Exploring the roof top of Devon (Tor and ‘365’ bagging) and a Halloween wild camp on Rowtor
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).
As well as the usual Tor bagging (10 new Tors for me), I also wanted to find the nearby ‘365’ features. John Hayward, after noticing there were 365 mile squares on the OS maps, identified something worth visiting in each square. On past walks I have found myself discovering interesting parts of the moor by hunting down these features, and it would be nice to fill a few blank spaces (John thoughtfully provides you with a map to colour in as you visit a feature!).
Hart Tor (Okehampton Common) with Yes Tor in background
From the car park we continued along the tarmac-ed road from the camp (marked as a track on the map) to Hart Tor (Okehampton Common). It was a return visit for both of us to this small Tor next to the road and the larger observation hut so, after a quick photo, we pressed on. The tarmac turned into track proper, before we picked up a fairly obvious path heading up to East Mill Tor.
Unnamed outcrop of East Mill Tor
Except this was not East Mill Tor – at least not the outcrop that triggers the Social Hiking ‘ping’ (or rather, in the case of my new phone, a bugle…) that it has been bagged on the site. The ‘official’ outcrop was equally impressive on the other side of the summit. How these are ‘classed’ as the same Tor whilst other Tors that are clearly just lower inferior outcrops get listed on their own I have no idea. Sarah joked (although I have taken it very seriously) that I should get a suitable qualification to become an ‘expert’ so I can stand in judgement!! Tempting… very tempting…
Sarah on the East Mill Tor ledge
The primary outcrop did have a brilliant reading shelf which caught Sarah’s fancy, with stunning views in all directions across Dartmoor. Our next destination, Curtery Clitters, was obvious across the valley – a crescent of clitter. Rather than take the longer option of following the track back and then heading up another track above Curtery Clitters, we decided to just cut across the valley. The terrain was fairly easy going and, after passing the Clitters (not the river feature marked on the OS map – another OS error), we reached the boundary stone above and enjoyed the lovely view across the moor to the north east.
View from boundary stone above Curtery Clitters towards Belstone
Now it was time to be adventurous – rather than follow the track to Dinger Tor, we headed into the unknown to find Pixies’ Pool (D8 in 365). Belatedly, as I write this, I now notice the author gives map coordinates, but at the time the only information we had was that it was in the valley below High Willhays and Yes Tor near the source of the Red-a-ven brook… in the middle of a mire. With wet feet we finally made it to a rock beside the pool – as a reward the pixies cleared the sky and the sun shined as we enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Pixies’ Pool looking up towards Yes Tor
Our return route back to the track was equally boggy, and it was a relief to get to Dinger Tor (E8 in 365). Legend has it that Dinger Tor is the original home of Devon Cream Teas (I tell the story as part of the audio below). True or not, it is certainly a lovely place to sit and soak up the views including Lints Tor below. Sadly our diversion to Pixies Pool meant Lints Tor would have to be left for another time and we set off towards Fordsland Ledge.
View across to Lints Tor and beyond
Fordsland Ledge is a small outcrop decorated with two observation huts for the range. We rested a while listening to the sounds of a hunt in the distance (we could just about make out some specs of horse-riders) before heading up to High Willhays (D7 in 365). At 2038 feet (excluding the cairn on top), you apparently have to go 250 miles to find a higher point in England. With the clear blue skies we were being treated with, the views were absolutely stunning!
View from Cairn on High Willhays
Nearby Hamster Tor just reminded me of the unfairness of the tor classification system (especially with the two East Mill Tors visible in the valley below), so we continued on to Yes Tor to eat some locally made coffee cake we bought in the morning. Below us, West Mill Tor, our next destination, added further insult to its eastern relative with a small outcrop nearby named as a separate Tor – the appropriately named Little Tor.
With the sun starting to think about setting, we did not have enough time to head down to explore the target railway (C8 in 365) and instead pressed onto Rowtor. What a fantastic Tor to finish on! Lovely views of both moor and Tors, as well as Okehampton and Devon beyond. We abandoned our half made plans for our camp that night and decided to spend Halloween night camping on Rowtor.
Supplies for a Halloween wild camp on Rowtor
We returned to the house, quickly packed our overnight rucksacks, and begged a lift from Paul back up to Rowtor. Despite the very kind lift, we had still gambled with daylight and lost, and torches were needed to find a suitable pitch for my Banshee 200. After dinner of stag chili and curry washed down with a selection of ales, we settled in for the night. This was my first night in my the Vango Viper 1000 sleeping bag bought off Paul – perhaps a little hot in these temperatures but snug enough. More of a problem was the cold I was struggling to shift – unable to sleep thanks to endless coughing, I instead got to watch the amazing sight of a cloud billowing over and down the higher ground like a wave and enveloping us in murk. Spooky on Halloween!!
Sunrise on Rowtor
I expected to wake surrounded by cloud or fog, but instead I was greeted by the sun rising behind Belstone Common. Not just this but I got to see my first cloud inversion – the cloud covering the whole of north Devon below us.
Cloud inversion from Rowtor
There was a stiff breeze, so we dropped down to the Target Railway, which consists of an engine shed (both locomotives are still apparently inside) and a 200 yard track where the engines hauled military targets to and fro behind a protective bank.
Target Railway engine house with High Willhays in background
After coffee and a snack, we retraced our steps to the car park and then dropped down to Cullever Steps and the pool just below for a swim. This was my first proper test of my new thermal swimming socks and gloves, and they certainly took away the worst of the icy chill. At the top end of the pool are some small rapids which act a bit like a (cold) jacuzzi as the water pummels your skin. Much needed coffee, porridge and super noodles (the second porridge pot had exploded) followed as we warmed up.
Swimming pool on East Okement just below Cullever Steps
Our return route back to the house in Okehampton was via East Hill and Ashbury Tor. Hills on Dartmoor are often a lot of work for very little gain, but East Hill was surprisingly like-able (helped perhaps by the sunshine – Okehampton was a whisker away from breaking the UK record for warmest recorded temperature in November) with stunning views across Devon.
Ashbury Tors is one of those Tors which at first glance seems fairly insignificant with a very small outcrop. Only when you drop down from the path and through the trees do you realise the full scale of it with the stone hidden from view behind the trees, ivy and other vegetation.
I have previously heard a few negative remarks about this part of Dartmoor, but I was very surprised. Whilst Pew still remains my favorite Tor, the rooftop of Devon may well have taken the crown as my favorite part of Dartmoor…… so far…..