Monday, 3 April 2017

Dartmoor: The Tors downstream from Dartmeet

Luckey Tor (top)
Luckey Tor
I had been avoiding today's little trip largely because it appeared, on both paper and from various vantage points in the area, that it was going to be a right bugger to do. But now, as my tor bagging to do list is decreasing, I couldn't put it off any longer and the conditions were perfect to make the descent into Meltor Woods, beside the Dart.

From Bel Tor Corner car park, I followed the bridleway to Mel Tor where I could figure out the best plan of attack for the lesser known Hockinston Tor. I reckon the view from Mel is one of the finest vistas on Dartmoor.

Mel Tor
Mel Tor

I couldn't see Hockinston Tor from here. I had hoped the lack of foliage may have given some sort of a clue as to what to go for, but it is well and truly buried within the woodland. I would have to rely on the grid reference.

Bench Tors
Bench Tors

I slowly picked paths, animal tracks as opposed to man-made, down from Mel Tor in a south-easterly direction. As long as I could I stayed to them but eventually I had to bite the bullet and step into Meltor Wood.

Meltor Wood
Meltor Wood

The clitter increased the further I ventured, but I managed to meander through, diligently checking my GPS and adjusting my direction.

Entering Meltor Wood
Meltor Wood

It wasn't that long before I could see the unmistakable granite grey mass of an outcrop before me. I gave myself a moment to bask in the achievement of the find and then started to explore Hockinston Tor.

Hockinston Tor
Hockinston Tor

I later heard tell that many believe this lesser known tor, which is still named on Ordnance Survey maps, no longer exists. Well I can reliably inform them that it certainly does exist and that when you start to explore you realise it is quite a big one.

Hockinston Tor
Hockinston Tor
Hockinston Tor top
Hockinston Tor

I scrambled up the slippery banks to its moss carpet top, which also affords a branch framed view of North Tor on the opposite bank of the Dart.

View of North Tor from top of Hockinston Tor
View of North Tor from Hockinston Tor
Dropping down, the sun lit up its southern side, and I could then see it continued further down the hill. Passing the last of the outcrops, I now had a choice to make.

Hockinston Tor
Hockinston Tor

below Hockinston Tor
Below Hockinston Tor

I chose to descend to the edge of the River Dart, rather than retrace my steps. In hindsight, walking alone, that may not have been the safest decision to make.

River Dart
River Dart
outcrop in Meltor Wood
Outcrop in Meltor Wood

At first, the walk was a pleasant stroll in the sunshine through Meltor Woods but soon the wide flat expanse narrowed and the river bank steepened. Choices of safe routes disappeared and on more than one occasion I had to track back. I was finding myself in some precarious positions stepping nervously, scaling up the banks, shuffling along eroded ledges, often dropping to my backside or knees, all with one wary eye on the river below. When I found a path that started to rise away from the river, I had no hesitation in taking it.

a path through Meltor Wood
A rare path through Meltor Woods

The path took me to a small tumbling brook called Simon's Lake. I crossed over and hauled myself up the hill and out of the woods.

Simon's Lake
Simon's Lake

Simon's Lake
Simon's Lake

It felt good to have a sit down and look back at the section of the valley I had just traversed. I also looked up at Mel Tor and could see that retracing the steps, from Hockinston, would definitely be the sensible option for a lone hiker. If I ever descend down that way again, I'll be doing it with company!

Looking up the Dart from
Looking down the Dart from below Rowbrook House

Mel Tor above, taken from path below Rowbrook House
Mel Tor

The route was now a joy, a gentle gradient on a grassy path below the walled private land of Rowbrook House. It made the bag of Luckey Tor a doddle, veering off left on a well trodden track to the outcrop on its summit. 

Luckey Tor (top)
Luckey Tor

What I found wonderful about this tor is that as you approached, it appeared little more than a low pile, but as you ventured further around, it reveals itself to be, in my opinion, one of the best tors in the National Park! I make no apologies for the number of photographs to follow.

Luckey Tor (top)
Luckey Tor

Moving clockwise around, you are treated to a fine overhang and further still some great stacks. 

Luckey Tor (top)
Luckey Tor

Luckey Tor (top)
Luckey Tor

Luckey Tor (top)
Luckey Tor

Moving further around I became increasingly aware of the long drop to my left. The trees below looked an awful long way down. I circumnavigated as far as I felt comfortable as the height began to affect the use of my legs! The view of the drop, though, had me wanting to see Luckey Tor from below, and it was a straightforward descent to the valley floor.

Luckey Tor - side view
Luckey Tor

From the bottom, the enormity of Luckey Tor is fully realised. I can see why it is a popular spot for climbers and, although quite wet, why the flat grassy lawn laid out before it has been used illegally by wild campers. I dare say that a lot of us have wild camped where we shouldn't, but there are scorched earth marks present where morons have been making fires; the "leave no trace" mantra lost on these vandals.

Luckey Tor (bottom)
Luckey Tor

Luckey Tor (bottom)
Luckey Tor

The terrain around Luckey Tor promised for a gentle walk along the river to where I would start to ascend Vag Hill.  Indeed, it was a more sedate affair compared to earlier in the day, although the path did occasionally disappear among a field of boulders.

Along the Dart
Along the Dart
It is a temptation to crack on through this section without taking the time to look up and enjoy the river. Make the effort to linger, this is a remote part of the moor and the likelihood is you'll not wander this way often or ever again.


The River Dart
The River Dart

The River Dart
The River Dart

Eventually, a route up the hill appeared. I left the river into an area of gnarly trees and clitter, peppered with the outcrops of Vag Hill.

route up to Vag Hill
Route up to Vag Hill

Vag Hill lower outcrop
Vag Hill lower outcrop
Vag Hill lower outcrop
Vag Hill outcrop

There are quite a few granite piles here, the most impressive being a large crag to the right of my ascent.

Vag Hill Crag
Vag Hill Crag
Vag Hill lower outcrop
Vag Hill lower outcrop

Vag Hill higher outcrop
The route to the second summit outcrop on Vag Hill

I made my way to the hill proper, climbing around and then up onto the first of two summit outcrops on top of Vag Hill. From here, I could see yet another pile, perched above a depression known as Warren House (or Vag Hill) Pits. This area, according to Eric Hemery, via the Legendary Dartmoor website, is the result of "excavations made by late or post-medieval tinners in search of mineral lodes in hillsides".

Another outcrop above Vag Hill
Another outcrop on Vag Hill

I stopped for some lunch on the second summit outcrop further along the hill. With views across the valley to Bench Tors one way and Combestone Tor the other, it seemed as good as any.

Bench Tors
Bench Tors viewed from Vag Hill
Combestone Tor from Vag Hill
Combestone Tor from Vag Hill

I checked my map for the simplest route back to the car. I had intended to return via Sharp Tor, but my time in the woods had been longer than anticipated and so I looked to cut that climb out. Instead, I took a path above the pits, out into an area of grass down, ancient settlements and coconut scented flowering gorse.

Vag Hill
Vag Hill

Sharp Tor (Yartor Down)
Sharp Tor (Yartor Down)

Gorse
Gorse

I contoured below Sharp Tor, finding the road to Rowbrook Farm and strolling back to the car park, admiring the constant views as I went.

Looking to Bench Tors
Looking to Bench Tors

Sharp Tor from the track to Rowbrook
Sharp Tor (Yartor Down)

Back at the car park, I peered, longingly, over the wall at poor old forbidden Bel Tor. The volume of people around stopped me from going for it, that particular prize will have to wait. It wasn't going anywhere so it couldn't spoil what had been a perfect little adventure today.

Bel Tor
Forbidden Bel Tor
Well, I say perfect, I could have planned better and had the money to make the most of the Molly Macs ice cream van; now that would have topped off the day splendidly!

Molly Macs at Mel Tor
Molly Macs at Bel Tor Corner


And finally, the route: