Archive for March 20th, 2011

March 20, 2011

Across the northern moor to Grey Wethers stone circle

by backpackingbongos

After the crowds on my walk around Hay Tor rocks I was looking forward to escaping into the wilds again.  However in keeping with the whole week the weather forecast was on the dull and misty side, not the best for walking across featureless moorland.  The East Dart river cuts deep into the vast northern moors, easy to follow when the mist is down.  I therefore set off to simply walk to the waterfall up one side of the river and return down the other side.  Thankfully a brief opportunity later in the day allowed me to explore further.

11.1 miles with 460 metres ascent

I popped in to the village shop as I passed to pick up a paper for when I got back to the cottage.  It is a curious place that is just a touch on the unfriendly side.  Often small remote shops are a treasure trove of curios and local food and you are usually given a warm welcome.  This was never the case on my visits to the one in Postbridge!  Anyway lets move swiftly on before I ruin a small business.

The large car park was once again nearly empty as I passed by, taking the bridleway on the west side of the river.  The low cloud and mist was stubborn this morning with views even in the valley restricted.

The clear path soon started to climb away from the river before dropping down to the curiously named Braddon lake which is actually a stream.  I thought about taking the path directly to the waterfall from here crossing Broad down, but was not too keen on a misty crossing.  Instead I climbed a few metres up the hillside where there is a narrow but clear path alongside a disused leat.  A brief clearing in the mist gave me a quick glimpse of the landscape towards Postbridge.

Walking along the leat was a delight as it contoured about 30 metres above the lively river below.  The going was easy and I almost felt a little smug watching a couple of hikers on the other side of the river struggle along a boggy tussocky path.  Yes I am fully aware that smugness is not something to be proud of!  The leat soon came to an end at a stile which Reuben really could not get to grips with so was unceremoniously hoisted over instead.  In the mist there was a slightly confusing section where the river almost doubles back on its self through a wide grassy bowl.

Now heading due west there are several areas that would make idyllic wild camping spots, a pleasant place to while away a warm sunny evening cooling the feet in the river.

However not today as the mist dropped even lower and the contours around the river gathered closer together creating a small scenic rocky gorge.

We were suddenly at the waterfall marked on the map and I have to say that it was a bit of an anticlimax, it must have been all of six feet high.  I actually started to doubt my map reading not believing that I had actually reached it.  I resorted to checking the OS map on my Iphone which confirmed that I was indeed where I though I was.  I skulked behind a rock for a bite to eat and a flask of coffee whilst Rueben sat looking at me with hungry eyes and a slight damp shiver.

I decided to call it a day, head over Broad down and back to Postbridge.  Although not marked on the map there is a clear path that runs across the moor and I was soon heading towards Braddon lake, surrounded by a world of mist and murk.

My phone suddenly rang and it was my partner who informed me that Postbridge was dry and sunny today!  Then whilst I was letting her know that I was heading back to the cottage the mist suddenly vanished.  The weather transformation was immediate and the hills all around were now visible.  As with the weather I had a sudden change of heart, let my partner know my plans and headed back the way I had come.  For the first time that day I got a view into the heart of the moor.

Passing the waterfall I continued alongside the river, eventually coming to the shallow gorge of Sandy Hole Pass, a nice wild spot.

Cut hill was now visible on the horizon and I really fancied climbing to the top and then continuing to Fur Tor.  However the red flags were flying meaning that the military were using live ammunition.  Instead the Grey Wethers stone circle looked to be a good destination for the day.  I got to the southern edge of Broad Marsh and looked for a place to cross the river but it was a few feet deep.  Broad Marsh itself looked like a spot not to be messed with, anything with the word marsh is probably best avoided on Dartmoor!  Also Broad Marsh is the name of the worst shopping centre in Nottingham, a place full of rundown pound shops.  Also best avoided.

Further upstream the river becomes rockier and shallower.  I tried the tested method of moving quickly before my gaiters could fill with water, but half way across it was up to my knees.  Boots and socks were taken off on the other side and wrung out / emptied.  It took some coaxing to get Reuben to take the plunge.  It was now time to cross the trackless moor.

The ruin of Statts house was an obvious landmark to head for and it turned out that there was a clear path from there to Sittaford Tor.  The sting in the tail however was the crossing of a boggy stream half way across.  The surroundings were a mess of green quaking bog, the ground wobbling as I walked gingerly across.  I had a feeling that if I went in I would never be seen again!

Although Sittaford Tor only rises a few metres above the surrounding moor and fails to have a half decent tor, it is a good bleak vantage point.

Descending the other side I caught my first sight of the rather impressive Grey Wethers stone circle, definitely a case of two for the price of one.

The two circles are huge and it was nice to wonder around them for a while taking in the atmosphere.  Looking at Wikipedia I found a nice little story about it:

One story tells of a farmer who had recently moved to Dartmoor and was foolish enough to criticise the sheep on sale at Tavistock Market. He stopped for a drink at the Warren house inn, and helped by several pints of cider, the locals persuaded him that there was an excellent flock of high quality sheep nearby which he would be welcome to buy. They walked off in search of them, and through the mist the farmer saw what he took to be a fine flock. He agreed to the sale, and returned to the site the following morning to find that what he had taken to be sheep were actually the stones of Grey Wethers.

Whilst I was sitting relaxing next to one of the stones the mist suddenly rolled down out of nowhere, accompanied by heavy rain.  It was a wet and boggy trudge south down a unamed valley back to the East Dart river on a path not marked on the map.  The bridleway that is marked would involve swimming through some pretty nasty looking bogs.  The unrelenting rain and mist accompanied me all the way back to the cottage.