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Tor bagging on Dartmoor

“How about another trip to Dartmoor?” suggested Neil, one of my best friends, during a rare (not even annual) phone call.

Dartmoor has always had a permanent grip on my soul. Every summer when I was a kid, my family and I would head down to Devon for our annual holiday – staying with my grandparents who lived on the edge of Plymouth Hoe. I do not remember many specific trips to Dartmoor exactly, although I am sure there were many, but the brooding mass of moors were ever-present looking down over Plymouth and the surrounding countryside.

I have only managed a handful of visits to Dartmoor since I rediscovered hiking– a weekend with Neil and a few other friends in 2011 (visiting Fur Tor and some of the western Tors) and a fleeting visit in 2012 (a swim in Tavy Cleeve followed by a camp on Lynch Tor). This year though, Dartmoor has been heavily on my mind thanks to Paul Buck. Firstly, it was discussing the Dartmoor Perambulation of 1240 – in 1240 King Henry III ordered that Dartmoor Forest should be confirmed by a boundary perambulation, inspiring a route around Dartmoor that I would love to walk one day. Secondly, Paul had managed to convince me (not that I needed much convincing) to include all the Tors and notable rocks of Dartmoor on Social Hiking, so he could easily document his ambition to visit every single one.

“Dartmoor? Definitely!”, I answered Neil without a moments hesitation.

Paul, Neil and myself on Pew Tor (photo by Kate)

A weekend in July was put in the diary and Kate, my regular walking companion (and also friends with Neil), was invited to join us.  In June, both Kate and I had a chance to meet and chat in person with Paul and after confirming he was a pleasant companion for hiking and camping (and indeed long car journeys),  he was also invited to join us (presumably, as he accepted, Paul was able to confirm that we were better than dogs and maybe even on a par with cats?!!). This also gave me sufficient incentive to get all the updates needed on Social Hiking completed so I could add Paul’s Dartmoor list! My major concern for the weekend was whether my back was going to be able to cope – the walk the weekend before with Adrian showed it might, but Paul kindly worked out a route that had plenty of opportunities for me to cut it short if required (and of course included plenty of Tors to bag). We arranged to meet in Princetown on the Saturday morning.

Despite a Friday evening of frivolity, myself, Kate and Neil somehow managed to leave Neil’s house just West of Bristol on time (well almost) early on Saturday morning. The good weather, our excitement of heading to Dartmoor and the caravan game (hilarious but unsuitable for publication) kept spirits high despite the long delays on the M5 (caused by EVERYONE going to Barnstaple). Paul, who had passed the time in the Dartmoor Visitors Centre, was there to meet us as we finally pulled into the carpark at Princetown an hour late. He kindly presented me with ‘Dartmoor’s Tors and Rocks’ by Ken Ringwood, as a thank you for the work involved in getting his list onto Social Hiking. It is a brilliant book which has a description and photo of every Tor and notable rocks on Dartmoor – it is available online and proceeds go to the Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team.

The walk started from the car park South of Princetown on B3212, just below Sharpitor – from the car park we had views across the valley (River Walkham) to Pew Tor, our destination in the evening, and over to Cox Tor and Great Staple Tor. From the car park it was a short ascent up to Sharpitor – our first (and highest) Tor of the day.

From Sharpitor, we headed across to Peek Hill, enjoying the stunning views in the hazzy sunshine down to the Burrator Reservoir, it’s surrounding plantations, and over to Sheeps Tor. We then dropped down to find Lowery Tor. The Tor itself is quite obvious, but we discovered that the specific locations of some of the Tors on Social Hiking were a little out. We consulted ‘Dartmoor’s Tors and Rocks’ and happy we were in the right place, we made our way down to Devonport Leat and Crofts plantation.

Dropping out of what breeze there was, we started to feel the heat and humidity. Devonport Leat provided a good opportunity to fill up my Sawyer Squeeze with some cool fresh Dartmoor water, before we headed into the cooler trees.  We followed a well trodden path through the trees before re-joining the leat and following it to it’s abrupt end – we paused to watch the water disappear down a giant plug, presumably emptying into the nearby Burrator Reservoir, before continuing down a path to our next Tor – Claig Tor.

Claig Tor does not look much from the top – just a few rocks near the path from the car park. There is even a bench to sit and enjoy the views! It is only when you drop down to the road below that you see the cliff underneath the Tor. We had a rest on one of the rocks (unaware of the cliff below us!) and munched on some pork, chilli and black pudding pies (worryingly it is becoming tradition that I bring pies for my walking companions – I need to nip that in the bud!!) From the Tor we followed the road down to the Burrator Reservoir dam.

As can probably be guessed by the name, just about the reservoir’s southern end there is Burra Tor – this Tor is hidden from view by trees, although easily accessible by a path off the road, and consists of many moss covered granite rocks with interesting overhangs. Tor suitable explored (by Paul), filmed (by Neil) and rested on (by myself and Kate), we returned to the road and made our way along to Sheepstor to make the ascent up Sheeps Tor.

Above the cooler tree-line, and with little breeze, we were all starting to seriously feel the heat and humidity as we climbed up towards Sheeps Tor. We took a breather on Maiden Tor, a minor outcrop below the much larger Tor above us, to try and cool down and take on some water. We followed some mysterious arrows marking out a route up to the top of Sheeps Tor (well except Paul, who found his own path – presumably running when out of sight to ensure arriving before us ;)), before collapsing at the top to enjoy the breeze that had finally arrived. The mystery of the arrows was resolved as we watched families doing some kind of outdoor family challenge following the marked course. Rather than following the arrows down, we headed along the top of Sheeps Tor to reach Narrator, before making our own route down to find Rough Tor (Burrator).

Rough Tor (Burrator) is somewhere in Roughtor Plantation – densely packed trees,  no path and discarded tree trunks littering the forest floor hampered us as we searched. Sensibly we guessed the Tor was likely to be at the highest point, so we headed ‘up’ and eventually stumbled across it deep in the trees.  Pleased with ourselves, we headed out of the plantation – passing several lovely sun-dappled clearings that would be ideal wild camp spots (sadly noting it is not a legal place to wild camp). Water was, by now, getting very low, so we headed to Narrator Brook to refill our water bottles via mine and Paul’s Sawyer Squeezes.

Click Tor was another relatively tricky to find Tor. We knew it was somewhere just above the remains of a Blowing House, but with no obvious path we made a scrabble up the hill through the ferns until we came across a handful of rocks in roughly the right place. It did not feel particularly Tor-like, nor looked much like the photo in Dartmoor’s Tors and Rocks (taken when the ferns were dead). Paul scouted around and could not find anything above more likely, and it got bagged on Social Hiking automatically, so we must have been in the right place! Paul found an easier route down, through the Blowing House, and we continued to follow the smaller path along Narrator Brook aiming for Cuckoo Rock (although with hindsight it would probably have been easier to return to the main footpath and approach Cuckoo Rock from the other direction).

We forced our way through the ferns climbing up to Cuckoo Rock from the semi-path below. At first we were a little puzzled which rock of many was Cuckoo Rock, but it soon became quite obvious. After a brief discussion about bouldering, we continued to the top of Combshead Tor for another well deserved rest to soak up the wonderful view back to Sheeps Tor. Onwards to Hingston Hill (home to a number of Dartmoor ponies including a tiny fowl), then Down Tor, before beginning the hunt for Snappers Tor.

We were starting to get into a routine for these lesser Tors – force our way through ferns to rocks, compare photo in the book (no ferns, or with snow or helicopter) with the rocks we think is the Tor (from a different angle), then try and get signal to see if Social Hiking has picked up on it being the correct Tor, before finally continuing (or returning) along a more obvious path! Snappers Tor again does not look much when approached from the top, but there is a steep descent below from where, without ferns, it would look much more impressive. Happy we ‘bagged it’, we rejoined the main path down from Down Tor and followed it to Little Down Tor then Middleworth Tor, before dropping back down to the road around the reservoir (and best of all….. an ice cream van!!!)

The one downfall of parking nearest the highest point of your day is that you almost certainly have a big up at the end. At the start Paul had decided my back would probably cope better going up Leather Tor rather than down – he was probably right. I cannot speak for the others, but I surprised myself with the ascent – it was tiring and hot, but I had more reserves than I expected (considering how in active I have been recently) and my back was completely untroubled (although I did have a fall on the rocks underneath the ridge at the top of Leather Tor, but thankfully avoiding jarring my back).  The views from Lower Leather Tor (pictured above) and Leather Tor back to Burrator Reservoir were spectacular, and Kate (despite her fear of heights I had forgotten about) kindly took a few photos of me with the stunning backdrop behind me.

A fantastic day on Dartmoor at an end, we returned to the car and made our way to the Dartmoor Inn for dinner before heading back out for a camp on Pew Tor (the subject of another blog post)

The next day, time constraints meant only a short walk was planned, so we headed up Bellever Tor. As I sat on the Tor eyeing up nearby Laughter Tor I knew I was hooked on Dartmoor and the idea of visiting all it’s Tors and Rocks and discovering more of it’s secrets. Thanks a bunch Paul!

Neil put together this brilliant video of his footage and photos from our weekend on Dartmoor:

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