Archive for March 18th, 2011

March 18, 2011

A canine on Hound Tor

by backpackingbongos

I sat here for ages trying to come up with a witty title that described a dog on Hound Tor.  I’m afraid to say that this is the best that my brain could come up with.

Looking at a map of Dartmoor I noticed that to the South East the unbroken wilds of the moors end and pastoral valleys make an appearance.  The moors still rise up but slightly lower and not as extensive.  However I noticed the word ‘Tor’ liberally scattered over the map.  With the continuing dull weather during my week on Dartmoor I decided to escape the endless bogs and tussock grass and explore the environs of Widecombe in the Moor.

7.5 miles with 480 metres ascent

Parking the Bongo on the highest part of the B3387 just outside Widecombe, I soon realised that this part of Dartmoor is much more popular than the wild interior I had been exploring.  The roads were busy with a constant stream of traffic as we headed to the summit of Top Tor, a mere 30 metres higher than the car park.  A herd of ponies had already occupied the summit.

A wet path soon took me to Rippon Tor and I got a good look at the whole of my route spread out in a large rather grey panorama.  On the horizon was Haytor rocks, the sight of which made me quicken my step as they looked like they would be the highlight of the day

Approaching them via Saddle Tor I let my imagination take over and from this angle thought they looked a little like An Sgurr on the Isle of Eigg .  I stood and watched a strange-looking figure walk slowly to the foot of the cliffs.  There was something odd about them that I could not figure out.  Getting closer I noticed that they were dressed as a medieval knight brandishing what looked like a sword.  I thought that this may have been some lucid hallucination brought on by only having the dog to talk to for a few days.  He then started conversing with people on the cliffs above which put my mind at ease as I climbed towards the top.

Haytor is pretty impressive and split into two separate tors, the first being the buttress of rock in the photo above.  A wide green swathe of grass separates it from a great lump of granite.  I was now in the midst of honey pot Dartmoor as the place was absolutely heaving with people.  I fancied a scramble to its summit and walked round the other side where the climbing is easy.  However it was absolutely crawling people, looking like the whole of the south-west was gingerly climbing up or shuffling down on their bottoms.

I decided against it, turned my back to the masses (I am a committed misanthrope) and headed down the empty slopes towards Haytor Quarries where I found silent sanctity for a few moments.

A path led out of the quarry and across the open moor to Smallacombe rocks.  They do not look like much on the map but it is a great viewpoint down into the secluded valley of Becka Brook.  Descending into the valley it looks like a good place to explore, although unfortunately half of it is not access land.

Descending to the bottom and climbing the other side, the rocky ridge of Ger Tor is passed (a potential scramble along its spine?) and we came to the remains of a medieval village.  The walls are clearly visible and it is an atmospheric spot.

Behind and now on the far skyline, Haytor rocks are instantly recognisable as they thrust up from the moors.

Hound Tor our next destination is a large spread out tor, looking like a fortified castle from a distance.  There are several stacks of rocks just crying out to be climbed and there were a few families doing just this.  I could not pass up the opportunity to snap a photo of Reuben sitting on the rocks of Hound Tor!

The climb up to the summit of Chinkwell Tor included a bit of a dog-leg as the land in between is not access land, but it was worth walking out on a limb for.  Hamel Down dominates the western skyline, rising up from the green fields below.

Descending I was asked by a guy coming up what the wind was like up there and from what direction it was coming.  This was something that I had not even registered and he gave me a funny look when I said that I did not know.  Looking at what he was carrying on his back I think he was planning on becoming airborne, so I suppose that the wind was pretty important!

Bonehill Rocks on the other side of the road is a nice little tor, lots of nooks and crannies to explore, children having fun on its rough boulders.  Reuben also showed off his scrambling prowess managing to climb an improbable looking rock.

On the easy stroll back to the car I decided that although very scenic this area was my least favourite part of Dartmoor  visited so far.  Due to its accessibility it is very crowded even midweek in February (although it was the school holidays).  It is also difficult to devise a long walk due to the fractured nature of the moors and access land.  The wild unbroken north moor appealed to me most and I decided that I would explore its hinterland the following day, mist or no mist!