One of the benefits of moving to Taunton is that Dartmoor, previously far enough that visits needed to be overnight, is now near enough, not just for day trips, but to ‘pop to’ for a few hours. This has finally allowed
me our 5-year old to join the Dartmoor Ranger Ralph Club, and on Wednesday in the late afternoon we headed to Hound Tor for her first session – ‘nocturnal adventures’.
Whilst I am sure the National Trust would disagree, Castle Drogo, the last castle built England, is not really a castle. Finished in 1930, this stately home, with mock medieval and Tudor castle features, was always a bit of a contentious choice as Devon’s representative in our County Castle Caper. We only really choose it so we had an excuse to cross Dartmoor as part of our challenge! Having been forced back off Dartmoor earlier in the day, and after fire-side food, beer and good company in the Warren House Inn (near the bunkhouse we should have walked to rather than getting a lift to) a new plan was needed. Neither myself or Sarah had much inclination to re-attempt our planned Dartmoor crossing the following day – Dartmoor is our regular stomping ground anyway and logistically it would be challenging. There are a few decent castles south of Dartmoor but that would put us much further away from Exmoor – a requirement of our caper thanks to the ‘visit every National Park’ rule. Paul, a resident of Okehampton, suggested his local castle was a ‘proper castle’ – should we return to Lydford on foot then get back on our bikes and rejoin NCN 27 to Okehampton Castle?
Day 1 – Tintagel Castle, Cornwall to Lydford Castle, Devon (by cycle)
Considering the level of logistical planning required for the first leg of the #CountyCastleCaper, I could have made a bit more of an effort to check the tide tables! We arrived at Trebarwith Strand ready to get our Cornwall swim in before Tintagel Castle, just up the coast, opened, to be greeted by the sight of the sea smashing into the cliffs just below us. Trebarwith Strand is apparently an excellent swimming beach at low tide – sadly in a few hours time! Our plans already beginning to unravel, we retreated to Tintagel to enjoy a coffee and a second (light) breakfast in the unexpected sunshine as we killed time before the castle opened and the tide retreated.
.. continued from ‘Exploring the Tors and antiquities of Walkhampton Common’
With snow falling outside, we (Matt, Paul, Rich and Neil) gathered around a table in the warm Plume of Feathers pub in Princetown, stuffed from a hearty dinner and with Dartmoor Brewery ales in hand, to discuss the following day. The original plan, before snow was forecast, was to walk around Fenworthy forest and reservoir, bagging a good yield of tors in the process, however, with more snow forecast, we decided driving was not an option and planned an alternative, more local, route instead.
With a surprisingly promising weather forecast, we (myself and @PascallSarah – @moorlandwalker decided to spend the day doing diy) decided to take advantage of a mild autumnal day and headed to the car park above Cullever Steps with the intention of exploring the rooftop of Devon – the highest point of Devon (and indeed the south of England).
It is always nice to get a tor ‘bagged’ (the act of registering your visit to a tor on Social Hiking) on a walk before you have even had a chance to get out of breath. The tor in question, Shilstone Tor, could probably be classified as a ‘hillplodder tor’ (in other words, you could probably ‘bag it’ within the site’s margin of error without even getting out of the car) and it was immediately above the small layby Paul and I parked in ready to begin the day’s walk.
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.
In September, I will be leaving Northamptonshire and moving south west to be nearer to Dartmoor National Park.
My passion for Dartmoor, a forgotten childhood flame, was rekindled back in 2011 on a walking weekend with friends. At first we kept it casual but, after discovering Tor bagging, things soon started to get serious. Dartmoor has seduced me, with her stunning scenery, her magical tors and her unpredictable weather.
Feeling suitable reinvigorated from the cider and scampi at the aptly named The Tors pub after my hellish descent to Ivy Tor (part 4), I retreated to Fox Tor Café in Princetown to plan my next move (and charge my phone!). I wanted a pub dinner for my last night on the moor, and the Dartmoor Inn in Merrivale seemed an obvious choice. Previously, the inn’s owners have been happy for customers to leave cars in their car park overnight and I quite fancied a night on Great Mis Tor, which towers over the pub. As I had a few hours to kill, I would also have time to finally track down the illusive Prowtytown Rocks, accessible from a car park just down the road from the pub. First though, I had more immediate concerns… I stank. It is perhaps testament to the quality and professionalism of the staff at the Fox Tor Café that no one had mentioned it, but I was definitely omitting an odour. Before dinner at the pub, I needed a bath.
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.