I sat on a bench outside the Fox Tor Café enjoying the last of my coffee in the morning sunshine. Breakfast had been eaten and it was almost time to set off with Paul (@paulgbuck) on a ‘bagging’ odyssey. The planned route was my first concoction since I decided to copy Paul and visit (or ‘bag’) every single Tor and notable rock (and a few hills) in Dartmoor National Park – 425 at the last count. I had taken my OS map, drawn on (in pencil) each one to the east and south of Princetown, then played join the dots – the result was a 20 mile route with 19 of them to ‘bag’ (as an aside, Paul has written a brilliant article for Active Dartmoor on The Art of Tor Bagging)
Rucksacks packed and water bottles filled, we set us – heading east on the bridleway out of Princetown. For September it was a glorious day, warm and sunny with just a few clouds in the sky, and we had brilliant clear views of the landscape around us. To preserve the terrible battery of my Nexus 5, I was using data from Paul’s SPOT for my live Social Hiking map. Without needing to run Locus Maps on my phone, I had also removed the temptation of lazily relying on digital OS maps (and the ‘you are here’ marker) for navigation. Instead I was enjoying the simple pleasure of tracking our progress on a paper map as we joined the Blackbrook River and followed it downstream to a footbridge. The bridge, whilst itself relatively modern, has much older foundations and is marked in the ‘not roman’ historical font on the OS map.
Bridge across Blackbrook River looking towards Round Hill Tor
We crossed the river and made the short climb between the clitter (broken up bits of Tor) up to Round Hill Tor – fairly unremarkable in itself but satisfying enough for the first of the day. After a brief amount of ‘Tor sitting’ it was time to leave the paths behind us as we set off towards our next target further east. We followed animal trails through the yellow flowering gorse, passing the occasional ancient settlement, before finally arriving at a large collection of rocks we took to be Prince Hall Rocks. The rocks were on the north bank of the river, with a similar collection on the south bank (and a fisherman’s bridge between the two) – neither of which matched the photo in Dartmoor’s Tors and Rocks (and there was no notification of a successful ‘bag’ from Social Hiking). Consulting the map and re-checking the coordinates seemed to suggest it was back up the river a short distance, so we left our rucksacks hidden behind a rock and doubled back. After some searching, we forced a path through the wall of prickly bushes shielding a small mound to find the illusive ‘official’ outcrop (and the prickle-free route to it!) As we returned to our possessions we pondered whether the original rocks were part of Prince Hall Rocks or nameless – ‘Sorrell-Buck Rocks’ perhaps?!
Prince Hall Rocks looking towards Sorrell-Buck Rocks (South side) and Prince Hall
There was no chance of having issues finding our next destination – Blakey Tor. It had been visible on the hillside across the river for the last hour! We did not get much of a chance to explore it through – as soon as we arrived, Paul started getting attacked by a swarm of flying ants who seemed attracted to his top, so we made a speedy escape up the hill. As we joined the Dartmoor Way, Paul wandered off into the ferns gps in hand. Apparently he was looking for something called the ‘Crock of Gold’, a cairn and cist allegedly clearly visible from the track. Despite a sensible search pattern it remained unfound – a reason to come back to this area on a future trip! We crossed the track and continued up the hill to Royal Tor.
Looking down towards Swincombe Intake Works and Ter Hill
From Royal Tor we had a good view of the ascent up Ter Hill waiting for us – the planned route was to drop down to Swincombe Intake Works, then follow the disused Wheal Emma Leat along the bottom of the hill, before following a wall that heads straight up the hill to a large unmissable cross, then finally taking a bearing to the summit. Despite having to walk through a herd of demons (cows) we made it to the Swincombe Intake Works – I am not sure you are meant to use it to cross the river, but the route is clearly well trod, so we crossed and investigated our options. The planned route was overgrown and over difficult terrain whereas there appeared to be the barest of paths heading directly up the hill. After some discussion we took the direct path. The path quickly transformed into no path and we were left to slog up the hill clambering over huge grassy tussocks. To make it worse, we were out of the breeze and started to feel the effects of the high humidity. It was tough going. We took a breather to enjoy the view at a pair of stone crosses before continuing (over the now boggy grassy tussocks) to the featureless summit of Ter Hill, then onto Skir Hill.
Cross on Ter Hill and views across North Dartmoor
Ter Hill and Skir Hill might be dull, featureless, boggy and tussocky, but the stillness and peace was amazing. As we sat recovering from the ascent there was no noise at all except the occasional flap of a bird’s wings. We followed more animal tracks through Swincombe Head, avoid the worst of the bogs, dropping down the hill to little Rabbits Tor (and a chance to replenish water from the nearby stream).
Paul on Rabbit Tor
One of the joys of Tor bagging is you get to visit and explore parts of Dartmoor off the beaten track. Fox Tor, above us, is more popular and, once we had negotiated the old mine workings and arrived at the tor, we bumped into the first people we had seen for over four hours (bringing the total since we left Princetown to 4!) The tor was also crawling with more flying ants and an amazing swarm of knats – we took a break on one of the smaller outcrops looking out across Foxtor Mires before moving onto nearby Little Fox Tor.
Part of Fox Tor with Foxtor Mires below
From Little Fox Tor it was another slog to Crane Hill – identical unimpressive to Ter and Skir Hills. We then passed through Plym Head (the source of the River Plym), climbed up to Great Gnats Head (topped with a cairn rather than a Tor), then continued to find Broad Rock. Broad Rock is… well… it is a single granite rock that is quite broad! It is inscribed with ‘BB Broad Rock’ and was used as a boundary stone.
Cairn on Great Knats Head
From Broad Rock we turned east, negotiating more (thankfully uninterested) demons to reach Little Gnat’s Head and the nearby Calveslake Tor. We had originally planned to camp at Calveslake Tor but the nearby cows (and more to the point the absence of poo-free grass to pitch on) put us off, so we crossed the Plym (now a stream) to Lower Hartor Tor. As we approached I spotted the perfect pitch for my bivvy on a shelf on the main outcrop, protected from any bovine night time visitations by rocks (Paul and his tent was relegated to the lower grazing area!)
Bivvy spot on shelf on Lower Hartor Tor
It had been an enjoyable day, but tough going with the high humidity and the difficult terrain. I needed to freshen up and the Plym below the Tor had looked surprisingly enticing. I left Paul setting up camp and returned to the stream – it was not deep, but there was a suitable place to have a bath. After a moment to pluck up my courage… in I went…..
It was refreshing but FREEZING (as the audio above demonstrates)! Unsurprising really considering the Plym had surfaced only a mile or so up steam (where we had crossed from Crane Hill to Great knats Head earlier). I returned to the Lower Hartor Tor for dinner (freeze dried chilli) and bed. As there was no rain forecast, and few bugs about, I kept the top of the bivvy open and watched the mist creeping in as I drifted off to sleep.
View from the Bivvy on Lower Hartor Tor
We awoke to a murky Dartmoor, packed up camp and walked the short distance to Higher Hartor Tor before making our way through the old mine at Eylesbarrow and joining the busy cycle track. We followed the track for a short distance peering into the old mine shafts (and yet more close encounters of the bovine kind) before heading up to the cairn on Eylesbarrow.
After a brief diversion to refill our water from the Devonport Leat below Nun’s Cross Farm (before it disappears into a tunnel) and to pose for photos by Nun’s Cross, we continued along the cycle track before turning off and heading down to Whiteworks and more mine remnants. There were fantastic views across Foxtor Mires to our route the day before and Fox Tor (and those miserable hills!) We followed a disused leat before crossing River Strane and arriving at Strane Tor – another rarely visited tor (and one Paul and Rich (@flintyrich) had failed to find on a previous trip).
We forced our way through the undergrowth along the bank of the river until we reach a more obvious track. Rather than take the easier but longer route back to the cycle track and then follow it up to South Hessary Tor, we foolishly decided to take the shorter, but much harder, direct route which also required us to cross the wide marshy Devonport Leat before arriving at the tor (with wet feet). After a bit of ‘tor sitting’ on this splendid but busy tor we continued on to Princetown and base camp (The Fox Tor Café) to plan the next wild camp!
South Hessary Tor
You can read Paul’s blog post of the walk at: http://www.moorlandwalks.co.uk/2014/09/a-circular-to-great-gnats-head.html