the art of tor bagging

Saddle Tor. Jim ascending.
Saddle Tor

In 2014, I happened upon a review for an illustrated book, called “Dartmoor’s Tors and Rocks” by Ken Ringwood. Intrigued, the next time I was at the visitor centre in Princetown, I picked up a copy. Looking back, I wouldn’t feel it was too strong a statement to make when I say that it was a defining moment in my relationship with the national park.

Apart from walking the Perambulation of 1240 route back in 2007, Dartmoor had been my primary location for navigation training and I notched up many quality hill days for my Walking Group Leader Award (now known as Hill and Moorland Leader). Since I passed, back in 2009, my rambling and wild camping exploits had become a succession of enjoyable but repetitive forays into familiar areas. But something changed when I read the book; the concept of Tor Bagging resonated with me and my route planning became more goal driven; I was hooked.

So what exactly is “Tor Bagging”? I should explain; There are, it seems, an infinite number of tick lists related to hiking. Whether it be setting out to climb every Munro in Scotland, stand upon the Wainwrights of the Lake District, visit all the summits of Wales above 3000 feet, or walk the National Trails of the UK, there is something for everybody. Add to that, my current preoccupation; visiting all the tors of Dartmoor. A "Tor", has quite a few definitions, but the one I subscribe to is that it is either a high rock or pile of rocks on the side or top of a hill.

Climbing up to Lower Leather Tor
Climbing up to Lower Leather Tor

How many tors there are on Dartmoor is open to debate, but Ken Ringwood’s tor bagging “bible” includes significant rocks and he lists 365, effectively one to visit for every day of the year. I had seen a few lists posted on websites and considered it before, but saw it as a huge undertaking for someone who lives over 200 miles away, and a little fanciful to think I could manage it. Ken’s book made me realise it is an achievable pursuit.

Some of the locations can be visited easily using nearby car parks, but part of the purpose, for me, is to further encourage me to get out on the moor, discovering them as part of day walks, or overnight wild camping trips.

My mind made up, I mentioned my intentions here on this blog and social media and Phil Sorrell, creator of a walking website called Social Hiking, expressed an interest in adding the information to the site. The concept of this marvellous website is simple. It provides a forum where, with the aid of various different tracking devices, hikers can literally share their adventure on a live map, and interact with the viewer through tweets, photos and audio.

From here, the beginnings of a bagging list for Social Hikers was formed. Taking data compiled from various sources including old guide books, maps, Geonames, The Database of British and Irish Hills, and, of course, Ken Ringwood’s book, a comprehensive list of over 400 is now available.

As we diligently tick off each tor, there have had to be a few adjustments to the odd grid reference, tweaks that will likely continue as new tors are added to the list. For me, a highlight to our efforts is that we have sparked an interest in Dartmoor among hikers more accustomed to the more mountainous areas in the north, and they are keen to experience the National Park. Lured by the thrill of another list of peaks to tick off, no doubt!

Sheeps Tor. Dartmoor fields.
Sheeps Tor

What I have also learnt from Tor Bagging this year is that whilst it is the goal that draws you in, it isn't all about tick lists and targets; the process slows your pace, encourages you to explore, introduces you to a greater awareness of the environment, and strengthens the passion you have for the place you are walking in.

Little Combe Tor
Little Combe Tor

I am now discovering new places on the moor, venturing into areas I never contemplated and constantly being surprised by the variety and beauty of Dartmoor. For me, I'm finding that rarely visited, hidden gems, such as Little Combe Tor, are as big a thrill to visit as the more well known giants on the open moor! If every tor bagging walk had a buried treasure such as that, I would be more than happy! If you are a regular walker in this part of the world, taking up Tor Bagging is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

Little Combe Tor. Moss.
Moss on Little Combe Tor

And it is not just a summer pursuit. Whilst the days are shorter and the number of tors visited is lower, gone are the battles to some of the hidden waypoints, through shoulder high bracken, and other foliage. Properly prepared, the moor isn’t as formidable, in the winter, as people think, either. There are definite advantages and pleasures to walking on a frozen Dartmoor. The going underfoot can be significantly easier. Take the route from the Whitehorse Hill cist to Hangingstone Hill; on a mild day, as an example; if you take the the “crow flies” option, instead of the peat pass, you’ll be spending a lot of time leaping over mires and finding yourself up to your ankles or, occasionally, knees, in the boggy terrain. On a frozen moor, with the right precautions, it is a refreshingly straightforward route, if a little slippery in places.

Pony on Black Tor
So, whilst I have recently completed my list, I will seek out new and forgotten tors, as well as re-visit these “old friends”.