Sunday, 19 February 2017

Dartmoor: White Ridge Tor

White Ridge Tor (higher outcrop)
White Ridge Tor (higher outcrop)
For those that have visited White Ridge it will hardly stand out as a pivotal moment in your adventures. It is a hill, a Dewey no less, being 506 metres at its highest point. Situated south-west of the edge of Fernworthy Forest, it is a location that you pass over, rather than seek out.


I last traversed it back in April 2016, I was underwhelmed by its flat terrain and coarse grass and I moved on to something far more interesting.

Yesterday, I returned, armed with some new information, thanks to Mike Kitchener. He had mentioned a lesser known tor, an outcrop nestled lower down on the side of the hill; it was dubbed White Ridge Tor.

When I surveyed my route the night before, I began to notice some other points of interest; a couple of settlements,a double stone row, a cairn, a kistvaen, and I figured the hill may have more going for it than just a flat boggy summit.

So it was, I strayed from my usual list of "to do's" and went out for a look. This was the first walk I've taken since the new year holidays; a nasty virus has frustrated me for nigh on seven weeks now, but with the bug appearing to be waning, I felt well enough to venture out.

I drove down the western edge, from Okehampton, and up onto the moor in glorious sunshine. The prospect of a healthy dose of Vitamin D was soon scuppered when I reached Rundlestone and hit the fog!

At the car park, below Merripit Hill, I considered changing my plan and rang my friends Phil and Sarah, who I knew were going to be walking later to the west, in the sunshine. As they hadn't left home in Taunton, I figured I had better stick to the original plan and quit faffing.

Off I went into the mist. I found the track that could be followed simply to the top, passing the remains of a military observation post that resembles the shape of a pillbox.

Remains of an old pillbox
Remains of an old Pillbox
The highest point of the hill is dissected by a dry stone wall topped with a fence. A ladder stile is conveniently located.


Ladder Stile on Merripit Hill
Ladder stile on Merripit Hill
Over the wall, I wanted to find the kistvaen. Visibility was so poor I had to micro-navigate my way in the fog, picking my way through Stannon Newtake from grassy clump to grassy clump. It had been a while using the old fashioned map and compass, but I managed to make my way with a good degree of accuracy.

Stannon Newtake Kistvaen was more impressive than I had expected. Yes, the area is overgrown and the actual "cist" has been filled by the heather, but being encircled by large standing stones makes it more unique than many others I had seen on the moor.

Stannon Newtake Kistvaen
Stannon Newtake Kistvaen
Stannon Newtake Kistvaen
Standing stone by Stannon Newtake Kistvaen

I took a bearing for the bottom of White Ridge Stone Row. According to the OS map the lowest section is dissected by a boundary and on my approach it was obvious this was a dry stone wall and a fence. I arrived at my intended target but I couldn't discern anything that resembled an ancient monument so I found a gate further along the wall and went looking the other side.

Waterlogged gate
Waterlogged gate
I'll admit, White Ridge Stone Row is as exciting as the summit of the hill. Even being a double row fails to enhance it, as the short stones, standing and recumbent, are being lost beneath the grass.

White Ridge Stone Row (honestly!)
White Ridge Stone Row (honestly!)

Disappointed, I needed to see something more impressive. Hooking up with a track to Fernworthy Forest, I hopped over a gate and entered the eerie plantation. I soon left the forestry tracks and delved into the trees, over the old Vitifer Mine Leat, dropping down to find The Dunnastone. 

Fernworthy Forest
Fernworthy Forest
Fernworthy Forest
Fernworthy Forest
On my descent I came across another outcrop at SX 65759 82296. This round lump of granite looked like it had been rolled down the clearing and come to rest against the base of a tree In truth, this outcrop had been in this position long before the trees had took up residence.


Unnamed outcrop in Fernworthy Forest at SX 65759 82296
Unnamed outcrop at SX 65759 82296
Unnamed outcrop in Fernworthy Forest at SX 65759 82296
Unnamed outcrop at SX 6579 82296

I moved on a little further, reaching The Dunnastone. Hidden and pretty much forgotten, this large, rounded granite boulder, is split into three pieces, by a wall and within a gully beside Assycombe Brook. The fact it is named suggests it was a significant rock, likely a prominent waymarker, before the forest was planted.

The Dunnastone
The Dunnastone

The Dunnastone
The Dunnastone

I dropped down to another forestry track and followed it a while, south, before ascending, west, up another clearing back to the Vitifer Mine Leat. Then I retraced my steps to the gate on the boundary of the forest. When I returned to the open moor the sun was beginning to burn off the fog. I held out hope that my first visit to White Ridge Tor would not be shrouded in mist.

A touch of colour as the sun begins to burn off the fog
A touch of colour

Edge of Fernworthy Forest near White Ridge
Edge of Fernworthy Forest near White Ridge

First, I went up the hill to its crest, then took a bearing west to the highest point of White Ridge. In good weather, it is an unremarkable moment, so imagine reaching this saturated patch with no visibility!

White Ridge "summit" (506m)
White Ridge "summit" (506m)
Using the coordinates provided by Mike Kitchener, I took another bearing for the tor I had come in search of. The ground was soggy but I deviated little from point to point. It's always a thrill when your objective appears out of the mist exactly where you were bound for!

White Ridge Tor (higher outcrop)
White Ridge Tor (higher outcrop)

Initially I thought White Ridge Tor consisted of three stunted outcrops, the middle being the more prominent. In fact, these were a higher collection, at SX 64628 81754 and with the mist easing I could see more granite further down the hill.

Shallow Rock Basin at White Ridge Tor (higher outcrop)
Shallow rock basin on White Ridge Tor (higher outcrop)

About 9 metres below and 50 metres distant from its neighbour, White Ridge Tor (lower) is less obvious, the largest section being a flat exposed area of granite, which itself is impressive.

White Ridge Tor (lower outcrop)
White Ridge Tor (lower outcrop)

From here, I could now easily see Stannon Tor. Shortly, I was on a well trodden track to the outcrop. With the sun now overcoming the fog, I started to enjoy some views and paused a while here.

Stannon Tor
Stannon Tor

Stannon Tor
Stannon Tor

I meandered down Stannon Hill, picking my way around the scattered rock, when I spotted The Sheepfold. This interesting structure is often visited due to it being included in John Hayward's excellent Dartmoor 365 book. With the national park being 365 square miles, John has ingeniously split it into a grid and lists a point of interest within each square. The Sheepfold is "I11".

The Sheepfold
The Sheepfold

Although known as "The Sheepfold", even marked as such on the Ordnance Survey map, there is speculation as to whether it was actually used for that purpose, with another theory being that it was to be a starch factory for processing potatoes. Legendary Dartmoor has more information. Whatever its use, it is a beautiful structure, the walls being finely built and pleasing to the eye.

The Sheepfold
The Sheepfold

The Sheepfold
The Sheepfold

I continued, using a ladder stile over a wall, then up to Hartland Tor. By now, seven weeks of inactivity were telling, and I was keen to finish. I had planned to go to another Dartmoor 365 location, William Donaghy's memorial stone on the slopes of this hill, but I had been there before and so decided to give it a miss.

Hartland Tor
Hartland Tor

Hartland Tor
View from Hartland Tor

Hartland Tor
Hartland Tor

The route down to the banks of the East Dart were through a narrow eroded channel through gorse. I was mentally thanking whoever had been pruning the path making it a more comfortable descent than it should be!

The bridleway along the river was wet and boggy. I nipped up another channel to higher ground before the end and found a drier passage that descended to a gate near Hartyland.

Gate by the East Dart
Gate by the East Dart

Along the East Dart
Along the East Dart

Through another gate, I followed the bridleway away from the river along the edge of a field, where I reached another gate and a lane that would took me through Higher Merripit Farm to the B3212.

Bridleway beside Hartyland
Bridleway beside Hartyland
I had a short walk up the road, to the car. The legs were stiffening and just under ten kilometres was proving to be enough for my return to the moor. With the lengthening days and the approach of Spring, I had aspirations of getting out after work and building up my stamina; for me, 2017 had just begun.

The route: