Mountains

Dartmoor’s vivid History

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Spending a weekend out on Dartmoor is always incredible, even if it’s foggy and you can only see around 5 metres ahead of you. I had organised for sever

al people to come together to go camping, do a bit of a night walk and then a longer walk the following day. The plan was to walk around 20 miles over the duration of the entire trip, while camping at a pub overnight.

The weather forecast for the weekend was not great at all, with visibility being all but none existent, with rain and a slight chill in the air at around 6c. Fog is a hard conditions to navigate in especially on Dartmoor where it’s possible to walk a kilometre and find it looking exactly the same as where someone started. Of course that’s not true with all of the moor.

On a Friday evening, we met up at the Plume of Feathers Princetown, experienced the local drink selection and sampled the food, while sorting out tents and sleeping arrangements for the night.

The group consisted of 6 people, three of whom I didn’t know well, including one who was, at the beginning, a complete stranger to me.
Some of us prepared for our evening outing on the foggy South Moor. While some people stayed behind to grab some shut eye, to be fair they had driven straight from work.

Dartmoor railway Photo by Paula

Heading South the group followed the track down to South Hessary, at this point I will mention that the group had climbers in it, so we had to climb to the top of the Tor, obviously. Without much surprise it was very windy on the top, biting in to us and driving the fog in to our clothing. We carried on great spirits, chatting and making jokes, down the track for another 2.5 kilometres down the track to reach Nun’s Cross. This is a wayside cross, one of the largest on Dartmoor standing at around 2 metres tall, it marks the tracks of the old monastic Maltern Way, Abbot’s way and the Monk’s path. Creating a lot of paths in many directions.

Exploring this area further we then headed off the track, to find Nun’s Cross farm, now an established Bunkhouse owned by Mount Kelly School in Tavistock, it turned out to be incredibly spooky in these foggy conditions…

Alongside the bunkhouse we located the Devonport Leat Tunnel entrance, which is closed off to the public due to a high levels of Radon gas in the air. This leat originally used to send water all the way to Plymouth dockside, but has since been shortened to end in Burrator Reservoir.

Dartmoor tunnel Trying to find radon gas in the Devonport leat tunnel.
Photo by Paula

It was a fantastic experience to find the tunnel entrance in the fog and from here we started heading back to Princetown, along Tor Royal Road. A somewhat uneventful walk back, with it being dark, cold and everyone being wet through. the weather and tiredness was beginning to affect everyone’s mindset now.

The next day we all woke up, packed down our tents, went for some breakfast before heading out on to the Moor for our 16 km walk, in, what appeared to be even thicker fog! This was going to make things more interesting, as I hadn’t navigated with a map and compass for several years. luckily for me and everyone else, it soon came back in leaps and bounds.

Our first leg was to reach Hart Tor, which is just South West of Princetown, while many of the group opted to follow the path. I chose the straight line bearing, more to firm up my own bearings more than anything else. It’s amazing, that if you don’t use a skill, you will find that you lose it.

From here we headed down to a stone circle and a double stone row, which is part of many remains of the Bronze Age markings on Dartmoor. Descending through Tin Workings and down to a waterfall, we crossed a river and the headed up the hill towards Black Tor.
At this point, did I mention that some of the people with me, were very keen climbers and liked to climb everything in sight including every Tor, quarry, nock and crag, literally everything that goes up…!

Finally leaving Black Tor, I couldn’t help myself, I joined in and had a climb as well. The path took us up to the road to Leedon Tor, where we were supposed to be. Letting another member of the group lead on for a section in the fog, we crossed the road much closer to Princetown than anticipated. None the less we carried on towards Leedon, ending up dropping just north of it and in to a huge marshy area, which is always interesting to see the funny walks ensue, with everyone trying to avoid getting wet feet. Being only a short section we pushed on and with a small lifting of the fog, the visibility became clearer, around 300m which was enough to see the situation we were in. We were heading directly to the bridge crossing of the disused railway line. Basically on a bearing straight to it. We got to the bridge and started the ascent of the railway line up towards Foggingtor Quarry.

The quarry which was certainly living up to it’s name had another eerie feel, especially after a few clangs of metal on metal in fog, then a few shouts, then some more clanging. In a clearing we found, a group out having a go at abseiling. We watched intrigued by some of the climbing routes on the quarry face. Us being us, we explored the quarry, climbed around some of free standing granite and generally had a blast. Foggingtor Quarry used to be another Tor. Quarrying begun in the 1820’s and continued all the way to 1938. The granite from this quarry along with the other great quarries of Dartmoor, supplied the materials for the likes of Nelsons column and London Bridge.

Dartmoor in the fog Photo by Paula

Following one the of old railway lines North, which is know as the Yellowbrick road for many Ten Tors teams, due to Yellowmead Farm being along the track. By this point on Ten Tors event, many teams have walked several miles across open moor land and it means that they can now walk easier and faster. We didn’t walk the entire way of the Yellowbrick road, but instead turned off the track and headed to Rundlestone Car Park or Four Winds Car Park. As you can probably guess it’s pretty exposed and gets a fair amount of wind, despite having some big trees surrounding the car park.

Rundlestone CP, is also next to another main road crossing the Dartmoor and it separated us from our next destination, Little Mis and then Great Mis Tors.

The track leading up to the Tors is fairly steep and seemingly never ending. After around 20 – 30 minutes we reached Little Mis Tor, had yet another opportunity to climb, for some people, discovered a new letter box if anyone ventures up and finds drop it in a comment below. By this point it was getting towards mid afternoon and we were starting to get wet and a little chilly. Of course not the climbers, although standing around was certainly making me a little bit cooler.

Great Mis Tor, is a truly incredible Tor it’s huge, with loads of places to explore and camp. It was was also incredibly windy. Being the highest place we visited on the day that makes sense.

Great Mis was the final stop and from here we made our way back to Princetown.

Mountains

Moorland Guides – Haytor Quarry

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Last night I joined Mike from the Moorland Guides of Dartmoor and Beyond for a walk with the Widecombe History Group, with the topic being quarrying and the general history of Haytor, which was being lead by a Dartmoor National Park Authority archaeologist. The weather when we all gathered at the car park above the visitor centre away from the main road, was pretty bad in all fairness with thick fog, wind and rain. Most of the members of History group were not that keen on walking in these conditions and with not being able to see that far there was little point in heading out with the group, so we knocked it on the head.

Mike and I, on the other hand, agreed that it would have been a waste of a trip to not go for a walk of some kind. We ended up walking out from the car park towards Smallacombe Rocks and the Hut Circles, Mike went through some of the finer details of the history of Hut Circles. From the Smallcombe we paid a little trip up to Holwell Quarry, were Mike went through the history of the quarry. The quarry was pretty big  (not that we could see all of it with the fog) and could be good for some climbing, I will have to go back for another look on that though. Mike went on to talk about how he has made a quarrying and carpenters kit, hopefully next time I see him I will get to have a look at it. Moving to Haytor rather quickly as the weather really beginning to come in, me and Mike made our way in to Haytor quarry, were we found a half constructed arch which neither of us had seen before. The craftsmanship and time involved must have been massive and this arch was just left, half complete in the quarry it is a sad thing to see. We also talked about the wastage from all the quarries, in particular Foggingtor Quarries which has a massive slag heap, if you have been to Foggingtor you will know what I am on about, next time I am up in that area (probably very soon) I will get a few pictures. From this quarry we headed back towards the cars via the Templar Way to head, I will hopefully be leading some of my own walks in the here future. For those walks keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter.

Mountains

First time wild camping

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There is nothing better than going outdoors in the sun, it is better still getting home and being able to write the blog about the trip in the sun. On Saturday I took my younger brother on his first outing to Dartmoor camping and hiking. We started out by looking for some bluebells over by Hound Tor, which you read about below. The adventure really started from Combestone Tor a beautiful place much like the rest of the moor.. We had been blessed with glorious weather although, it was quite windy which did take the edge off a little bit. From Combestone we headed on up to Ryders Hill to get some amazing views of all of Lyme Bay from Dartmouth all the way around to the white cliffs of The Jurassic Coast. Annoyingly my camera had run out of juice and my video cameras photo function is not very good to get all of the detail, maybe a new invest is on the horizons. A quick stop on Ryders Hill with some jelly babies to keep us going, we headed on down to Snowdon, no we have not suddenly gone to Wales. No this Snowdon is not quite as impressive as Yr Wyddfa, however, it does offer some amazing views as well as an insight in to the history of Dartmoor, with some Carins and some Tin Workings. From Snowdon we dropped down in to the valley to our campsite at Chalk Ford (SX 682 685). The campsite is picturesque right next to a small river and only a few k’s from Scorriton which has lovely inn. There is a downside to Chalk Ford, the ground is very hard and very rocky, there is also a limited amount of decent camping space although, 3 maybe 4 small tents could get in with some careful planning.
Mountains

Dartmoor Sun and Fire

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Saturday 13th April, having a late night before and then having to wake up at 05:00 was not a fun start to the day, but, having to drive for an hour to Prewley Farm (SX 547 910)  to meet a Scout Group who I would be walking with this weekend. The weather was an odd one, I could not decide whether to wear shorts or not as it was very sunny so I would get warm while walking, however the group I was walking with would be going slow.

The group that I was walking with had never been out on the moor walking with full packs and camping out in the wilds. As well left Prewley Farm (SX 547 910) it was very sunny but cold. We set off for Sourton Tors Trig point (SX 543 897). This took us a some time with several stops to sort out the groups kit, shoelaces and gaiters etc. Moving off from Sourton Tors we contoured around towards the path that would led us to Kitty tor (SX 567 864). Many of the young people in the group did complain a little bit, but, that is excepted for the first they come out on the moor carrying gear. At Kitty Tor we had a snack before our descent in to what some call “Death Valley” or “Killer Valley”, for Dartmoor it defiantly lives up to the name. The descent is tricky when dry, when partly covered in ice it is a whole bag of fun! The crossing at Sandy Ford (SX 574 879) not that difficult if you have good fitting gaiters, annoyingly I had chosen not to bring mine. Luckily for me I was able to get across without getting wet feet, we then begin the long ascent up to Dinger Tor (SX 586 881). Going to Dinger was fairly interesting apart from it being steep, we followed a river up making the ascent very wet and icy, I  fell over in to a bog a few times, luckily for me with it being frozen it was only a few inches instead of being a lot deeper.

The temperature was around 6 to 8 centigrade for the most of the day in the sun, but the air was incredibly dry, after lunch in a small hollow (SX 608 873) we headed up to Hangingstone Hill (SX 617 862) where we saw the image below a wild fire around the Chat Tor (SX 555 853) around 6km away. Moving down to the peat pass and memorial on Whitehorse Hill (SX 617 855) we kept an eye on the developing fire, for while we could see the flames.

On Whitehorse Hill we had a look around for the newly discovered unopened Cist that has had some very rare finds including wooden ear studs and bronze jewellery. Unfortunately after a half hour search we abandoned the search, do us having to get to the camp site before any other teams and make that there was not another wild fire!
We reached the camp site near Teign Head Farm, (SX 636 844) around 16:00 giving us plenty of time to set up camp and get some grub. Other teams started arriving around 17:00 who had done double the amount of mileage that we had done, looking tired but in spirits especially with it being warm in the sun and out of the wind.
Mountains

Brecon Brecons – Stairway to Heaven, Fan Y big

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Sunday 31st March, after yet another cold night in Cwn Llwch and the clocks changing depriving us of our sleep. Not that it mattered to us as well were all in bed by about 9 and up 9 so still a good night sleep. After an amazing breakfast of chocolate bread and bacon cooked Trangia style. We were also bless with lovely weather yet again, making our short drive over to Tal-y-Bont Resivour very pleasant.

We arrived at the bottom of was is know as the “Stairway to Heaven”, which from having walked up 2 years ago for my Gold Duke of Edinburgh I knew was a very steep ascent and  most of  it being steps made it worse – well for me it did anyway. Being covered in snow made the climb quite interesting indeed, with quite a lot of people falling over including myself. On the plus side though the views where amazing and not as many people had been to these parts. This made are life a lot easier as it meant more fresh snow instead of ice. 

When we reached the top we found that we where most certainly not alone with some people, on what should have been the Beacons Way now covered in a lot of snow. After a short stop we pushed on only to get assaulted by 40+ mph winds on Craig y Fan Ddu. Which was made all the more dangerous as the we were all fairly close to the crag, luckily for us though the wind was coming from the crag. After about and a hours trek we found fresh snow and where instantly turned in to school children again. With snow flying everyone with us in it! Here is the evidence.

After this we headed off the beaten track so to speak. We headed across untouched snow and ice which made the going very tough. For more than an hour we headed North Westerly towards Fan y Big, across a sea of white with no features. We where not worried in the slightest with everyone being able to navigate, it was a case following our bearing and dead reckoning. The next thing we see is Fan y Big a few kilometres away and directly in front of us another snow covered crag. We hang-railed the crag all the way to Fan y Big which was fairly uneventful, minus finding lots of ski tracks and no skiers.

There is a 2 foot square plateau on top Fan y Big which if you are feeling brave enough you can stand on. Even though it was covered in snow we tired it anyway. The photos that we got where stunning.

We then headed back the same way to the car. Which was yet again very uneventful, being later on in the afternoon we saw nobody on the way back, we also found that a lot of snow had melted. As we descended over the Stairway to Heaven. This was the only real difficultly we encountered on the way back to the car. Back at the car it was then a nice way drive back to the camp site to aim out ny very wet feet and have some more grub before getting some sleep. for the drive home.

Thank you for reading and happy exploring.

Richard


Mountains

Brecon Beacons – Pen Y Fan, Cribyn and Corn Du

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Saturday 30th March, after a freezing cold night, it must have been about -2 or -3, in a sleeping bag that is only just suitable for camping out in the summer. I woke up around 08:00 to glorious sun shine, although it was still bitterly cold. After getting a brew on and having grub, Me and Cameroon woken Drew from his sleep.

From our camp site Modrydd farm (which I posted about earlier on), we started by following the river up the valley of Cwn Llwch. The further we ascended the more snow we encountered for obvious reasons, we enter the snow line at around 560m by my reckoning. Also, at the same time we saw a partly frozen Llyn Cwn Llwch. Ascending now in the snow we reach the memorial of 5 year old Tommy Jones, the story is that he got lost on August 4 1900 on his way to Cwn Llwch Farm, his remains where found in September 1900. There is an inscription on the memorial which reads, “This obelisk marks the spot where the body of Tommy Jones aged 5 was found. He lost his way between Cwm Llwch Farm and the Login on the night of August 4, 1900. After an anxious search of 29 days his remains were discovered Sept. Erected by voluntary subscriptions. W Powell Price Mayor of Brecon 1901.” Moving on from the memorial we have Corn Du 190m above us, giving us a reasonable climb to the summit. The last section was particularly hard, normally a step rocky outcrop now a ice and snow covered scramble. As we got to top the views simply blow us away; with being able to down to Pembrokeshire and the Bristol Channel to the south, while to the north the mountains of Mid Wales. While we where admiring the views we also notice the snake of people coming up from the Storey Arms, as well as, some very inappropriately dressed people including one group who were wearing jeans and trainers. Considering the conditions we felt we where under prepared without ice axes and crampons, with what they had on we were concerned for there safety considering it was still -3 and in the wind defiantly below -10.

Victory!
Photo by a random bystander.

We left Corn Du and decned on to the saddle between Pen Y Fan and Corn Du, with more snow and ice as well as some slips and slides. This was also the first oppitunity that I had to see what my new Paramo Velez Light Adventure Smock (I will do a review on this in the near future) was like and I have to say I was very impressed it kept me very warm. We decided to have lunch at Pen Y Fan, which to our surprise there was wind at all despite being he highest point in the Brecon Beacons. We think that it was to do with the large crags on two sides. While having lunch we messed around with Drew’s camera and got pictures some of which are on the Photo Gallery page.

We left Pen Y Fan and crept our way down an incredibly slippery section towards Cribyn. This took us quite a while as without an crampons it was mad in fact it was time to sit down and slide down on our backsides much to the amusement of some people. After a long decent to the head two of the valleys, we stopped and to watch some ice climbers on Pen Y Fan and a search and rescue helicopter fly around, not really sure what he was up to. We also reassessed our return route, as we could not pass under the main crag of Pan Y Fan due to the conditions like we had planned. Climbing up Cribyn was much the same as going up Corn Du only steeper. We reached the top of Cribyn at the same time as some locals who we had a nice chat with.

Leaving Cribyn, me and Drew thought it would be a fun idea to to and slide down on the ice that had formed on top of the snow. Yeah brilliant idea, we slide about a metre before going through the ice in to knee deep snow, much to Cameroon’s amusement (he did not even get it on film!). After several tries of being muppets each ending in a similar fashion. Me and Drew got Cameroon back, yeah you got we pushed him in the snow only lightly and in to the powdery snow.  

Corn Du later in the day.

The ascent back up Pen Y Fan was quite uneventful just a plod, up to the near the top before we tried to contour around the plateau which head in us having to turn back as the ice was pretty dangerous – I could not even get my pole through it. Annoyingly this forced us back to make the final ascent of Pen Y Fan. When we reached the top time was pushing on to around 15:00, so we pushed straight on not really wanting to get caught out on the mountain at night. It was a similar story all the to the memorial where the wind picked up to a ferocious speed, when we descend back down in to the valley. At one point in particular I slipped on some ice and was nearly blown down hill side not a nice feeling by any stretch of the imagination.

We got back in to camp at around 16:30, with the sun shining and everyone still in high spirits. After some grub we just had a general relaxation, which involved listening to the radio and trying to get some pictures of the stars, which we failed in unfortunately. All in all it was a very good day out and we ready for more the next day. 

Thank you for reading

Richard


Mountains

Dartmoor Camp Out

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Last Saturday night was pretty mad, I went up to Dartmoor to assist with the camping of a Ten Tors team after they had walked for approximately 25km during that day in lovely weather – I think not! They had all seasons in one day, hail, thunder and lightening, monsoon rain and thick fog just to make things fun. Despite all of this when I got out to them at Nuns Cross Farm (SX 606 698) around 18:00 they where in very high spirits. After talking to the teams I retired with the other leaders to one of our tents to plan where each of us would be going to check point them the next day (another 15km for the group).
It was decided that I would be doing a fair few kilometres first thing in the morning – about 10km – as well as having to beat the group down to Gutter Tor. However, our plans where soon changed when we all woken up to this (below) at 06:15 – in my case – the night before this was all green by morning it was covered with 3 inches of snow, just shows the unpredictability of Dartmoor’s weather.

There went our nicely laid plans. Time to get the Young People off of the moor, pretty fast. This was due to us having another team out in the middle of the Moor near Three Barrows, who where instructed to walk off the moor where another member of staff met us en route. About hour later we picked them up looking very happy from Wrangton Golf Club.