Exploring the Tors and antiquities of Walkhampton Common
Tor bagging, the act of visiting (and ideally sitting on) hunks of granite (or other rock) on Dartmoor, was, it turns out, just the start. Inspired by the plethora of Dartmoor themed books I received at Christmas (not too mention the ones I bought myself), I decided to make my next hike a little special and mix Tor bagging with visiting other historical curiosities. The hike in question, back in January, not only finished off the last few publicly accessible Tors on my list on Walkhampton Common, but proved to be a major turning point in how I experience and enjoy Dartmoor.
It had snowed in Northamptonshire overnight, although thankfully the slushy local roads were sufficiently driveable at 6am to make it onto the larger, and more reliably gritted, dual carriageway. Evidence of snow rapidly disappeared as I passed Oxford and Bristol, and it was not until the climb up into the heart of Dartmoor that evidence of the night’s storm reappeared with a dusting of snow across the moorland.
The Plymouth road heading out of Princetown
The planned hike, a warm up before the following day’s hike with some of the Social Hiking gang, was heavily influenced by Crossing and his wonderful guide, written in 1912, of Dartmoor. After grabbing a packed lunch from the Fox Tor Cafe, I set out on the Plymouth Road. It was cold and windy, but it was not long before I reached the first point of interest, just off the road – a small hollow named as Soldier’s Pond, named after a corporal of 7th Royal Fusiliers perished in the snow in 1853 (his companions died further down the road at Double Waters). Slightly further down the road is Devil’s Bridge, not named after ‘the evil one’ but instead after a workman whose nickname was The Devil… you have to wonder why!!
Remains of bronze age huts on Walkhampton Common
This area is a good example of how mankind has had an impact on Dartmoor over thousands of years. To the North, the scarrings of medieval tin workings are visible, and to the South towards Hart Tor, the first Tor of the day, the remains of bronze age settlements are mixed in with the remains of a relatively modern (comparatively) artillery range. From Hart Tor, I crossed Hart Tor Brook and headed up to Cramber Tor.
Diverting slightly from Crossing’s route, I headed further up Cramber Hill to find Cramber Pool. Described in, Dartmoor 365 as more colourful and secluded than the larger nearby Crazy Well Pool, this pool is where tinners had followed a vein of ore up the hill before following it vertically downwards into the ground.
Cramber Pool on Cramber Hill
Giving the trig point a miss (a decision I may regret should I ever add Cramber Hill to the Social Hiking hill database), I followed the gert back down the hill then headed south west to meet the footbridge across the Devonport Leat and descending to Crazy Well Pool. The pool is again a legacy of the tinners, and in a poem ‘Gaveston on Dartmoor’, Gaveston encounters the witch of Sheeps Tor at the pool, and there are various other folklore tales and legends associated it (as described on the fantastic Legendary Dartmoor website)
Crazy Well Pool, Dartmoor
Crossing, before his guide to Dartmoor, wrote a book about the crosses of Dartmoor. Just to the east of the pool is a cross which Crossing himself had restored from fragments he found nearby of the original.
Cross restored by Crossing
From Crazy Well Pool, I returned to the Devonport Leat and followed it west until it crossed River Meavy which I then followed upstream. My target was Black Tor Falls:
“where the steam comes swiftly round a heathery bank to glide over moss-covered stones; where dripping ferns margin the waters, and the mountain ash waves her branches gracefully above them. In this charming little dell are two mining houses, one on each side of the steam, and both are worthy of examination”
Crossing’s Guide To Dartmoor
Black Tor falls and evidence of the stamping mill
In this photo, you can just make out what makes the ruins I had my lunch in so interesting. On the OS map, it is marked as a ‘Blowing House’, yet it is actually a ‘Stamping Mill’. The mortarstone, onto which stamp baulks (with iron heads) would smash the tin ore, is still visible. OS mistakenly mark all tin mills as blowing houses across the whole of Dartmoor according to The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor. Before getting to Black Tor, I quickly popped across the river to visit the double stone row.
I liked Black Tor, but it is certainly a Tor to visit another day. The weather was starting to turn and it was getting colder, so I did not linger and carried on across the road and up to Leeden Tor. Unsure of which outcrop triggered the all important ‘bag’ on Social Hiking I visited all of them before setting off towards Ingra Tor. Before getting to the Tor I (proudly) managed to find the cairn and cist.
Cairn and cist near Ingra Tor
Rather than going for just rain, Dartmoor decided to up the ante and it started chucking it down with ice rain propelled by the sharp wind now unhindered by any hills. It hurt. Ingra Tor will, like Black Tor, need to go on my list of Tors to re-visit as the little time I spent there was spent looking across to the now visible Pew Tor (my favourite remember!). The weather was getting worse, and it was a trudge past little Fur Tor and Yes Tor (Walkhampton variants) to Foggintor Quarry.
Having a curlywurly in Foggintor quaery
My plan in the quarry was to shelter from the wind, make a coffee on my stove and enjoy my curlywurly. The wind however was blowing a gale straight through the quarry, and my stove, lacking a windshield (looking at you @winkysmileyface), failed to boil. Now I was not moving it was also getting unbearably cold, and my curlywurly was rock solid, so I called it a day and beat a hasty retreat to Princetown and the warmth (body and soul) of the Plume of Feathers pub!
Over several pints, I was joined by the others as we watched the snow come down on Dartmoor……
to be continued…..