Nocturnal Adventures on Dartmoor with the Ranger Ralph Club

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’.

The Ranger Ralph Club is for children aged 5 – 12 years old. As well as up to twelve outdoor events per year (which the adults attend too!), the member gets a quarterly newsletter (what child does not like post!) and a pack with a membership card, stickers, a badge, a ruler, a pencil and a colouring book. All for the bargain price of £8.

Ranger Ralph Membership Pack

It was hammering down with rain as we turned into Hound Tor and parked up – reassured by the presence of a National Park Land Rover decorated with lanterns with a large cut out of Ranger Ralph himself. We were early, and were advised to stay warm in our car whilst the rain eased.

We had (foolishly for Dartmoor) trusted the forecast and only brought clothing to handle showers, so we were relieved that the rain eased off as the other members arrived. Excitement levels, already high, were boosted on the discovery that a class friend is also a member.

Hound Tor in the fading sunlight
Hound Tor in the last of the day’s sun

The event was being run by a Dartmoor Ranger and a member of the Education team, supported by two volunteer wardens. After an initial briefing, we cross the road and formed a large circle to learn about the sun (currently setting behind Honeybag Tor) and the planets in the solar system, before coming up with a family mnemonic to remember the names of the planets.

We then walked up the hill towards Hound Tor before turning off and heading towards the cairn circle and cist nearby. Whilst sitting along the circle we were told about the people who used to live on Dartmoor and how the person buried in the cist must have been important – at dawn on Winter Solstice the sun rises between the two outcrops of Haytor in a direct line from the cist and a small standing stone.

We retraced our steps up to the Tor and sheltered behind one of the outcrops in the dusky gloom to listen to the story of Bowerman and his hounds. Bowerman, after disturbing a coven of witches, was led on a merry chase across the moor before being turned to stone – Bowerman into Bowerman’s Nose and his hounds into the outcrops of Hound Tor. You can read the full legend on Legendary Dartmoor –

Bowerman's Nose (from a trip in November 2015)
Bowerman’s Nose (from a trip in November 2015)

Finally, after pausing to look at Venus shining bright in the sky, we retraced our footsteps back to the car and headed home. The kids certainly enjoyed the event, and the following day pictures were being drawn of the planets and of Hound Tor. The adults enjoyed it too – it is nice to, even on a work day, get a few hours breathing in the Dartmoor air and savoring the views of Tors all around.

The event itself was well organised and run, and we are all looking forward to our next event – ‘Feathered Friends’ at Yarner Woods Nature Reserve next month.

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