Saturday, 4 June 2016

Dartmoor: Forbidden Tors and more on the River Tavy

Fox Tor (Mary Tavy)
Fox Tor (Mary Tavy)
It was a humid day, one where a walk up on the high moor, accompanied by refreshing cool breezes was called for. For some reason Jim, Matthew and I opted for something a little more challenging, among the rugged woodland banks of the River Tavy.

Parking up at the car park below Smeardon Down, just east of Peter Tavy, we made for the path along the Collybrook, following it down to the village. I never tire of this idyllic spot of tumbling waters, its banks dotted with tall ferns. With the humidity, the scene was more rainforest like than usual.

Colly Brook
Collybrook
Colly Brook
Collybrook

Through the village, to pick up a bridleway, we made short work of the distance down to Longtimber Tor.

Longtimber Tor
Summit of Longtimber Tor

Longtimber Tor was described by William Crossing, in his Guide to Dartmoor, as; "bearing no small resemblance to the keep of a ruined castle.". This is certainly true, but the castle has been all but cloaked within vegetation, including some fine oak. If the rock is dry, you can make it to the top, looking down through the oak foliage you get a real feel of being high up within the canopy. A great tor!

Atop Longtimber Tor
Atop Longtimber Tor
Longtimber Tor
Longtimber Tor
The tor sits beside the Tavy, where Cholwell Brook joins it. This is a renowned wild swimming spot with a stony beach and deep pools. Looking serene now, but the huge cliffs on the opposite bank are testament to the might of this river.

River Tavy
River Tavy
Where Cholwell Brook and the Tavy meet.
Where Cholwell Brook and the Tavy meet

We rejoined the bridleway, mindful of the problems Phil, Sarah and I had a few weeks ago, following the river on a strip of open access land. We crossed the Tavy further along at a bridge, known locally as "The Clam". To our left sits the 1930's built Mary Tavy hydro-electric power station. I thought it looked worn down, and perhaps out of use, but I was surprised to find out it is still creating enough energy to serve 1700 houses! At one time it was even England’s largest hydro-electric power station! If this is of further interest, South-West Water have produced a smart little leaflet here,

But the power station was not our focus today, we had tors in mind further up river.

Quoting further from Crossing, he describes the scene from here; "Between this clam and Horndon Bridge are some fine crags. One of these we may see as we look up the stream. This is High Tor, the others being Fox Tor and Brimhill Tor." With time passing, the trees have dwarfed the crags and the only way to see them is to enter the woods. Herein lies a problem; there is no public access, they are on private land. Therefore, to visit them you must examine your conscience before continuing.

Personally, I align my thinking to that of John Bainbridge, a former chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association and author of the book "The Compleat Trespasser". That is that there should be no "forbidden tors" within the boundaries of Dartmoor National Park. There has always been public outrage for the incarceration of magnificent Vixen Tor and objectors regularly visit despite the warnings daubed on the walls surrounding it. I will make that pilgrimage myself one day, but I believe that access to the outcrops along the Tavy (the "Tavy Four", if you like!) is just as important as Vixen.

I can only guess at the reasoning why this area was not surveyed as part of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. It is challenging terrain but I have visited Open Access Land far more hazardous than this.

High Tor
High Tor
High Tor
High Tor
High Tor
High Tor

We bagged High Tor with little difficulty as it is just within the woods. The next was a greater challenge, at first sticking to the rocks beside the river, then picking our way up the steep slopes. We eventually reached Fox Tor (Mary Tavy), my favourite of the day.

Fox Tor (Mary Tavy)
Fox Tor (Mary Tavy)
Fox Tor (Mary Tavy)
Fox Tor (Mary Tavy)
Referring back to Crossing, he goes on to say; "Further up, above the bridge named (Horndon), is another range of crags, the principle pile being known as Kenter Tor." This statement puzzles me and I question if Crossing actually made the journey up the river, because Kenter, or "Kent's" as it is also known, is between Fox and Brimhill Tor, not beyond them.

The next two tors, in this jungle, were a long way off and we pondered whether to retrace our steps and seek an easier route from Horndon. After short deliberation, we carried on.

The way was precarious, but our stealth ensured our foot was sure. It took us forty-five minutes to travel the kilometre to Kent's Tor.

Kents Tor
Kent's Tor
Kents Tor
Kent's Tor

Shortly after, we reached a path beside the River Tavy Reservoir. This made our route to Brimhill easier and it was only another ten minutes before we had reached it.

Brimhill Tor
Brimhill Tor
Woodland near Brimhill Tor
Woodland near Brimhill Tor
Brimhill Tor
Brimhill Tor

Our time in the woods complete, we made for Brimhill Lane beside the Elephant's Nest Inn. We turned right at the road for Horndon where we stopped at a bench for lunch in the sun. The heat was exhausting and I suggested we cut our route short.

Food consumed, we made for Horndon Bridge, but not before diverting left over a stile to join a narrow path, beside a mine leat, into Creason Wood. This charming route was popular, or perhaps that was how it seemed after the previous couple of hours battling up the Tavy!

Mine Leat through Creason Wood
Mine Leat

As we approached a point where, on the opposite bank, the upper fields merged into woodland, we crossed the leat at an opportune slab bridge, and made our way up to find the imaginatively named "Big Rock".

Big Rock
Big Rock

I fought my way around through the bushes to reach its summit, while Jim and Matt were satisfied with its base. I came out to a gently sloping woodland floor of bluebells. The summit itself had no views, long gone thanks to the trees.

Woodland atop Big Rock
Woodland atop Big Rock

We retraced our steps to the track, and descended down the rocky lane to Horndon Bridge, crossing the Tavy once again.

Track down to Horndon Bridge
Track down to Horndon Bridge
River Tavy at Horndon Bridge
River Tavy at Horndon Bridge

We then dragged ourselves up a deteriorating metalled track, with sections deeply cracked and washed away, to the road to Cudliptown. This was a road walk of about half a kilometre, sadly some of it descent, before turning left for another ascent up onto Smeardon Down.

Enroute, near Broadmoor Farm, Jim spotted a large outcrop in the shade of some oaks. We made a note of the location for further investigation on historical maps; although marked on a few OS maps, it is not named. I've yet to find any reference to it.

Unnamed outrcrop near Cudliptown
Unnamed outcrop near Cudliptown

Out onto the open moor, an invigorating cool breeze met us. As the route was shortened because of our toil in the heat, we decided we would return to the area the next day and visit the tors further up. Being on open moorland, it would make for a much less oppressive walk.


Boulters Tor (east outcrop)
Boulters Tor (East outcrop)

We rounded Boulters, to reach a wide stone track that takes you off the moor to Peter Tavy. Passing one last tor, that being Furze, we dropped down to the car, satisfied with our efforts today.

And finally, the route: