Saturday, 13 May 2017

Dartmoor: South - Part Three

Wacka Tor
Wacka Tor
Sleep had been fitful, partly because of the ewe calling to her injured infant. When I got up I made a quick check on the patient and mild conditions meant the night had not claimed it. I sent off an SMS to Dartmoor Livestock Protection to tell them we were moving on and the lamb was still alive. Not much else we could do now. They replied to say the farmer would be out this morning.

Sadly, this was not to be a happy ending. A few days later, my friends Phil and Sarah were hiking in the area and visited the tor where they found the lamb, now carrion for the crows.

Before we left, we took a better look at Wacka Tor. It is a collection of outcrops dotted across Hickley Plain. It has some good outlooks, especially to the south and south-west. I gazed, enviously, at a hot air balloon skirting the edge of the National Park; I'd love the opportunity to experience Dartmoor from the air and, having experienced a ride over the Australian outback near Alice Springs, this would be the best way to do it.

Wacka Tor
Wacka Tor
Hot Air Balloon behind Ugborough Beacon
Hot Air Balloon behind Ugborough Beacon

We dropped down to Red Brook, our water source for last nights camp. It was a simple crossing, most rivers had been easy to ford in this period of fine weather. We didn't know what to expect of Old Hill, where we were heading next, happy to see it was a rock formation, consisting of large boulders atop low bedrock.

Old Hill
Old Hill

Dropping down to Bala Brook was a soggy affair as we meandered close to Middle Brook to ease the descent. We took our time finding a way across Bala, close to the boundary of the Avon Filtration Station. The climb away was easier, with a gentler gradient around Zeal Hill.

Crossing Bala Brook
Crossing Bala Brook

Black Tor (Brent Down) impressed. Passing through the low ruined walls of past settlements, we approached the grid reference we had taken from Ken Ringwood, slightly out, likely to place it equidistant with the five outcrops that make up the tor. We preferred to place it beside the most dramatic of the outcrops, overlooking the Avon at SX 6809 6350.

Black Tor (Brent Down)
Black Tor (Brent Down)

Black Tor (Brent Down)
Black Tor (Brent Down)

We sat for a moment, admiring the view, considering the route down to the Avon and plan for scaling the hill to Shipley Tor on the other side of the river.

Black Tor (Brent Down) looking to Shipley Tor
Black Tor (Brent Down) looking to Shipley Tor

Rather than take a marked path south-west to meet a track down to the Avon, we descended straight to the road beside the river. Being close to the car park, we went to make use of the public toilets and seek out Hunters' Stone en route.

Hunter's Stone
Hunters' Stone

Hunters' Stone is a debatable one to make the bagging list. It is an historic monument, but a relatively modern one. 

Back in 1948, Brent Moor House was sold to South Devon Water Board, before the construction of the Avon Dam and Reservoir, and its owner requested that the stone be cut to record the end of an era. Eric Hemery tells us, in his book, High Dartmoor p.329; "Within the fork of the filtration-plant and the dam roads is the Hunters' Stone, inscribed with the names of huntsmen celebrated in the annals of Brent Moor House and the chase."

The inscriptions all over this rock are difficult to discern but Hemery goes on to reliably inform us that they are; "Commander C.H.Davey R.N. 1919-1940, Carew Coryton 1888-1916, Paul Treby, Trelawney, MH,  DD, Bulteel"

River Avon
River Avon

We weren't sure on the best approach for our next tor. Some private land and the river prevented a straight assault, a road walk out of the car park didn't fill us with enthusiasm, so we opted to walk up the reservoir road to the first bridge crossing, hide our packs around Woolholes, and then wander up below Dockwell Ridge to Shipley Tor.

Shipley Tor
Shipley Tor

Shipley Tor is worth the diversion, one granite outcrop interrupting the junction of some field boundary walls, with fine views across the valley to Black Tor (Brent Down) and the settlement known as Rider's Rings.

Shipley Tor
Shipley Tor

Black Tor (Brent Down) from Shipley Tor
Black Tor (Brent Down) from Shipley Tor

We returned to our packs, noting some outcrops above us, but deciding not to investigate them this time around. Later research has led me to believe these to be the rocks of "Higher Woolhales Clitter", as named by Eric Hemery in High Dartmoor p.318.

Instead we rejoined the road and took it up to just short of the Avon dam. Once again, dropping off our packs behind a gorse bush close to Zeal Gully, we ascended Zeal Plains in search of Ryder's Rocks.

Finding them proved trickier than expected. There is no tor here, just untidy piles of clitter to the north-west of an old phallic shaped settlement called Rider's Rings.

Ryder's Rocks
Ryder's Rocks

We took photos of the likeliest suspects, which, fortunately, were the correct ones because neither of us fancied a return trip to get it right.

Avon Dam from Ryder's Rocks
Avon Dam from Ryder's Rocks

Avon Reservoir
Avon Reservoir

Retrieving our packs, we climbed up to the eastern edge of the reservoir, trying to stick to a trackless bridleway that went north up beside Brockhill Stream. The watercourse became Brockhill Mire once we crossed the Abbot's Way. We missed the ford across the Western Wella Brook, too far west, finding ourselves amongst a maze of old ditches, which I took to be the work of tinners. It was hard work, taking a perceived age approaching Puper's Hill.

We reached the Two Moors Way and turned right, following it a short distance before contouring just below the outcrops of Inner Pupers, then across the saturated slopes of Buckfastleigh Moor.

Looking at the terrain, we began to reconsider a plan of finding Gibby Combe Tor then diverting to Holne Tea Rooms. The hill dropped steeply to the Mardle, and the river's banks looked even steeper.  It all appeared like it would take far longer than we anticipated and could afford as the tea room would be shut. Gibby Combe would be better approached from Holne as a short walk and we reluctantly left it behind.

Looking for a crossing to get to Gibby Combe
Looking for a crossing to Gibby Combe

We crossed the Mardle further upstream, at Hapstead Ford. Now, we ascended, north-westward on to Holne Lee where, eventually, Venford Reservoir came into sight. In the distance, bathed in sunshine, sat Sharp Tor (Yartor Down) on the other side of the Double Dart Valley. A satisfying vista after a difficult section. Plus, the end of the day was in sight!

Venford Reservoir and Sharp Tor (Yartor Down)
Venford Reservoir and Sharp Tor (Yartor Down)

On our way down to the road crossing the dam, we topped up our water from Holne Leat. We went straight for Bench Tor, rather than the path from the reservoir, coming unstuck amongst gorse and a bend in the leat whilst trying to follow a wall. We had to move away, finally picking up a track up to the southern outcrop of this magnificent set of tors.

Bench Tor
Bench Tor

We halted at the furthest outcrop, North Tor (aka North Bench). It was a little early to set up camp, but midweek, there was nobody about, so we settled in for the evening. We later discovered that the area is not within the National Parks wild camping zone, but I'm not sure my feet would have coped with the distance needed to reach it.

North Tor camp
North Tor camp

This is a lovely spot to linger. The sun was out, our tents were warm and it made me remember how enjoyable wild camping can be. Staying out an extra night and not making it to the tea rooms at Holne, my dinner options were low so Matthew gave me some dried egg powder and I fashioned some egg fried rice that cried out for a heavy dose of seasoning. No matter, it filled my stomach and the walk back to the car tomorrow would be a short one.

North Tor camp
North Tor Camp
Day Three route:
 

So to the morning. Once again, I failed to make sunrise, what there was of it. We packed early and dropped off North Tor into gnarly White Wood.

White Wood
White Wood
We took the wide track around the hill, leaving it to shortcut across Venford Brook, and reach another track that contours into the woodland south of the Double Dart.

Climb up from Venford Brook
Climb up from Venford Brook

I've taken this path before, a lovely trail with glimpses, through the trees, of some lovely tors on the other side of the Double Dart, like Luckey Tor and Vag Hill.

Luckey Tor
Luckey Tor

The path took us to Aller Brook Outcrop. This lost tor of two outcrops was named by Tim Jenkinson and then introduced to the public more widely through Ken Ringwood's book Dartmoor's Tors and Rocks. It's important to give credit to Tim here as Ken's excellent book missed a trick in that it could have given acknowledgement beside each entry instead of being buried in the introduction of the book.

Aller Brook Outcrop
Aller Brook Outcrop

We pulled up to cross the Holne Moor Leat, then join the road up to Combestone Tor. This stunning outcrop, with views of the Double Dart, is also one of the most accessible. There is a car park a few metres from it, the grass is well kept by the local ponies, making it simple terrain. Although, a word of caution re. the ponies; the constant interaction with the public feeding them has made them bold and they tend to take a liking to sharpening their teeth on any vehicles parked there.

Combestone Tor
Combestone Tor

Combestone Tor
Combestone Tor
All that was left was to descend down over Saddle Bridge, and up along the sweet smelling gorse lined road to Hexworthy.

IMG_20170421_213518_934
Gorse lined road to Hexworthy

If taking this route, be sure to look down to the river where you can spot the Week Ford Stepping Stones. If you have time, it is worth a diversion to visit the shallow waters for a paddle, or keep it in mind for another visit.

Week Ford stepping stones
Week Ford Stepping Stones

We dropped down to the Forest Inn, too early for a "celebratory" beer but perfect timing for a "pat on the back" breakfast at the Fox Tor Cafe, a short drive away in Princetown.

Forest Inn, Hexworthy
Forest Inn, Hexworthy


A successful 3 nights out on the south moor, a renewed enthusiasm for wild camping (albeit fair weather wild camping!) for me and I trust good training for Matthew who, as I write this up, is on his second day walking across Scotland, in the TGO Challenge.

The Route for the last day: