Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Dartmoor: Hurston Castle Tor, Tunnaford Rocks, Meldon Hill

Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
Hurston Castle Tor, southern pile
Earlier in the week, a fellow tor bagger, named Kerry Pearn, contacted me, via my Facebook page, asking about the list I was ticking off and she mentioned one missing from my collection. It wasn't the first time I had heard of Hurston Castle Tor because it had a place on another list I have, that being tors and rocks to research once I had finished my initial task. But a little more investigation piqued my interest and I decided to go looking for it earlier than planned.

I started from the car park above Green Combe, overlooking Lettaford, on the B3212. An ideal location to make a circular of this walk and the knowledge that I could expect an ice cream van to be here at the end of the ramble!

Bridleway to Lettaford
Bridleway to Lettaford
I made my way off the moor, via a leafy lane, down into the small hamlet of Lettaford with its charming longhouse, green and narrow brook trickling south.

Lettaford
Lettaford
Through the hamlet, I took the lane to its junction by Furze Park. I looked beyond the driveway, further up to the forbidden tiny outcrop known as Bee Tor, wondering whether to chance it. The route passing the house so close, I thought otherwise. I could not see anyone to engage in conversation and not being one to suffer cold callers gladly myself, I chose not to disturb the owners on a Bank Holiday Monday morning. I turned north-west, on another lane, to Chagford.

Road to Chagford
Road to Chagford
I encountered a few cars, but they detracted little from the section of road walking. The hedgerows were scattered with plenty of wildflowers. It makes for a pleasant stroll.


wildflower
Germander Speedwell
wildflower
Red Campion
I passed near Langaford Farm, site of a small summer music festival known as Langaland, one I would be going to this year. A little further, I reached Langaford Bridge, a fine 19th Century single span road bridge over the River Bovey.

Langaford Bridge
Langaford Bridge
Beside the bridge, there is a small area of Open Access land that skirts the Bovey, which looked interesting enough to explore, but I chose not to be sidetracked and continued along the road. Further on, at a junction called Yellands Cross, I turned right, up a narrow, overgrown byway past Yellands Farm, to the edge of Meldon Common.

Byway at Yellands Cross
Byway at Yelland Cross
Yellands Farm
Yellands Farm
There were plenty of people about as I approached the trig point on Meldon Hill, a couple of four wheel drive vehicles passed me on the ascent and while I was thinking they were breaking the bylaw, it turned out that they were stewards for the Two Hills Race; a running event that would be passing over the summit.

Trig on Meldon Hill
Trig on Meldon Hill
Meldon Hill has a number of fine outcrops of merit. In his Spring 2000 Dartmoor Magazine article "nameless rock piles", Tim Jenkinson points out it receives scant attention in Dartmoor literature. He suggests the likely names for the outcrops; "Meldon Hill Tors or Middleton Tors given the older version of the hill's name as included on Colonel Mudge's map of Devon dated 1809."

The northern pile overlooking Chagford is the best vantage point and spectators of the race were gravitating to it. It also happened to be a favourite with the local string of ponies who begrudgingly moved away when numbers increased.

Meldon Hill
Meldon Hill

Ponies on Meldon Hill
Ponies on Meldon Hill
Far below, on the cricket ground, we could see tiny figures moving round the boundary as the race got underway. Estimation was that they would be heading up the steep path to join us in about ten minutes.

Down below, in Chagford, the Two Hill Race is about to start
Down below, in Chagford, the Two Hills Race is about to start
The hill was getting busy so I decided to depart. I dropped down, heading north-west, looking for a collection of outcrops above the road junction of Tunnaford Cross.

It dawned on me that I recognised these rocks. On many a drive between Chagford and Fernworthy Reservoir, they are obvious on the lower slopes of Meldon Hill. I recall making a mental note to find out more about them, but like most of my thoughts, it got stored away in the recesses of my noggin.

In his article Tim mentioned "an exceptional rock basin" on one of these lower outcrops. On his excellent Flickr gallery, he, later, appropriately dubbed them "Tunnaford Rocks".

Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
I wandered between them, eager to find this noted rock basin. I found it to the west of the main body, one of the best examples I have seen.

Rock Basin, Tunnaford Rocks
Rock Basin, Tunnaford Rocks

I visited a huge boulder with a good overhang before picking my way down to the road through emerging bracken. A few more weeks and visiting these rocks will be a tougher task.

Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks
Tunnaford Rocks

I descended to the road at Tunnaford Cross, taking the route towards Fernworthy Reservoir. Being the only way to the reservoir, it is a busy little single track lane.

Tunnaford Cross
Tunnaford Cross
Sign to Fernworthy
Sign to Fernworthy
Reaching the driveway to Lower Shapley, I took a short cut to meet up with a section of the Mariner's Way just as it passes through the farm.

This is also the foul weather option for the Two Moors Way. It avoids the open moorland, passing through the hamlets of Hurston and Lettaford, continuing low to avoid Shapley Common and Hamel Down, to Widecombe-in-the-Moor.

It was clearly a lesser trod route, if the bemusement of the sheep was anything to go by.

Sheep not used to walkers on this section of the Two Moors / Mariner's Way
Sheep not used to walkers on the Two Moors / Mariner's Way
Mariner's Way sign
Mariner's Way sign
I was only treading as far as the farm called Hurston, leaving the Mariner's / Two Moors Way, and passing through the farmstead, westward towards a hill they call Royal.

Hurston
Hurston
Female Damoiselle
Female Damoiselle
Gate to the open moor from Hurston
Gate to the open moor from Hurston
I reached a moor gate, passing through to follow a wall up and over to a vantage point where I could see a valley with Hurston Castle Tor below.

Looking back from Royal Hill to Meldon Hill
Looking back from Royal Hill to Meldon Hill

Hurston Castle Tor
Hurston Castle Tor
Standing above this fine set of outcrops, I was somewhat surprised that it is little documented. Briefly mentioned as a "ridge of rock" by William Crossing, in his Guide to Dartmoor, there is more attention paid to it by Eric Hemery in the High Dartmoor p.708; "a weathered rock-ridge lies on the side of Royal like a massive cyclopean wall, its line contouring eastward above the right bank, where it swells into a small and beautiful tor known as Hurston Castle (approx 1050 feet)."

Hurston Castle Tor southern pile from the north
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
The tor has two main piles, north and south separated by the river between. When I later looked for the name, I found this was a bone of contention. Is it the River Bovey of the North Walla Brook? 

Upper Bovey
Upper Bovey or the North Walla Brook?
Both William Crossing and Eric Hemery call it the Bovey. The former, in his Guide to Dartmoor p.248, mentions its source, up near Water Hill, was originally known locally as Hurston Water and Boveycombe Head, and the misnomer is the result of a cartography error. Hemery, in High Dartmoor p.710, says it was "an administrative expedient of mining days, an attempt to settle a boundary dispute."

Hurston Castle Tor south pile by the ford
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile by the ford
Despite the evidence, the Ordnance Survey map still, incorrectly, marks this watercourse as the North Walla Brook.

I crossed the river at a ford beneath the southern pile, and set about exploring. I have to say I have fallen for this tor.

Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile

Hurston Castle Tor northern pile
Hurston Castle Tor northern pile
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
Wandering beside the granite walls of the "castle", it was hard to resist dropping steeply into the woods, to the river, where the sounds of tumbling water emanated. Down on its banks, the River Bovey is a typical Dartmoor woodland river scene; scattered moss covered boulders on the bed, with dark peat stained waters forging their descent before disappearing into a tangle of trees. 

The Upper Bovey
The Upper Bovey
The Upper Bovey
The Upper Bovey
I returned to the summit outcrop of the southern pile and sat awhile to eat my scant provisions; a solitary apple and a half empty Nalgene. When it was time to leave I made my way towards a narrow strip of access land, but kept glancing back, a compulsion to return for another look impossible to resist. I returned, skirted around, seeking out different vantage points in an attempt do Hurston Castle Tor justice in a photograph. Sadly, I don't feel I have so you will just have to visit yourself!

Hurston Castle Tor northern pile
Hurston Castle Tor northern pile
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
Hurston Castle Tor southern pile
As I was about to leave, for good this time, I spotted a lamb. Its head was trapped in the fence on the border of a farm named Lakeland and the sheer weight of flies in the air told me the poor thing was dead. This is an area not usually frequented by visitors so the odds were always against it. It was also a stark reminder to be prepared out on Dartmoor when visiting these lonely places.

Harsh side of Dartmoor. A lamb died with its head trapped in a fence.
Harsh side of Dartmoor; a lamb died with its head trapped in a fence
Open access lane between two field systems
Open Access lane between two field systems
I returned to the walk, passing through a narrow strip of open access, a lane between two walled field systems. I had another wonderful view of Meldon Hill in the distance as I began to climb uphill, what I perceived to be the last testing obstacle before making a beeline for the car.

Meldon Hill from north of Lakeland
Meldon Hill from north of Lakeland
With thoughts of the lamb foremost in my mind, I chanced upon a ewe lying in a shallow ditch beside the path I had chosen. Another casualty of the secluded location, I thought, but wait, this one was still alive, and in some distress.

Not for the first time, I was on the phone to Karla at Dartmoor Livestock Protection, trying to explain the situation and where I was. I had a pretty accurate ten figure grid reference, but as in the case with Wacka Tor, describing the location wasn't straightforward; not what you would call "on the tourist trail".

Karla suggested I try to put the ewe in a position so it may be able to "right itself" and get up. After a brief wrestle with the stricken animal, I had got her out of the ditch. But she wasn't in any state to help herself. After a poke around in her ears for id, of which there was none, the red paint on her body would have to suffice in tracing the owner. In the knowledge the farmer would be on their way, I was told not to wait and I reluctantly left the ewe alone on the hill.

Distressed ewe near Lakeland.
Distressed ewe near Lakeland
I ascended, keeping an eye out for the farmer but, after my experience at Wacka, I didn't have high hopes. I reached the drive to Lakeland and thought it an idea to pop down to the farm and see if it was their sheep. I spoke to the owner, who said she didn't keep livestock but she would call the farmer she thought might. I thanked her and climbed back up the hill.

When I returned to the gate, I saw a Land Rover parked up and went looking. Half expecting to find the farmer attending to the ewe, I reached the animal only to find she was still alone, still on her side. Back up the hill again, I reached the top just in time to spot the vehicle pulling away. I waved frantically, it stopped, and a lady got out of the passenger seat and came towards me. She had not found the ewe, so I explained where she was, and then to her husband, who back in the car. They said they would have to get their son out with the quad bike to rescue her. They were very grateful for the effort I had gone to.

When they left, I immediately regretted not giving them my contact details. I would not know the fate of the poor beast, even though I had a fair idea it would not be a happy outcome.

I've posted this before but it is an opportune moment in my account to share again; Everyone who spends time on Dartmoor should have the number for Dartmoor Livestock Protection stored in their mobile, or to hand; 07873 587561

To help clarify the information required, the following has been lifted from their website;

It is important to give the following details, where possible:

  • Type and colour of animal: ear tag numbers, ear notches and colour of paint marks on sheep; brand marks on ponies; ear tag numbers and ear notches on cattle.
  • What appears to be wrong: pain, collapsed, bleeding?
  • Location: clear directions are vital. Please give grid reference, if possible, and state whether the animal is visible from the road and whether it is mobile.
  • Can you stay to guide assistance? This is very helpful.
  • Your name, tel no & address. This could be vital for additional directions etc.

Green Combe and Meldon HIll beyond.
Green Combe and Meldon Hill beyond
I continued. With my time lengthened by the incident, I contoured around Green Combe instead of dropping down to explore it, as had been the plan. Hot and sticky, the ice cream van in the car park was just what the doctor ordered!

Another eventful adventure complete, here is my route for the day: