Archive for March 6th, 2011

March 6, 2011

Great Links Tor via Tavy Cleave

by backpackingbongos

The weather forecast for Dartmoor over the next week was frankly not looking too promising.  I was staying in a cottage just outside of Postbridge, just me and the dog.  A whole week to hopefully explore the high moors and tors in one of the last remaining wild areas of southern England.  There were no definite plans for the next six days, watch the forecast the night before and plan accordingly for the following day.  The weather presenter offered me some hope for the Saturday, sunny skies and temperatures approaching double figures.  What would I like to do the most in the whole of Dartmoor?  My eyes were pretty much immediately drawn to the west of the high ground where the contours gather closer together, Tavy Cleave looked worthy of exploration.

10.5 miles with 430 metres ascent

I awoke and looked out of the cottage window to see low cloud just covering the hill tops to the north.  The dog was loaded into the Bongo and we slowly bounced down the mile or so of track towards the main road at Postbridge.  I had read that the village was a bit of a honey pot in the summer but today all was quiet.  Heading towards Princetown the road soon climbed into the mist, a light drizzle making the road slick.  I was firmly in the clag until the moors were left behind at Peter Tavey.  Minutes later I was back in it as the narrow hedge lined Devon lanes took me to the road head car park on the edge of the Willsworthy firing range.

I was feeling rather disappointed because I had left reasonably clear conditions back at Postbridge to arrive in a thick grey clag, damp enough to warrant putting on my Paramo.  I could barely see from one end of the car park to the other!

With Reubens snout hoovering the ground ahead we set off passing Nattor farm, climbing the hillside to Mine Leat.  This man-made feature was flowing deep and fast and we followed the well-worn but narrow path alongside it.  The river Tavy was down to our right, singing its way over rocks and boulders but remaining unseen in the mist.

Just before the leat joined the river Reuben made an unwise decision.  Water was flowing out of the leat onto a narrow walkway, only a couple of inches deep but about five metres across.  I got half way across and tried to coax him to follow me.  Instead he had the bright idea of walking on the inch wide edge of the leat.  Grace not being his best virtue there was a plop and he was soon completely submerged in the deep brown water.  Luckily he was wearing his Ruffwear harness so I was able to lean in and lift him out.

We were now next to the river, wide deep and strong, its constant roar would be our company for the next mile or so.

The path soon became sketchy as it entered an area of waterlogged tussocks.  Reuben a few metres ahead on his extendable leash made another error of judgement by walking onto a giant blamanche of bright green quaking bog.  I could see that he was standing on a slowly sinking raft of vegetation!  As I called him he turned to walk towards me and his back end disappeared.  Luckily he was not wearing boots to fill with water and he was soon on dry land shaking himself off.

The valley soon deepens and steepens, the path becoming lost in a tangle of large slippery boulders.  Progress became slow, a slip here could result in a broken ankle.  It really is a magical place, as wild as any Scottish glen, the mist meaning that my imagination could run wild.

The difficulties were soon over with the valley widening at the spot where Rattle brook joins from the north.  I sat with a flask of coffee eyeing up what would be a perfect wild camping spot just up the valley.  Two Dartmoor ponies were grazing a few metres away.  Suddenly the sky brightened and the misty blanket lifted, leaving tendrils ebbing and flowing up the hillside.  A memorable moment of wild beauty.

I even got a proper glimpse of the way that I had come for the first time.

The aim was to walk up Rattle brook until Bleak House and then decide what to do.  The mist soon completely cleared as Reuben and I squelched (that’s a lie really as dogs generally don’t squelch) through very wet tussocks.  The valley initially starting off in the same vein as Tavy Cleave, deep and rocky.

However it soon widened out, becoming shallower and bleaker the higher we climbed.

Bleak house is a well named ruin, sitting right in the middle of the moors it would have been a tough place to live.  However it was a good place to sit and rest in what was becoming warm sunshine.  The remaining banks of mist melting away and drifting off towards the east.

Reuben sat guard whilst I ate my lunch, this is what I came to Dartmoor for, to be in the middle of nowhere soaking up the isolation.

The peace and tranquility was shattered for a while when three hikers made a beeline directly for me.  They then stood right behind me for five minutes loudly discussing where they were going next (when I say right behind me I mean right behind me).  I would have been happy to chat but they acted like I literally did not exist!

Green Tor just above looked to be a good destination so we climbed to its low rocks for the panoramic views towards Fur Tor.  This looked like it could well be the ultimate destination on dartmoor.  Rocky and remote and sitting right at the head of Tavy Cleave, it would hopefully be the aim for a walk the following day.

A pathless squelchy loop to Kitty Tor and across the rough Woodcock hill led to the pleasant Hunt tor.  The waterproofing on my Salamon Fastpackers had now given up and my feet were soaked.  The Dartmoor moors are a wet place to walk in winter.  The horizon was now dominated by Great Links Tor, rock thrusting up out of the rounded hill.  An easy grass path took us to just below the summit rocks.  I managed the scramble to the trig point but I feared that the true summit would be out of Reubens capabilities so I just looked at it instead.

The cropped grass around the rocks would make a great wild camp spot, plenty of places to shelter if it was windy.  The views over the moors were extensive to say the least.

It was back onto the tussocks once more via the little rocky tops of Higher and Lower Dunna Goat, Great Links still dominating the horizon.

Approaching Chat Tor there was a slightly creepy moment with what looked to be a statue in brightly coloured outdoor clothing staring directly at me.  I walked towards it and it did not move an inch, I began to wonder what exactly it was.  Something put there by the military?  Getting closer it suddenly moved a little bit but continued to stand there looking directly in my direction.  It turned out to be a hiker but there was something about him that made me uneasy, he had been standing dead still for ages staring in my direction.  I said hello and quickly passed on by!

Hare Tor was another great viewpoint but it was some rocky tors above the gash of Tavy Cleave that caught my eye, not marked on the map they looked worth exploring.

Three small pinnacles stood guarding the steep slopes down to the river below.  I scrambled to the summit of the highest one, the silvery river below reflecting the lowering sun, Ger Tor on the horizon.

Wild country at its best I could look down at the river followed earlier, its roar being carried clearly to our lofty perch.

Contouring the slopes above the valley to Ger Tor showed Fur Tor clearly once again in the middle of the Dartmoor wilderness, Tavy Cleave leading invitingly into its hinterland.

A great rocky spot to sit for a while before squelching down to the now busy car park.

All in all a splendid introduction to what Dartmoor has on offer.