Thursday, 31 March 2016

Dartmoor: Coombe Down, Nattadon Common and Meldon Hill

Outcrop, Nattadon Common
Nattadon Tor 
With such a beautiful day forecast, I was in a quandry as to where to go. I had no idea of destination when I climbed the moor to Princetown this early Good Friday morning, arriving at the Fox Tor Cafe before its doors opened. Fuel taken on board, I later hopped back in the car, still without a plan. I found myself driving through Postbridge, passed the Warren House Inn and Birch Tor. I eventually came to a halt on Shapley Common, at a car park on a bend of the B3212, with a great view of, from North to South; Meldon Hill, Nattadon Common, Bee Tor, Easdon Tor and Hayne Down.

From this vantage point I could trace a rudimentary route, one that began southwards, crossing the road to traverse the common to visit Coombe Down.

Coombe Down Tor
Coombe Down
Previously missed in December when Phil, Sarah and I walked the Hameldown range to Widecombe, (blog post here), I had to tidy up this stray.

I quite like this tor. It's not a towering giant, but it has something. Parts of it are incorporated into the fine wall, and it has some lovely views. I spent a bit of time clambering about, enjoying the sunshine as well as the outcrop.

Wall between Coombe Down Tor
Wall through Coombe Down
Wall between Coombe Down Tor
Wall built through Coombe Down
I dropped down to a bridleway that followed a brook down to West Coombe. I caught the scent of the flowering gorse that lined part of the track; a subtle hint of coconut and my all time favourite aroma on the moor.

Heavy scent of gorse, just like coconut today!
Track down to West Coombe Farm
Old barn
Old barn enroute to West Coombe Farm

At the farm, I turned left onto the Two Moors Way, which, on this section, also doubles up as the Mariners Way.

Named after a legendary ancient route, essentially a combination of existing lanes and tracks, dating back to medieval times, it was taken by sailors, between the two Devon ports of Dartmouth and Bideford. Its entire route is open to debate, as is its actual existence. That said, the section through Dartmoor National Park, between South Zeal and Widecombe, is the only part that is considered to be the actual route.

Mariners Way for Moorgate
Mariners Way sign

Whatever the truth, it is written in Dartmoor folklore, and I would like to embark on the journey one day. Whether that be the signposted part across Dartmoor or the entire 70 miles between the two ports, remains to be seen.

Passing through the farm at Moor Gate, across the B3212, and a succession of fields, I arrived at Lettaford.

Lettaford
Lettaford

Pride of place in this little settlement is Sanders; a beautiful Dartmoor long house dating back to about 1500. The ever reliable Legendary Dartmoor holds further details about the settlement here.

Lettaford
Lettaford

Out of the settlement, I followed a narrow lane eastward to, what the Ordnance Survey map titled, "Furze Park". I held out hope that the name suggested some recreational area open to the public that may allow me to gain access to Bee Tor, which stood behind, on higher ground. I should have done my research beforehand because I later found, once again, on the Legendary Dartmoor website, a piece on "The Parks of Dartmoor".

I was disappointed to find an enclosed field next to a private house with a driveway and garden. I could see a clear route up the driveway to a private field and the tor, but I couldn't see anyone to obtain permission. Were I confronted, I would have found it hard to feign trespass as a navigational error or ignorance on my part, so I gave it a miss.

I chose to circumnavigate, resigned to finding a viable, less obvious, route through the girt of fields. If all else failed, I could always return to the house another time and politely knock on the door.

I came out to the B3212 at Lettaford Cross and kept to the wide grassy verge as the road was pretty busy now. A couple of hundred metres and I spied an ancient cross planted high up on a hedge at a junction. This short waymarker was Beetor Cross.

Beetor Cross
Beetor Cross

Digging through Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor, I learnt that we are fortunate that the cross is there at all. It had gone missing sometime in the 19th Century, but Crossing found it being used as a gate post! It was erected in this place, in 1899. However, despite it's name, this junction in the road is not actually called Beetor Cross, that being the next junction some hundred metres further north.

I made my way to the aforementioned junction, turning left, passed Beetor Farm. I kept an eye out for the owner, hoping to strike up a conversation and gauge the chances of a visit to Bee Tor. But I only caught fleeting glimpses of a farm worker on a quad bike herding cattle in a field to my right and he seemed far too busy to disturb.

Road near Beetor Farm
Road to Chagford near Beetor Farm

This minor road was busier than I expected. It looks to have become a bit of a rat run to Chagford; more traveled, I wager, with the invention of satellite navigation systems and likely a bit of a shock to some of the tourists dutifully following every command.

River Bovey from Beetor Bridge
River Bovey from Beetor Bridge

I crossed the River Bovey at Beetor Bridge. It seemed every place name was mocking my fruitless venture, but as the distance increased, the reminders lessened. I now turned my attention to more substantial prizes, spotting Meldon Hill on the horizon from a gated break in the hedgerow.

Looking to Meldon Hill
Meldon Hill from the road

It was another kilometre when I reached a junction. I blithely ignored the road to the right, which would have taken me around to the east and then up to the top of Nattadon Common, on a gentler incline. Instead I continued straight, dropping down between the Common, to my right, and Meldon Hill, to my left.

Roadside Daffs
Roadside Daffs

Chagford boundary, between Nattadon Common and Meldon Hill
Chagford border

I was now on the outskirts of Chagford, contemplating two steep climbs. I momentarily considered giving Nattadon a miss, but I spotted prominent granite up there, and I couldn't really miss that!

I dragged myself up through some woodland, over a rocky path sodden by a tumbling stream, before stepping out into the sunshine again. The paths I chose zigzagged through dormant bracken, adjusting my route to end up at the outcrop I had spotted earlier. And what a view!


Nattadon Common, with Meldon Hill background
Meldon Hill from Nattadon Tor

Nattadon Tor was more than I had hoped for. I had envisaged it to be little more than a hill, but, with its lower outcrop and clear evidence of granite on the summit, I was pleased to have made the effort of a 120 metre climb, especially on such a glorious day!

Meldon Hill, from Nattadon Common
Meldon Hill from Nattadon Common

Across the divide, I could see my next task. But first I had to lose the altitude gained by retracing my route to the road below and then embark on a 180 metre ascent.

Back at the road, I entered open access land, following a faint path into some woodland. This proved to be a mistake, as the ground was saturated, overgrown and impassable without a sturdy set of secateurs. I retreated to the open moor and found a more sensible path that brought me out into some lovely parkland overlooking Chagford, known as Padley Common. It afforded me a route to begin my ascent.

On the slopes, there was evidence of swaling. Each year, the vegetation, mainly gorse and bracken, on some parts of the moor are burned off to make way for new growth providing food for livestock. It looks drastic, its smell lingers in the nostrils somewhat, but it does serve a purpose.

Swaling on Meldon Hill
Swaling on Meldon Hill

I was knackered by now and I admit I stopped a few times on the climb up the hill. But, as was the case with Nattadon Tor, Meldon Hill did not disappoint. This large hill has a collection of outcrops adorning it, each with stunning vistas of Dartmoor that will live long in the memory of anyone making there way up here.

Meldon Hill outcrop
Meldon Hill outcrop
North Moor from Meldon Hill
North Moor from Meldon Hill
Trig on Meldon Hill
Trig on Meldon Hill
Meldon Hill outcrop
Meldon Hill outcrop

Thoughts were now of my return to the car. I could see the car park far in the distance, from the trig point. It did appear to be an awfully long way!

I dropped southwards off the hill, picking up a byway  passed Yelland Farm to the hamlet of Jurston.

Lane down towards Jurston
Byway to Jurston

I reached the ford at Little Jurston, but noticed on the map that the marked area of open access had the potential to allow me along the stream up to Green Combe, saving me another walk to Lettaford. But I encountered, within a matter of metres, some wire fencing so this little bridge of land is most certainly not open for business!

Ford at Jurston
Ford at Lower Jurston across the stream from Green Combe
Lane to Lettaford
Lane to Lettaford

So, I made my way along the shaded lane, to Lettaford. For the most part, this ancient trackway is a blight on the walk, with your gaze being drawn to an intimidating high fence that gives off the message that you're not at all welcome in these parts! It was a bit of a shock to see such an eyesore within the boundaries of a national park.

Fortunately, Lettaford is not so forbidding, as is the quiet country lane up to Shapley Common. It would have been a great shame to have finished the walk that way.

Back at Lettaford
Back in Lettaford
Moor gate to Shapley Common
Moorgate to Shapley Common

Out into the open moorland, it was a few hundred metres up to the, by now, full car park. A strategically positioned ice cream van had lured in the crowds and business looked good. I offloaded my kit in the car and joined the queue; it had to be done on such a lovely day!

And the route: