Sunday, 15 May 2016

Dartmoor: Back to Fernworthy Forest

Afternoon sunlight through the trees
Afternoon sunlight through Fernworthy Forest

Last year, when Jim and I did the perambulation of the 1240 forest boundary, it was our intention, where reasonably feasible, to bag the tors and rocks either side of our route. Inevitably, we missed a couple, one of which was Manga Rock. It niggled us. So over the first May Bank Holiday weekend we decided to remedy that and in doing so, it gave Jim the opportunity to visit some of the less accessible gems in nearby Fernworthy Forest as well as a visit to a new addition to our list.

We parked up at a car park near the Warren House Inn and struck north, around Water Hill, across Hurston Ridge, to a gate into Fenworthy. A rare bright day with plenty of sunshine, it seemed slightly daft we should choose to concentrate our exertions on a walk within the dark conifers of the forest.

Log pile in Fernworthy Forest
Log pile in Fernworthy Forest
Fresh log piles suggested we would likely see more sunshine than first anticipated, but I knew that Lowton Rocks would still be uncleared, as the growth surrounding is young. As in previous visits, I located a fallen tree that I took as a marker before pushing through the spruce. 

We were forced slightly west of the outcrop and it momentarily appeared I was, again, going to have some trouble finding it, but I turned east before Jim had a chance to moan a second time about the uncomfortable route and we arrived at its base.

Jim on Lowton Rocks
Jim on Lowton Rocks

Jim was impressed, I think, or just glad it hadn't taken long and we would soon be getting the hell out of there; I think it was the former!

We returned to the track and followed it further into the forest. The issue with these cultivated environments is that the mapped tracks cannot always be relied on. New ones appear for the logging trucks, old ones disappear, engulfed by new planting or storm debris. The path we took was good, and saw the light of the sun, but it was meandering and we eventually would have to step back into the shade. We located an old track, that forded Lowton Brook and crossed with ease.

Lowton Brook
Lowton Brook

We reached another substantial track, where the plantation had been thinned. We turned right and almost immediately left it when we could see another track higher up. Attempting to handrail an old wall was trickier than first thought, but some wonderful examples of moss made the task enjoyable.

Moss
Moss

Higher track achieved, we stuck to it, despite it appearing to head away from where we wished to be. It soon curved and had us on course. By now, I had spotted, on the map, that we were in the vicinity of a stone row and I was eager for a slight diversion to see it.

What I did not expect was that, for me, this would be the highlight of the day! I was surprised to see the whole area of this scheduled site was clear, although going from the stone circles further north, I really shouldn't have been. The forestry have ensured that the more significant examples of the archaeological sites within Fernworthy are kept clear.

Assycombe Stone Row
Assycombe Stone Row
Assycombe Stone Row
Assycombe Stone Row
Surrounded by the trees, it is difficult to envisage what prominence this stone row would have held, although there is some photographic evidence of the row before the forest on the Dartmoor Trust website

From the large cairn at the top of the hill, where the large stones have been restored, we followed this excellent double stone row, whose length is measured at 117 metres long, down to the standing stone at its end. Looking uphill, to its right lay the remains of a large hut circle.

20160430_120510
Assycombe Stone Row

If you'd like to find out more about the archaeology of Fernworthy Forest, you can't go far wrong with a pdf published by Dartmoor National Park; The Archeaology of Fernworthy Forest, Dartmoor, Devon: A new survey.

From the sun kissed western slope of Assycombe and its stone row, we dropped further down the hill, into the trees again. We were on a well formed loggers road now, heading south to the aforementioned new addition to the Tors and Rocks Bagging List

Brought to our attention by Dartefacts, "The Dunnastone", is a moss covered boulder split into three sections. It sits just off the track, uphill to the west, within a shallow gully in the trees. 

The Dunnastone
The Dunnastone

Taking in the location you'd be inclined to wonder why such an outcrop would be named but it is important to remember that this granite, whereas hidden and seemingly insignificant now, was once exposed on open moorland and therefore likely an important navigational marker when traversing the area.

The Dunnastone
The Dunnastone

We carried up the gully, sometimes steep and tricky over the debris strewn forest floor. We came out on a track beside the disused leat for the Vitifer Tin Mine that lay south of where we had parked. We went south, along the path, to a gate out of the forest, on the slopes of White Ridge, where we stopped for lunch.

Out on the moor near White Ridge
Ascending White Ridge

Rather than fight through the plantation, or negotiate the maze of tracks, it would prove simpler to skirt the boundary on open moorland, over White Ridge, across the South Teign and back into the trees nearer our next target, Hemstone Rocks.

Cairn on White Ridge
Cairn on White Ridge
Forest boundary
Forest Boundary
Forest boundary
Forest Boundary

My other visit to Hemstone Rocks had seen little evidence of logging, but on this occasion it was obvious work was going on very close to this area of moss covered granite boulders. It was to such an extent that quite a few of the rocks were exposed, white in the sunlight and a stark contrast to the surrounding carpet.

Hemstone Rocks
Hemstone Rocks
Hemstone Rocks
Hemstone Rocks

This is not an archaeological site and it falls within the plantation, but it was sad to see the destruction along its edges, caused by the works. Its attraction, the cloak of moss over the stones was a direct result of the creation of Fernworthy Forest. When the rocks were free of the trees, I wager it was quite a sight looking down the South Teign, whereas now, the inclusion of the moss makes it the only redeeming feature and it would be a shame to see that lost.

Damage to Hemstone Rocks thanks to logging
Logger damage near Hemstone Rocks

We retraced our steps back out onto the moor, down to the bridge across the North Teign near Teignhead Farm. All that was left was to find Manga Rock and turn for home. Sounds so simple, but there was still over three hours of walking to go and Manga Hill is a slog.

Bridge near Teignhead Farm
Bridge near Teignhead Farm
Ascending Manga Hill
Ascending Manga Hill

We followed a wall boundary at the same height of Manga Rock to avoid any unnecessary ascent. But when the wall ended, contouring the slope was tiring and in our minds we had decided not to return on this route. 

When we reached the area where the rock was located, we had difficulty deciding which of a number of scattered boulders was actually Manga Rock. Having left Ken Ringwood's book at home, with the remaining battery left on my phone, I managed to get a data signal for a quick Google search of "Manga Rock, Dartmoor", and, not for the first time, Legendary Dartmoor came to the rescue.

Manga Rock
Manga Rock

It is difficult to see why this unremarkable rock is mentioned in various historical Dartmoor publications. There is reference to the initials "GP" being carved on its north face. This makes it a boundary stone for Gidleigh Parish but I must admit I failed to see any such marking, perhaps covered by the random patches of moss adorning it, which is why I was uncertain when locating the rock in the first place.

Manga Rock
View North from Manga Rock

We took a break, drinking in the view to Cosdon far in the north, with the North Teign and Hew Down below. It was obvious that we were right to give Manga a miss last year on our perambulation;it would have put an hour on what had turned out to be a long and tiring day from Belstone to Runnage Farm. 

Heading back, we opted to go over the top of Manga Hill. A good old tussock strewn stretch of moorland where the boggy areas, whilst dry, often caught you out with a slippery sheen to their surface. 

We were labouring across this hill, back to Teign Head Farm, and with more open moor across White Ridge and Assycombe Hill ahead, we decided to try a different approach home. We reentered Fernworthy with the intention of taking comfort along paths with gentler ascents, making our way to Chagford Common and Hurston Ridge.

Afternoon sunlight through the trees
Afternoon sunlight through the trees

Suffice to say, it was hardly a plan set in stone; we got distracted by the scenery, missed a turning, took another track to get us back on course, and ended up scaling Assycombe Hill anyway, but from within the forest. We didn't care though, as the late afternoon sun had made our error a fortuitous one, with some wonderful light through the tall trees.

Afternoon sunlight through the trees
Afternoon sunlight through the trees panorama
We left the forest though a gate near the top of Assycombe Hill, so it was little effort to reach the stone marking its summit. Now, it was a mere twenty-five minutes to the car, the other side of Water Hill.

Assycombe Hill
Assycombe Hill. Jim plots the path back to the car.

All in all, the day had been a thoroughly enjoyable one. I had found that Fernworthy Forest held more attractions than I had given it credit for and I will definitely be visiting the Assycombe Stone Row again!

And finally, the route: