure was icy and I struggled to get any grip. It was an ungainly manoeuvre, but I managed it unscathed, then began to move along the river up to the bend where Blackator Rocks sits. 

This section had its challenges through boulders and sodden ground. I also noticed that there were plenty of hidden outcrops here.

Hidden tors along the East Dart
Hidden tor along the East Dart
The East Dart and Little Newtake Plantation
The East Dart and Little Newtake Plantation
I rounded the bend, slowly due to the mire beneath me, approaching a dark mass on the other bank. I had reached Blackator Rocks.

Blackator Rocks
Blackator Rocks
Some may question why I had chosen to approach the outcrop from the east, when it sat on the west bank. My reasoning was that I wanted a decent vantage point to snap a photo, as from the correct side, this can't be attained.

I have to admit, this is more deserving of recognition than the tor sat above it, to the west. However, I wouldn't dismiss the other. You could also take the point of view why would the set by the river be labelled Blackator "Rocks" if there wasn't already a tor called "Blacka" Tor in the vicinity? Unlikely, I grant you, and we'll never know the origin of the names. Neither are documented on any OS map I can find, but it is worth considering that both are recognised as separate, if only for the purposes of Social Hiking Tor and Rock Bagging.

Of course, if you are reading this and you can shed light on this particular mystery, please leave a comment.

Blackator Rocks
Blackator Rocks
picking my way up the bank of the East Dart
Picking my way along the bank of the East Dart
Looking back, Yar Tor in the distance.
Looking back, Yar Tor in the distance

With no option to ford the river, I continued north on a difficult trek through the worst of the mire. This section widened and had felt the warmth of the sun, despite there being some patches of snow. I reached a second wall, my map indicating this was where it was time to turn and follow it part way up the Riddon Ridge.

Time to turn uphill towards the Riddon Ridge
Time to turn up hill to the Riddon Ridge
After some meandering through clumps of long grass, I came across a track, and made for the summit of the hill. On the way, I spotted a cairn with a bound stone that had an inscription. At first I thought it said "RIP", but on closer inspection realised it said "RHR". The ever reliable Dartefacts later told me that these were the initials of a Robert Henry Roberts. Further investigation (which usually just needs to be a click to "Legendary Dartmoor") tells me that there are nine other similar bound stones and it is thought that they marked the areas where the Duchy of Cornwall granted permission to cut peat.

RHR Stone, on Riddon Ridge
RHR Bound Stone on Riddon Ridge
RHR inscription
RHR Inscription
Riddon Ridge
Riddon Ridge
I trod a little further to the top of the hill. Still some snow lingering, despite the sun. I am reliably informed that Riddon Ridge has plenty to explore in the way of archaeology, so will merit another visit. I turned south to find the bridleway to Babeny, which proved no problem. The ground was good, and when I reached the gate, the track became a lane down to the hamlet.

Bridleway to Babeny
Bridleway to Babeny
Path sign
Path Sign
Yar Tor, from Babeny
Yar Tor, seen from Babeny
I stopped at the bridge that crossed the Walla Brook, to enjoy the water tumbling on its journey to the East Dart, then a little further, at a bench to feast on a couple of boiled eggs and a flask of hot Ribena.

The Walla Brook at Babeny
The Walla Brook at Babeny (video)
What was left was to retrace the forest boundary to Dartmeet, which I wasn't particularly looking forward to given the rising temperature meant the route would be worse than my earlier traverse. As I started, I noticed some horse riders take a higher route, and I decided to ascend a little.

Looks frozen, but definitely boggy
Looks frozen, but definitely boggy
I found myself in some fairytale woodland; moss carpeting clitter, and oaks adorned in old man's beard. I just kept going, gradually ascending, until I came to a path churned by the hoof. It was a sticky affair, but easier than rock hopping in the woods. 

Woodland scene above the East Dart
Woodland scene above the East Dart
Old Mans Beard on tree
Old Man's Beard

I eventually reached the bridleway marked on the map, walking out into the warming rays of the sun, high above the East Dart valley, to my right.

The sun is out!
The sun is out!
Looking back at the high path
Looking back at the high path
Some twenty minutes later, I had descended down to Badgers Holt and the car park. Quite a short walk; eight and a half kilometres, but still three and a half hours with all the negotiating of bogs and rocks.

Finally, the route: