Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Dartmoor: The Tors and Rocks near Venford Reservoir

North Tor, with Mel Tor in the distance.
North Tor, with Mel Tor in the background
Spring had definitely arrived this weekend and as much as I would have liked to have spent the whole weekend exploring, I had to get out into the garden and complete some much needed maintenance. That left me with a hastily arranged day off work on the Monday to get out on the moor and that day, I thought I would explore some of the tors and rocks above the River Dart.

I parked high up at the car park right beside Combestone Tor. A great accessible vantage point to view the wonderful Dart Valley. It is also a lovely drive through Hexworthy, along the river, passing the newly reopened Forest Inn.

Combestone Tor
Combestone Tor

From the tor, I dropped down the hill, over Holne Moor Leat, to pick up a bridleway that would take me, part way, to the first tor I was seeking. Despite three days of glorious sunshine, the ground was still wet underfoot but the gradient was gentle. I noticed that on the other side of the Dart, Vag Hill outcrop was obvious, and it looked a totally different prospect compared to the walk today. Perhaps it was just the skewed perception you get when viewing a climb from an opposite hill, but it did look a tough one to reach.

Vag Hill
Vag Hill

Leaving the bridleway after it crossed Aller Brook, I joined a path and came to an outcrop that, before checking my coordinates, I thought may be Aller Brook Outcrop. It was certainly substantial enough to be of note, and I took a grid reference in order to correct its position on Social Hiking, when I spotted the real outcrop a little further on.

Outcrop I thought might be Aller Brook at SX 67704 71994
Granite before Aller Brook Outcrop

Aller Brook Outcrop sits just above the footpath, where the more interesting formations reside. Further up, there is a more significant slab of granite, but less prominent.

Aller Brook Outcrop
Aller Brook Outcrop

Aller Brook Outcrop
Aller Brook Outcrop

Aller Brook Outcrop, Combestone in the distance
Aller Brook Outcrop, Combestone Tor in the background

Having ascended to visit the highest point, I then returned to the path, which entered the woods, contouring nicely around the hill towards Venford Reservoir. 

Track above the dart
Track above the Dart

Along the way, the trees cleared affording views of the river valley, albeit a little hazy today.

The Dart Valley
The Dart Valley

Looking to Sharp Tor
Looking to Sharp Tor

As I moved around the hill, I began to notice a prominent outcrop down in the valley on the opposite side. This was Luckey Tor, also known as Lug Tor. I noted that William Crossing also said that it was sometimes referred to as the Eagle Rock, an alternative siting to another purported outcrop amongst Bench Tor; more on that later.

Luckey Tor Luckey Tor, below Sharp Tor

It was also immediately apparent to me that, along with Vag Hill, bagging the tors on that side was going to be a bit of an epic!

Approaching the buildings below the dam of Venford Reservoir, I dropped down to Venford Brook, crossing to join a track that skirted Bench Tor. In hindsight, I should have ventured further down the brook to discover Venford Twin Falls, but that will have to be another time. 

The track below Bench Tor
The track below Bench Tor
Into the woods below Bench Tor
Into the woods below Bench Tor


The track I was now on was a substantial, flat way and fortified from erosion by granite blocks. Into the woods, once again, I rounded the hill to its northern point, then took a narrow path up to the summit.

Heading up to North Tor
Heading up to North Tor

I stepped out of the woods to meet a wealth of granite tors on the edge of the ridge. Whilst this gathering of outcrops are known collectively as Bench Tor, the most spectacular is known as North Tor.

The Dart from North Tor
The Dart from North Tor
Looking for historical reference, it puzzled me as to why both Terry Bound and Ken Ringwood failed to differentiate the tors in their respective books. Tim Jenkinson pointed out to me that William Crossing wrote of the tors in his Guide to Dartmoor on p.358; "This consists of several piles, two of them being named in an old deed North Bench Tor and South Bench Tor respectively, which overlook the Gorge of the Dart. Another is known as the Eagle Rock."

North Tor
North Tor

North Tor
North Tor

Quite which of the other outcrops is Eagle Rock is open to debate. As I mentioned earlier, Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor says that some believe that Luckey Tor, to the north, on the other side of the River Dart, was some times;"..spoke of as the Eagle Rock." We'll never really know the true location.

Bench Tor
Bench Tor

Bench Tor
Bench Tor

It was a shame to leave Bench Tor, vowing to visit again when the visibility is clearer, and to linger longer. It amazes me that as I draw ever closer to visiting all the recognised tors and rocks, the national park still manages to blow me away!

Venford Reservoir
Venford Reservoir

I departed on an obvious path, in the direction of Venford Reservoir. I had done with tors today and now wanted to find a route back to Combestone without simply following the road. Crossing the dam wall, I passed through a railing fence to stroll along the banks of the reservoir.

Venford Reservoir
Venford Reservoir

Venford Reservoir
Venford Reservoir

As enjoyable as this path was, I did wonder if the railings would force me to walk right the way round the water, but fortunately, at its southern end, where a bridge crossed the Venford Brook, I spotted a stile breaching the fence taking me out onto Holne Moor.

I followed an old boundary work, now, as is often the way, little more than a ditch. I rested in the shade of a lone tree and considered my map.

Some shade on Holne Moor
Some shade on Holne Moor

Further along the boundary, the map clearly marked some stone rows. I continued on, keeping a close eye out, but this "triple row" is quite a visual disappointment as the stones barely break the surface. At its western end, are two fallen longstones. For more, visit its page on the Megalithic Portal website.

Stone Rows on Holne Moor
Stone rows on Holne Moor

On the brow of the hill, I could see Horn's Cross, and I diverted to visit. When William Crossing wrote of this in his book "The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor" he described it as mutilated and there is no doubt it was in a pretty sorry state. It has since been restored, the remaining head now clamped to a new base.

Horn's Cross (restored)
Horn's Cross (restored)

Turning northward, on a grassy track, I passed over a small cairn. Shortly after, Combestone Tor and my car came into sight. All packed up, and pretty pleased with these three first time bags, I made for home, but not before stopping off for a pint of Dartmoor Best in The Forest Inn, Hexworthy.

And finally, the route: