Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Dartmoor: Tors and Rocks out of Powdermills

Social Hikers on Braddon Tor
Social Hikers on Dartmoor

Fourth weekend of October, a small group of Social Hikers met up at the Powdermills Bunkhouse for a spot of socialising and walking. I joined them on the Saturday morning for the main hike of the weekend, one that started straight from the front door of our accommodation.

The day was a beauty, the weather behaving and the prospect of visiting eighteen tors, a couple of which were new for me! We took the path amongst the ruins of the old gun powder factory, joined the Lych Way, then went west up onto the Longaford ridge. The ground we traversed was pretty stable, the dry months had taken their toll and the expected quakers and quagmires were missing. 

Little Longaford Tor
Little Longaford Tor

At Little Longaford Tor, we said farewell to Phil and Sarah, his troublesome back putting him under doctors orders not to walk too far. Instead, they left with the intention of a wild swim elsewhere.

The others, Cath, Kate, Jim, Richard and Dale, followed me south along the ridge, first to Little Bee Tor, then Littaford. Then we dropped down the other side of the hill to take a look at Wistman's Wood.

Little Bee Tor
Little Bee Tor
Littaford Tor
Littaford Tor

This ancient alpine oak woodland is much lauded, but personally I am more impressed by the lesser known, and smaller, Black-a-tor Copse that sits beside the West Okement further to the north. I think a lot of its fame is down to its proximity to Two Bridges which makes it an easier spot to reach for aspiring photographers.

Wistmans Wood
Wistmans Wood

We clambered through the woods, over the moss covered boulders, until we reached a fence that forced us back out, up onto the hill. The diversion hardly seemed worth it, especially when there was quite a distance to cover today.

Out of Wistman's we took a rough path north along its edge until the trees petered out and we could take open moor down to the West Dart. I went looking for a suitable spot where we could all get across but with my very first step into the water it was clear my boots, still recovering from my Devon Coast to Coast trek the week before, were leaking. This would clearly be my last hike in these old friends!

Crossing the West Dart
Crossing the West Dart

All safely across, above us stood the imposing Beardown Tors, but after expending time in Wistman's, I took the decision to cut those outcrops plus Lydford Tor and take us straight to Little Crow. We climbed high, over a step ladder, along a wall, then down to a small stream that flowed south into the West Dart.

Crossing a stream near the West Dart
Crossing a stream near the West Dart
This crossing proved a dry one and we were soon striding up the hill, over a low ruined boundary wall into the Merrivale Firing Range. Little Crow was next.

Heading up to Little Crow Tor
Heading up to Little Crow Tor
Little Crow Tor
Little Crow Tor
View from Little Crow Tor
View from Little Crow Tor

We paused at Little Crow, a brief spot of tor sitting ensued on this low granite, but in such close proximity to the far grander Crow Tor, it seemed a little premature to take a break here.

Crow Tor
Crow Tor

At Crow Tor, we all clambered to the top of this striking outcrop. Jim and Kate chose to scale a different route than the rest of us, Kate proudly proclaiming this was her first try at outdoor climbing.

Crow Tor
Crow Tor

Onwards, we followed the red and white military poles that mark the boundaries, to Rough Tor (West Dart) where some lunch was had.

Rough Tor (West Dart)
Rough Tor (West Dart)

From Rough Tor, I peered north along the range boundary, hopeful of a glimpse of granite a couple of kilometres away in the distance, but nothing was visible. I didn't really expect to see anything, description of our next tor doesn't suggest a giant. As we hand railed the poles, taking care to avoid the worst of the bog before us, I told the group to prepare to be underwhelmed!

West Dart Tinners Hut
West Dart Tinners Hut

A lonely ruined tinners hut beside the West Dart was scant interest, as was a huge circular hole full of water, likely to have been the result of live firing. When we eventually stepped up onto Flat Tor it wasn't difficult to contain everyone's excitement!

Flat Tor
Flat Tor

Aptly named, this low granite outcrop could be easily overlooked if it weren't for the firing range posts, and is more a tripping hazard than a mighty monolith. Time to go find something a little more impressive!

Flat Tor
Flat Tor

East we went, crossing some heavy grass and bog, to the fine granite boulders of Broada Stones. Sat a short distance from the East Dart, this was the furthest point of the day and we turned south to make the return journey.

Broada Stones and the East Dart
Broada Stones and the East Dart
Broada Stones
Broada Stones

We stayed above the river, passing over Sandy Hole Rocks (North), our way easier along a narrow muddy path.

Sandy Hole Rocks (North)
Sandy Hole Rocks (North)

The path afforded a great view of Sandy Hole Rocks (South) on the opposite bank. We dropped down the steep edge to the river, so those that wished to could cross and bag properly. Having already visited previously, I was content with remaining on the other side.

Sandy Hole Rocks (South)
Sandy Hole Rocks (South)

From Sandy Hole, the East Dart meanders in a southerly direction down to the waterfall, where we would take a break.

The East Dart
The East Dart

The lack of water meant this well known attraction wasn't at its best. No matter, it is still a pleasant spot to linger.

East Dart Waterfall
East Dart Waterfall
East Dart Waterfall
East Dart Waterfall

With our break complete, we followed the path up onto Broad Down. Up here we caught sight of the remaining route and I must admit it did look like there was still an awfully long way to go. No time to dawdle at the outcrops on the down, we followed the wall west for a kilometre, veering off to visit Braddon Tor.

Broad Down
Broad Down
Braddon Tor is more substantial than I remember on my first visit. It had two significant outcrops of granite, one on the top of the hill, the other close by, further west.

Braddon Tor
Braddon Tor
Braddon Tor
Braddon Tor

We dropped down to cross the Cherry Brook, and visit the rocks of the same name. It's a pretty spot and one I always enjoy. Looking down the watercourse, if we were to take that route we would reach the bunkhouse as it flows through the Powdermills complex.

Cherrybrook Rocks
Cherrybrook Rocks
Cherrybrook Rocks
Cherrybrook Rocks

We climbed up onto Lower White Tor where we could see the end below to the south.

Lower White Tor
Lower White Tor

Our route wasn't as direct though, as we next crossed the down towards Higher White Tor. As we made our way, I scanned the west for a sign of Little Whiten Tor, to divert to, but it was hidden from sight over the brow of the hill.

Off to Higher White Tor
Off to Higher White Tor

We reached Higher White Tor, two main outcrops separated by a drystone wall with a ladder stile. It wasn't until we stood upon the highest outcrop, on the other side of the wall, that I could see Little Whiten to the north-west, back on the opposite side.

Higher White Tor
Higher White Tor

Fortunately, there was another ladder stile enroute, but the path was not so much less defined, more barely existed.

Approaching Little Whiten Tor
Approaching Little Whiten Tor

We all eventually congregated at Little Whiten Tor. As I waited, admiring the views, I inexplicably forgot to photograph the tor for my pictorial records, and I'll have to return another time. Tempting as it was to turn back, when I realised, I didn't think the others would have taken warmly to it!

We returned to the south side of the wall and weaved our way through uneven grass to the path between Higher White and Longaford. Reaching Longaford Tor, we spent some time exploring this huge outcrop. The rest scrambled to the top while I was put off by a tricky step. When they returned, I wandered to the other end of the tor and took the more civilised route to its summit! 

Longaford Tor
Longaford Tor
Longaford Tor
Longaford Tor
View south along the ridge from Longaford Tor
View from Longaford Tor

Down off of the tor, we joined the Lich Way again and dropped down the ridge, returning to the bunkhouse. But not before taking a quick look at the ruined buildings of this gun powder factory. Built in 1844, it supplied gun powder to the granite and tin mining industry on the moor. Now it is a bunkhouse, a pottery and a base for an outdoor adventure company.

Powdermills
Powdermills
Autumn at Powdermills
Autumn at Powdermills

As the sun began to set and the temperature drop, we were back in front of a warming fire in the Bunkhouse. Everyone had enjoyed the route today; in all we managed sixteen of the eighteen tors/rocks I had planned. We were blessed somewhat by the fine weather and relatively dry conditions underfoot, which, with my compromised boots, was fortunate for me!

Now for dinner and a pint in the East Dart Hotel!

Here's the route: