We left Bristol early on Saturday morning (fuelled by bacon sandwiches) to head down the M5 and A30 to Dartmoor in a convoy of three cars (6 people, 1 big dog and lots of car camping kit). During breakfast, I had been updated by @DanSantillo that the hills were still shrowded in mist, and I was a little nervous as the haze covered countryside flew past. Fortunately though, by the time we arrived at the tucked away Lane End carpark, the sun had done it’s job of burning away the mist leaving mostly blue skies and glorious sunshine.
Distance: 11.4 miles
Whilst we waited for the lead car, who had mised the turn off the A30, I put a brew on and we got our kit together and layered ourselves in suncream. We were briefly joined in the carpark by a bunch of kids carrying heavy looking rucksacks, presumably completing their Duke of Edinburgh award, who had descended from Ger Tor under the watchful supervision of their checkpoint teacher. Replenished with water they headed down the road leaving the teacher to teach his dog how to play fetch whilst he waited for the next group.
We took off east down a farm track before cutting across to what appears to be a man-made steam “Mine Leat” (I am guessing it supplies the solitary houses nearby and old mine workings). The steam (it lacked babble to be a brook, and was too small to be a river) followed the contours around Nat Tor, passing the army firing range warning signs (being Easter weekend, all the ranges were open), before joining the river Tavy. There was quite an obvious path along the river edge, which we followed upstream, taking in the sight of the Tors towering above us. We past a few swimmers cooling off in the river (from a distance they seemed nude, but thankfully they were fully clothed!) which, with the sun beating down and the lack of breeze in the valley, seemed very tempting! The dog, on her extendable lead, obviously thought so too, as she swam across to the otherside, lead fully extended, and then refused to come back. Thankfully, after a little coaxing (and some gentle pulling) she got the message that I had no intention of swimming across to join her!
After crossing Snake Brook, the path disappeared and the way was much harder going as we climbed over boulders and skirted boggy patches. Rather than continuing to follow the river, we decided to cut across Western Oke, which looked easier and gave us a chance to see the hut circles and settlement remains shown on the map (Watern Oke) – it makes you wonder what it was like living on the moor (although I am sure the surrounding area was very different then). We rejoined the river and followed it to Sandy Ford which, whilst not particularly sandy, had a few suitable crossing points (although one of the pair we met there had decided to wade across rather than our method of majestically (some more than others) leaping from rock to rock). On the other side we found a dry patch to take a break ready for tackling Fur Tor, now dominating the moor in front of us.
According to the OS map, the flat stretch across Pinswell (between Sandy Ford and Fur Tor) is “bracken, health or rough grassland” (the green symbol), rather than “marsh” (the blue symbol). However it is classed, it is essentially a bog! Fortunately the preceeding few weeks of sun meant that, whilst there were still wet bits, it was mostly traversable (although I am not sure I would fancy the same route after heavy rain!). The views from the top of Fur Tor were spectacular, and well worth the climb – miles of wilderness with Tors against the horizon in all directions! We headed to the Tor to find some shade for lunch, only to disturb a now squawking baby bird (the size of a dog) in a nest halfway up the Tor (from reading other blog posts, I think it might have been a baby raven). Fearful of the mother’s anger, we choose a less sheltered spot some distance away beside some smaller rocks for lunch and another brew.
After lunch we strode off across the moor towards Great Kneeset. Crossing Cut Combe Water and the climb to Little Kneeset was fairly easy going, but the terrain got harder in the dip across to Great Kneeset – one of my companions described it as like walking on snow! I think if I was doing the route again, I would be tempted to stay on the ridge taking in Cut Hill, Black Hill and Black Ridge on the way to Great Kneeset. By the time we reached the top, a fairly refreshing wind had picked up, although the sun was still shining! As we soaked up the rudged landscape, we had to deal with our only emergency of the day – a folded contact lense (it required using coats to block the wind, an antisceptic wipe from the first aid kit, and an improvised mirror using my sunglasses!).
When I originally worked out the route, the plan was to head to Lints Tor and then cut across to Kitty Tor, but as it was getting late (and approaching beer o’clock) and we were getting tired, we decided to cut straight across to Green Tor. During the weekend I wanted to go back to basics and use map and compass as much as possible (rather than relying on ViewRanger sitting in my pocket pinging our location to Social Hiking), and as Green Tor was out of sight, we took a compass bearing and followed a kind of path down into a pass between the headwaters of two rivers before climbing around the side of Amicombe Hill (following the compass worked pretty well, although I have to admit to taking a peak at ViewRanger at one point to double check our progress!). At some point I discovered I had managed to lose my camera – whilst I was annoyed about the lost photos, I was secretely glad for the perfect excuse to buy a new one when I got back!
Eventally we all arrived at Green Tor, where I was reunited with my camera which had been picked up by one of my fellow walkers (I tried to hide my disappointment). We briefly toyed with the idea of splitting up, with one group heading straight to the Dartmoor Inn whilst the drivers returned to the carpark to collect the cars, however after discussion we decided to push on as a group. At Bleak House (which I completely failed to explore) we joined a fairly decent path climbing up to Chat Tor and beyond. Spured on by the nearness of beer an easier terrain, the remaining Tors were a blur as we walked to each one in turn, took a breather, then walked to the next – Chat Tor, Sharp Tor, Hare Tor and finally Ger Tor. On Hare Tor we had an amazing view of the route we had completed – the Tavy valley snaking away from us, Fur Tor in the far distance to the West, and Great Kneeset to the North West. It was enormously satisfying to see what we had managed to accomplish!
From Ger Tor we could see the carpark (and thankfully also the cars) – we followed an obvious path (albeit a boggy one) down the hill, finally rejoining Mine Leat. The dog, by now covered in bog and other discusting muck, decided to have a paddle to clean herself off before the night in my tent (she is well trained!). We arrived back at the cars tired (and a bit sunburnt in a few cases) after having spent a thoroughly enjoyable day on Dartmoor!