The Cox Tor and Pew Tor Figure of 8
We repeat the process of 24 hours before and assemble in the Fox Tor before piling into cars for the short drive out to the start of the walk. Mist shrouds the top of North Hessary Tor as we drive out of Princetown, with the top of the TV mast poking out as if it’s somehow suspended above the cloud.
It’s cold as we arrive at the large car park at the crest of the Merrivale-Tavistock Road, and I start the walk with all of my layers on, topped off with warm hat. I’m also in my “clean” shoes, having somehow left the dirty pair back at the bunkhouse – one of the perils of having multiple pairs of the same trail shoes. And of being a forgetful idiot too, I suppose. The wind whips at us as we start the climb onto Cox Tor, but the top isn’t our immediate destination – that will be claimed on the return leg. Instead we slant off to the west to visit Little Cox Tor, a pathetic pile of rocks which nevertheless requires a bit of delicate footwork to get to, especially as I’m trying to keep my shoes as clean and dry as possible.
Having not had a much better night’s sleep and with the sense that I’m coming down with a cold bug, I seem to have lost my zip this morning, and I find myself bringing up the rear with Cath for a good chunk of the walk. As the others contour around Cox Tor and duck between walls and around outcrops, we struggle to keep alert to the way they’re going. We spot the others making left up onto a brackeny mound and follow suit to find ourselves on Sharp Tor (Peter Tavy).
As we descend to Great Combe Tor, something looks familiar about the long high ridge across the valley, and my enquiries are answered with what I should have known deep down – it’s White Tor, my nemesis from 2008. We’re not due to climb it today (although it turns out we get fairly close), but I don’t like the way it’s smugly looking down on me, and something will have to be done about that.
Great Combe Tor is one of those collections of scattered geological remnants that is difficult to determine where the “top” is, the consensus in this case going with the most impressive bunch of rocks, not necessarily the highest.
We descend to cross the Colly Brook and pause for elevensies, before climbing up through the wood to find the moss-covered Little Combe Tor. Phil has a thing about tors like this, and is observed stroking the furry green rocks. He’s clearly got it bad, or else is still so distraught about wrecking his Banshee that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Furze Tor’s just by the road leading up to Godsworthy Farm and then we’re climbing up to Boulters Tor, wreathed in barbed wire. A little along the ridgelet is its baby brother, Little Boulters Tor and a smattering of rocks that also counts – Smearn Down Tors. They’re coming thick and fast now.
Our next objective is a slight detour to visit Stephen’s Grave, tanatalisingly close to White Tor, which we don’t have time to visit, under the dual pressures of completing the walk before the poorer weather rolls in, and in time for people to head home. We pick off the scraps on this side of the valley, beginning with a pile of rocks that look like they’ve been dropped whilst being carried to their real destination. I quickly christen this edifice “Poxy Tor”. Jim attempts a bizarre pose meant to suggest he’s about to conquer this mighty structure. Either that or he’s actually hiding in embarrassment. The jury’s still out on this one.
Wedlake Tor is next on our way down to cross the multi-threaded streams flowing across the valley floor. We reach the bottom of the field and a succession of “just too wide to step across comfortably” streams. The guys all make it across without ceremony, but Cath does her usual prevarication whilst she teeters on the edge of the raging torrent. To be fair to her, she does have shorter legs than the rest of us, but it has now become traditional for me to take up a position on the other side of whichever stream or bog we’re trying to cross ready to photograph her being carried away by the force of the water and, in this case, being swept down the Tavy and Tamar into the sea, issuing little girly shrieks liberally sprinkled with plenty of earthy language.
Now below some bigger tors, I’ve asked Phil several times already which ones they are (Roos Tor and Great Staple Tor) and as we’re not visiting them today, content myself with trying to imprint them on the mind with some pictures from below.
We now toil up to the saddle between Great Staple Tor and Cox Tor to find a large pool of water there, clearly the small pool marked on the map being swollen by recent downpours. As Cath and I arrive at the pool, Jim is on the island in the middle. I don’t know why – probably simply because it was there. He soon skips back pretty rapidly though.
We complete the rest of the climb onto the top of Cox Tor, surmounted by a trig point in this case. There’s something about this tor – it seems to have its own microclimate, as having shed outer layers for much of the walk, they’re now back on in the biting cold of the stiff breeze scouring the top of the tor. We hunker down in the lee of the rocks and in sight of the cars for a short lunch stop.
We skip merrily back to the cars and the first loop of today’s figure of eight is complete. There’s also an ice cream van turned up, but the five of us who are doing the second loop of the walk defer that pleasure until we’re fully finished. Paul and Jim sit this one out in the car, and Phil takes over as guide on our mini excursion to Pew Tor, which is apparently his favourite. To goad Phil, I delight in keep deliberately mispronouncing its name as Poo Tor.
Phil leads us out first to “Pesky Rocks”, named as such because they’re both tricky to find and just as tricky to spell (Prowtytown Rocks being the official name). Some thwacking through bracken is needed before we find them. Phil attempts to look manly standing on them. The subsequent Twitter verdict on the results of this are that he has overwhelmingly failed.
The visit to Pesky Rocks does, however, keep us off the main path line and avoid us treading the same ground twice. The downside is that we spend a while thwacking through bracken and gorse and crossing small streams to get to Poo Tor. As we approach though, the first glimpses confirm the reasonableness of this being Phil’s favourite tor; a more intimate examination of the many outcrops make it a contender for everyone else’s favourite too. Phil shows us his previous bivvy spot, and we now leave him to enjoy a few minutes quiet time on his special tor with his curly wurly. He sends us off southwards to bag the furthermost tor – Sampford Tor.
This is another of those tors that is nothing from the side we approach, being merely a few rocks on the ground. On the other side, though, it’s a different story with the ground dropping away to create something more impressive from below.
We pick up Phil below Pew Tor and are now on the return leg. Phil tries to find Heckwood Tor, seeing some rocks off to one side that initially look promising, but when asked if this is it, says “No, it’s fuck all”. So Fuckall Tor it is then.
Heckwood Tor itself is a bit further through the bracken.
Another Tor we won’t be visiting on this walk is the infamous Vixen Tor, below us to the north east.
As we arrive at Feather Tor, looking to our right, we see a rainbow plunging down through the crowds to hit the TV mast on North Hessary Tor, as though it’s trying to tell us something. This causes a delay of several minutes while we all try to do the shot justice.
Feather Tor itself is nice looking, with a solitary tree adding to the atmos in the shrinking light.
Just past the tor we cross the leat by an old cross. More shots of the rainbow are taken at this point.
This is quite a nice way to finish the walk, but we’re not done yet. Ponies are guarding Barnhill Rocks , the 34th and final bag of the weekend.
A short distance below are the cars, and we’re relieved to see the ice cream van still there. Ice creams are purchased and gear is flung into the back of cars. There’s some general milling about in the cold as people prepare to go their separate ways.
All of a sudden, I’m stood there alone watching two cars disappear over the moor. They’d just made the 4pm target needed for Cath to catch the train she wanted from Bristol. I now had a decision to make, although it wasn’t a difficult one. With sunset so close, feeling cold and with a decent walk under my belt, I opt not to camp out tonight – I’d be heading out onto unfamiliar terrain in the dark by the time I sorted my stuff out. I also don’t fancy a 16 hour night in the tent with minimal entertainment. Sod it, I’ve already paid for tonight in the bunkhouse, so let’s get my money’s worth.
I drive back to the now empty bunkhouse, shower and sort my gear out. Another bloke comes in and we chat for a while, making plans to meet up for dinner in the pub later on.
Unfortunately, he’s nowhere in sight when I turn up at the appointed time, so I end up eating alone. It’s finally time to try the pie, and with none of the others here to taunt me, it’s also safe to have a pint of cider. So I do. The pie is excellent and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Being on my own, it’s not a long night in the pub, and I end up back in the bunkhouse having an early night.
The End – or is it a Beginning ?
I’m up in good time and loading the car well before 8am. It’s really gloomy and am glad I didn’t camp out. The Fox Tor doesn’t open until 9am so I reluctantly decide to make a start.
The drive back across the moor seems to take a lot longer. The moor seems sad to see me go as it’s all grey and sulky, and in truth I’m sad to go too. The weekend’s been just about the right length, but I can sense that Dartmoor has stirred something in me. I hit the M5 in contemplative silence and stay like this until I’m the other side of Somerset.
I arrive home, and immediately start sorting through photos and checking off tors on my Social Hiking map. This is always best done while a trip is still fresh, but there seems to be an added impetus this time. I find myself pulling the whole list of tors and rocks from Social Hiking and marrying it up with the relevant extract from the Database of British and Irish Hills (DoBIH). This is a dangerous sign.
It’s now a few days since the trip, and the passage of time has allowed me to reflect better on the trip…
Moors haven’t always been places that I’ve rated particularly highly. At first they just seemed big and empty, but as the need to find solitude and emptiness grew as a natural foil to the increasing stress and crowding of working in London, I’ve grown to appreciate them a bit more, and to notice the pockets of rugged beauty hidden among them.
After so many years looking to rockier terrain for my chill out, I think I’m coming to realise that moors may possibly meet my need better than anything else. The feeling of space is so much greater than somewhere like the Lake District, cut as it is into deeper and more dramatic valleys. On Dartmoor, the valleys are gentle and the terrain just rolls on and on. Even in the Lakes, my favourite spots are those fells that have plenty to explore – fells such as Seathwaite Fell with its myriad of outcrops and tarns – and an equivalent can be found on Dartmoor in some of the more complex tors. Indeed, Cath and I drew this exact comparison when we were on Pew Tor.
Did I love Dartmoor to the extent that I expected to ? Yes, and I found myself constantly keeping an eye out for possible camping spots throughout the weekend, so my subconscious at least was telling me I need to come back. When we discussed on the walk the point at which Dartmoor-itis kicks in, I remember remarking that I didn’t expect that to be on the walks themselves – for me, it’s in the memories and reflections after I’m away from the place that seems to bring on those sort of feelings, and I’m sensing this starting to happen.
For one thing, I’ve had the Two Moors Way on my shortlist of long walks for a couple of years, and have now moved it right up to near the top of the list. And I’ve suggested to Mrs Hillplodder that the annual uni friends reunion we do each Easter could be done near Dartmoor. One thing’s sure: I fully expect to be back on Dartmoor in the next few months.
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