Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dartmoor: Tors out of Merrivale

Merrivale
Merrivale
Saturday; it had been my intention to go in search of Chub Tor, down near Roborough Down, and visit a couple of tors I'd left behind in the area near Cadover Bridge. This wasn't a massive haul of tors bagged for a day walk, so when Richard Flint conveyed his disappointment, I looked to amend the route in search of some other elusive outcrops.


When we met up at the Fox Tor Cafe, in Princetown, I had a circular sorted but whether we would bag all the tors on the list, would remain to be seen. We started from the small car park on the B3357, just above the River Walkham, east of Merrivale and north of the well known stone rows.

Soon off, it was clear that what we expected to be a cold crisp day was instead a mild one, and the day was full of promise. We took the bridleway south from Hillside, leaving it to wander up to Longash.

Vixen Tor from Longash
Vixen Tor from Longash


Technically, on private land, but easily accessed without any drama. A few collections of granite here, all with wonderful views of Vixen Tor across the Walkham.

Longash
Longash
Vixen Tor from the bridleway
Vixen Tor from the bridleway

We descended back to the bridleway, through a gate and over a stream in Longash Wood, approaching the extensive and wonderful Hucken Tor. It may be the changing seasons but whenever I visit this tor, I seem to discover a new interesting outcrop. I am convinced that when I return, there'll be more to explore.

Hucken Tor
Hucken Tor
Hucken Tor
Hucken Tor

We left Hucken, continuing along the bridleway passed the farm called Davytown, on to good track. Our next objective was Crip Tor.

The main outcrops of Crip Tor are on private land, within a field, but it spills over the boundary on to the edge of Open Access land which allows a tor bagger to get close enough to claim it without trespassing. The problem is that this OS land has been left to nature and, with the added barrier of a stream, is impenetrable. Having been thwarted thrice before, I wanted to explore other options and so, when an opportunity to leave the track came, we snuck off into the woods for a cheeky shortcut.

Through the woodland, the going was fairly straightforward compared with what was to come and we even passed an outcrop that Richard thought was the prize. When we reached the Access Land, the going got tougher and we started to encounter vicious brambles and a bouldered terrain hidden by bracken.

Unnamed outcrop in the woods near Criptor
Unnamed outcrop in the woods near Criptor

Occasionally, there was respite from the torment, on islands of granite, where we could try to work out our best route, but, in truth, it was all down to trial and error, rather than design. We were relieved to reach the barb wire fence where the main outcrops of Crip Tor could be seen through the browning bracken. As I mentioned earlier, we found the lower parts on the legal side of the fence and we were content to leave it at that. 

Criptor on private land
Criptor from Open Access Land

With the open moor so tantalisingly close and no desire to retrace our steps, we went east, on the accessible land between Criptor Farm and the stream, beating down the brambles desperately to escape. We spotted the bridge to the farm, but a deep ditch prevented us from stepping on to it, and instead we had to retreat and beat a path to cross the stream and climb up the other way. It took some effort and a step of faith to reach the watercourse, but once across, it was straightforward to get up onto the track. It was then I noticed the blood on my hands from those damn brambles!

Criptor
Criptor from the Bridleway south

The whole affair behind us, I could enjoy the fact that Crip Tor had finally been visited, albeit not the main outcrop, but certainly the tor. I would also say that out of the 350 I have so far visited, this one had been the toughest to attain.

Anything else now would be a nice stroll in the park! We joined the road across Walkhampton Common, down to Ward Bridge, up the leafy lanes passed some large manorial looking houses, to the hamlet of Sampford Spiney.

The lane to Sampford Spiney
The Lane up to Sampford Spiney
Churchyard at Sampford Spiney
Churchyard at Sampford Spiney
Church at Sampford Spiney
Church at Sampford Spiney

We took a look around the churchyard of St. Mary's, surprised to see such a large house of worship in what appeared to be a small settlement.

Leaving the hamlet, we joined the track towards Pew Tor Farm. and came out onto open moor. The northerly wind had now picked up and the chill was noticeable when exposed. 

Passing the farm, we continued along the way below Pew Tor, towards the lower outcrops of Heckwood Tor, where we stopped for a rest.

Pew Tor
Pew Tor

As I was warmed by a flask of chicken soup and another of hot Ribena, I spied Rouge Tor to the east, the other side of a drystone wall adorned with a line of barbed wire. A little further on, I saw a gate.

Lunch had, we investigated the gate. The sign on it proclaimed there was a roaming bull in the field, an attempt to deter any one wishing to visit this collection of low lying granite boulders on the top of the hill.

Rouge Tor
Rouge Tor
Rouge Tor
Rouge Tor

We continued down to the ford below the infamous Vixen Tor.

Forbidden Vixen Tor
Vixen Tor from the south

Following the edge of the wall, we ascended round to the worst of the graffiti desecrating the granite near Saddle Rock. The wooden gate further on had been heightened with an ugly mesh of metal; no attempt made to blend the barriers into the landscape.

Graffiti damage near Vixen Tor
Graffiti damage near Vixen Tor

It's an utter travesty and unforgivable that this jewel in the Dartmoor crown is closed off to the public. I have blogged before about this sorry affair in "Fight for Freedom on Vixen Tor", if you aren't aware of it.

Whereas the finest views are probably had from afar, at a position where the extent of the outcrop can be better viewed, many still choose to ignore the graffiti on the perimeter walls and visit anyway.

Vixen Tor
Vixen Tor
Vixen Tor
Vixen Tor

We crossed Whitchurch Common, crossing the B3357 and climbing up to Little Staple Tor. The golden light in the hours before dusk was in danger of being lost to some showers racing toward us and we put on waterproofs in anticipation.

Little Staple Tor
Little Staple Tor

But by the time we had made it to Middle Staple Tor, they had passed us, and we were allowed to enjoy the last of the setting autumnal sun. It was also dry enough for Richard to indulge in some clambering over the rocks; Middle Staple is a good playground.

Middle Staple Tor
Middle Staple Tor
Middle Staple Tor, Great beyond.
Middle Staple Tor, Great beyond..
Great Staple Tor
Great Staple Tor

Off to Great Staple Tor, with several giant outcrops, an avenue, and rock basins. Time getting on, we hurried to Roos Tor, another extensive tor with many outcrops and a flag pole for the Merrivale Range.

Great Staple Tor
Great Staple Tor
Roos Tor
Roos Tor

One more tor to go, but it was out of view, over the brow and down towards the River Walkham. From memory, I lined us up with the wall, over the river, below Great Mis Tor, and we set off across the common.

Two shadows on the top of Roos Tor
Two shadows on the top of Roos Tor

It was at this point my phone had died in the cold and I couldn't record our visit to Little Roos Tor, which we found easily on the bearing I had chosen. Richard took some photos, then we headed back to the car, via a track through the ruins of the Merrivale Quarry.

As we reached the cars, the sun had well and truly gone, but we had beaten the need for head torches. 
A fun day; The Plume of Feathers was calling...