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Taw March horseshoe from Belstone with camp on Steeperton Tor [Dartmoor Trip – Part 4]

After abandoning our exploration to the west of Princetown, Paul and I returned to main base camp (his parent’s house just off Dartmoor). We had always planned to pop in so I could do my tri-weekly injection (kindly being kept at room temperature in the house), but Paul was clearly unwell and he made the hard, but sensible, decision to call it a day and rest. My heart went out for Paul – his joy and love of Dartmoor is infectious, and the reason so many of us have re-discovered the moor, and he was clearly disappointed to lose time amongst his beloved tors. As my bivvy dried in the sunshine, he talked me through the route he had planned for the day, the horseshoe around Taw March, and I bid him farewell and set off to Belstone.

It was another glorious sunny day, and I was soon feeling the heat (i.e. I was sweating) as I made the climb from Belstone up Watchet Hill. The planned route is a tor-bagger paradise, with 8 tors in quick succession, 6 of them visible from the hill and in easy reach.

The planned route… with at least 6 tors visible I think

First up was Tors End. Matthew (@hillplodder), after a more recent visit, will argue there is a second tor between Tors End and Belstone Tor, and it was certainly tricky to pin point which of the outcrops was Tors End, although Ken Ringwood does make mention of a higher outcrop, suggesting Tors End is the lower of the two. Who can say whether the higher outcrop is a tor in its own right? “When is a Tor a Tor?” is, at the very least, probably a blog post topic in its own right! Ken does state in his introduction:

“Apart from Dartmoor’s named tors and rocks, there are many other outcrops without names. Some of the tors and rocks without names are as prominent as those with names; it may be that they once had names which have been lost over time, or that they were not as significant to moor dwellers as other tors”

Hillplodders Tor?

Tors End / Hillplodder Tor?

I continued up the ridge to Belstone Tor to enjoy a snack in the sunshine admiring the views. I had plenty of time – it was only 1pm and, with only a couple of miles to my planned camp spot, I could take it easy and get in plenty of tor sitting! From Belstone Tor it was through the Irishman’s Wall to Higher Tor, before dropping down to insignificant, yet strangely endearing, Lower Tor (also known as Russ Tor). With the heat, I decided to be a bit cautious with my rapidly dwindling water supply.

Looking through Irishman’s Wall back to Belstone Tor

At nearby Winter Tor, I listened in as a couple of ladies were being taught the finer points of navigation on Dartmoor and had a bit of a chat with the instructor about bivvy bags before making my way to Knattaborough Tor then Oke Tor.

Stepperton Tor, my camp spot for the night, was now ahead although, as I still had plenty of time, I decided to divert up the side of Okement Hill to have a look at the military observation hut.

Observation hut for Okehampton Range

Whilst it was still early, there was nothing else in the nearby vicinity to visit, so I dropped down to the stream beneath Stepperton to replenish water and then made a start up the steep ascent. It was murderous going in the heat, but eventually I gratefully collapse beside the tor. The views from the hill, actually a Dewey, were fantastic, and it was no problem killing a few hours before making camp as I lay on my mat enjoying the sunshine and the views as my sleeping bag dried out beside me.

As Paul had warned me, the flat grass beside the observation hut and flag pole was caked in animal faeces – as was pretty much all the suitable bivvy spots. In the end I choose an area of longer grass slightly below the hut (and out of the strong wind which was picking up) looking out towards the tors I had visited earlier. I cooked my dinner, tinned chilli washed down with a bottle of Doom Bar,  on a nearby rock before settling into my bivvy to enjoy the sunset (I opted to have the insect net closed after discovering a tick crawling on the outside of the bag after dinner!)

I awoke (after a restless night disturbed by the full moon shining in my face!) just as the sun was rising behind me and, by the time I had eaten breakfast and packed everything up, it was yet another fantastic sunny morning with hardly a cloud in the sky. The previous day I had spotted Wild Tor tantalisingly close and only slightly in the wrong direction, so I headed South East, refilling my Sawyer Squeeze as I crossed the river, and climbed up to the tor. I was not disappointed with Wild Tor which potentially would have made a better camping location than the tick infested grass on Stepperton Tor. Definitely a tor to revisit.

Wild Tor looking back to yesterday’s Tors

I turned North East and re-joined the planned route at Hound Tor, where I stopped to make a coffee, before heading to White Moor Stone circle. This circle, apparently one of the most impressive sites in England (thanks to its lofty location and fantastic views across the moor and mires), was reconstructed in 1896 with 18 (of the original 19) stones forming a circle 20m across. Whilst I was here, I decided to make the slight diversion east to visit the nearby ‘White Moor Stone’ marked on the map – some theories suggest this is the missing stone from the circle re-purposed as a boundary marker.

White Moor Stone Circle between Hound Tor and Little Hound Tor

From the circle and nearby Little Hound Tor (considering Hound Tor is hardly big, this is tiny!) I started making the steady ascent up Cosdon Hill to Cosdon Beacon (actually a tor with some granite, a couple of large cairns and a trig point). As I paused for breath (before taking a 360 degree panoramic), I was passed by a man on horseback heading the way I had come – he made a reappearance following the bridleway around the hill back to South Zeal, as I was descending Cosdon to try and find Ottery Tor. I liked Ottery Tor – not because it is an impressive tor (it isn’t), but because it is hard to imagine it is visited that often – to get to it, I left the bridleway then cut across very rough terrain (gps in hand) following twisting and turning animal trails to the tor.

I re-joined the bridleway briefly, before taking ‘a path’ down the hill heading towards Ivy Tor. The path soon disappeared……. the ferns got bigger…. (in some cases they were my height – 6’3!!)…. the bushes appeared…… and the bushes got pricklier….. I barged through the undergrowth trying to get to the tor, until I got to a cliff above the river to the right of the tor. I retraced my steps, only to reach a line of prickly bushes blocking my path. Fancying the bushes more than the cliff, I forced my way through them as they tore at my face and arms. Once through the bushes, I found myself on a cliff above the tor, but turning back the bushes suddenly became impenetrable. I was trapped. The sun was beating down and my wounds, already swelling, were stinging from my sweat. I had no choice but to very carefully make a path down the cliff – through more prickly bushes and finally forcing through more ferns to the foot of Ivy Tor. I was exhausted, sore, and pretty miffed off.

Not the route to come down to Ivy Tor (and part of the Tor)

My top tip for anyone wanting to visit Ivy Tor is to follow the footpath along the river below, where there is a nice, prickly bush free, path up to the tor… I joined the river, then followed the path back towards Belstone, taking a slight diversion to try and find The Cliff (you can only sort of get to a bit of it, but I had a good view of it coming down the hill before my Ivy Tor hell). It was getting hotter as I returned to Belstone – the pub, with its tasty cider and fresh locally caught scampi in a box, was the most amazing sight for this hot, sore and weary tor-bagger’s eyes! An hour sitting in the sunny beer garden looking back across to Cosdon Hill and the moor soon had my spirits raised ready for the final part of my trip.

Stocks in Belstone village

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