Thursday, 10 September 2015

Two wonderful Dartmoor walks

Our Tavistock campsite, Lumburn Court, is pretty much perfectly placed
Dartmoor ponies 
for access to the western side of Dartmoor. We have already been on two fantastic walks there and are hoping to get at least one more before we move on to pastures new.

For both walks, we parked on the Tavistock to Princetown road, firstly in the viewpoint car park at the foot of Cox Tor. The initial uphill to the top of this tor was surprisingly hard work - we are definitely out of practice! It was also busy with other walkers as we went on a pleasantly sunny Sunday. However, after a few minutes we had the moor to ourselves. We learned yesterday from our friend Chris that most people visiting a National Park like Dartmoor don't actually venture more than 150 metres from their car park. I was amazed at such as short distance, but also selfishly pleased as we do like our solitude on remote moorland walks!

Descending into the valley, we headed northwards to Wedlake Farm and
Stephen's Grave 
uphill again until we reached Stephen's Grave. Having seen photographs of this monument online, I expected the grave marker to be an obvious landmark. It sort of is, if you know to look down! The pillar itself is only about thigh-height so we found it by locating its crossroads, rather than finding the crossroads by spotting the pillar. The circular dents in it are the result of Second World War vandalism whem American GIs used the grave marker for target practice. As for Stephen himself, his legend states that he committed suicide so was buried at a crossroads to prevent his soul from wandering.

Due east from Stephen's Grave, we passed White Tor and entered into
Standing stone at Merrivale Firing Ranges
the Merrivale Firing Ranges, a Ministry Of Defence reserved area where the Armed Forces can practice shooting at each other. This huge standing stone, taller than me, was just before Merrival and we also saw the banked wall below which had been made sheep-proof with its double barbed wire fence on top and ran for a long way. Humans were guided by a line of red and white posts with small placards on them. Unfortunately the one nearest to us had been set up in the midst of bog so I couldn't get close enough to read the advice! We had already checked the firing schedules at the website though so knew we would be safe! 

Banked wall at Merrivale 
After a picnic lunch, we began heading back car-wards and downhill. We followed the valley around Great Mis Tor and saw incredible remains of ancient settlements. It was easy to make out the circular rock bases of dozens of long-since vanished huts. We spotted a great example of a leat - a Dartmoor man-made narrow stream which carried fresh water from remote streams to villages where it was needed. The leat builders were wonderfully skilled and created streams with almost imperceptible gradients, just enough to keep the water moving. As the one we saw moved away from its feeder stream, it appeared to flow uphill.

We passed beneath Roos Tor and Staples Tor, stepping around loads of tumbled rocks in our way. The increased number of other people alerted us that we were nearly back to our car park in which we were delighted to see a Willy's Ice Cream van. This locally made ice cream is delicious and I can highly recommend the coffee flavour.

Two days later we set out again, this time in the company of Chris and
Marta. We parked further along the Princetown road just past the Merrivale Quarry. We started out parallel to the road and almost immediately saw more settlement remains and stone rows which we would examine more closely on our return. Our route was a rough figure of eight around King's Tor and Ingre Tor. Quarrying and mining used to be the major industries around here and we saw lots of evidence across the landscape. Spoil heaps and piles of rejected rocks are everywhere.

For much of our walk, we followed the route of the now abandoned and
Bridge over dismantled Dartmoor railway 
dismantled mining railway. Other than the flattened railbed, most of it has now gone, but we did see a few former platform-type bases and cuttings through hillsides. A great anomaly was this solidly constructed bridge which still looms over the way although it now just leads to a field gate. If you squint at this photo, you can just spot Marta under the bridge taking a photo of me as I took a photo of her.

I think all of our walk was on Open Access land so there was practically
Standing stone near Merrivale Quarry 
nothing in the way of footpath markers and the few we did see were bleached to uselessness. I love the idea of Access land, but we haven't yet totally got the hang of it. On this walk we did suddenly find ourselves confronted with an unexpected stream and a wire fence behind it. Not wanting to return past already slightly agitated cows, we followed Pathfinder Chris's lead over both stream and fence, only to find ourselves in the midst of tents. It was perfect weather for impromptu camping! A short uphill led us to this magnificent standing stone which was probably about eight or nine feet tall. A stone circle close by appeared to be connected with it and the stone rows mentioned earlier were also nearby. The two rows were reminiscent of Carnac, albeit on a mini scale and the stones themselves were smaller. I took photos but the rows aren't clearly visible - they just look like random rocks in the image. Seen 'for real' they were impressive.

On a completely different note to finish, did you see my guest post on Bookish Serendipity yesterday? It's one of my favourite blogs to follow and my contributed post discusses How A Travelling Book Blogger Gets Her Fix.


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