Just as I arrived at Paul’s, he had the news on and a general election had been called. I took this as an omen that there could be no better time to lose myself for 3-4 days in the middle of nowhere.
Day 1: Tuesday
We bundled in the car and made for the Forest Inn at Hexworthy. A pint and an ask whether it was ok to leave the car there for a couple (ok 3) of nights, and then we were shouldering packs and heading up the lane to begin the climb onto the South Moor.
A track through the gorse took us up to the old workings below Skir Hill and then it was a fairly obvious route to the top of Ryder’s Hill and the first bag of the walk. This afforded nice clear views over much of South Devon and allowed us to take a look to some of our other targets for the walk.
A jink south east and soon we were at the sequence of large cairns making up the top of Snowdon. I looked in vain for the café that is supposed to be here. Neither was the train down. The upside of this was also a lack of flip flop-clad tourists.
A bit further south lay Puper’s Hill, a hill we’d passed and not bothered with when we were on the Two Moors Way back in October. From here the view down across the Avon yielded some familiar sights. Despite our fairly late start from the pub, we’d made decent progress and now thoughts turned to securing some water supplies and finding a spot to camp.
We duly descended to the Avon, scooped some of it up, and began the hardest part of the day’s walk – straight up through tussocky grass with extra weight on our backs.
Steady progress saw us to the top of Eastern White Barrow with its distinctive cairn, a shape that would remain a useful reference point for the whole walk.
Earlier discussion had centred on this area being unsuitable for camping due to the tussocky grass, but from the summit we spied a nice green patch not far away and went over to investigate. This proved to be a decent camping surface and so camp was made.
A dinner of home-dehydrated caribbean chicken curry was cooking while the sun slipped down to the horizon. A bit of chat as darkness surrounded us and then we retired to the warmth of our shelters.
Day 2: Wednesday
The sun rose behind Paul’s Akto and it was time for another culinary experiement, this time powdered egg. The scrambled eggs were suprisingly edible but were crying out for some salt and pepper. A mental note made for next time.
We headed along to Western White Beacon and there met a guy (later revealed to be Cas Mather when he commented on my post in the Dartmoor & Exmoor Wild Campers Facebook group) who’d camped at Red Lake the night before. A discussion about an abandoned tent and alcoholic refuse ensued before parting ways.
Next up was Quickbeam Hill and the top of it was very uninspiring – so much so that it seems to be the only summit or tor that I didn’t take a picture of. We only lingered long enough for sufficient gps fixes to be made to bag the hill, then we were continuing our trek south to Ugborough Moor (Three Barrows).
A bit bored of bare hills and cairns now, it was nice to drop down to Sharp Tor which is at least a proper tor. From here we could get a good view of the next few tors.
South to Piles Hill and then we found the track that dropped us into Harford for a crossing of the Erme.
The route then took us initially alongside the Erme before a fight uphill through dead bracken, heather and bits of low-hanging spiky branches. The reward when we reached Tristis Rock, though, made it all seem worthwhile.
Tristis was so nice that we bestowed the honour of a full tor-sit on it, taking a late elevensies there.
Keen to avoid a descent the same way we’d come up we tried gaining south following the nearby wall and this dropped us down to the path in a much more satisfactory way. Back through Harford and across a couple of fields and then we were climbing back onto the Moor to visit Tor Rocks.
Ahead of us lay Hangershell Rock, which we’d passed close enough for Social Hiking to record a bag when we were on the Two Moors Way. We soon found out why – Social Hiking has it at an insignificant rock a hundred metres or so from the actual tor. Hangershell was also deemed worthy or a tor-sit, this time for proper lunch.
Resuming our southward course, we walked over Butterdon Hill and then attempted to find Black Tor.
Ahead of us lay the prize suggested by the title of this post. We pulled up onto Western Beacon and we had our furthest south.
Now we’d turned the corner, it was time to start the long walk home, and heading north east we reached Creber’s Rock or Claret Tor.
A little way above Creber’s Rock was Ugborough Beacon.
With legs tiring and the lure of tonight’s camp growing, we started the long trudge north again.
An hour or so’s work and a bit of contouring around Ugborough Moor got us onto the ridge of Hickley Plain and its variety of battlements which comprise Wacka Tor. We put the tents up and set about the quest for water. This also gave us the chance to hopefully resolve an issue we’d come across – a lamb lying on the ground that was struggling to get up. Not sure whether it was just scared or genuinely hurt, and with its mother scarpering when she saw us, we hoped that the trip down to Red Brook would encourage the ewe to help the lamb up and be on their way. It wasn’t to be though, the situation unchanged when we got back. We soon ascertained that the lamb was crippled and unable to get to its feet and witnessed the ewe’s desperation to get it to stand. A call to the Dartmoor Livestock Preservation Society followed. This is a charity which you call if you find distressed or injured livestock on the Moor, and for which Paul luckily had the number. With grid reference supplied and a description of the ewe’s markings we’d done all we could to help identify who the sheep belonged to, so that the farmer could come and see to it. (It’s worth noting at this point that the DLPS advise you not to touch lambs in case of rejection by the ewe, and the best thing you can do is call them so they can get the farmer to decide what to do.)
Day 3: Thursday
The sun rose on our third day, and no farmer had been up to rescue the lamb, which somehow survived the night. A further call to the DLPS to advise them of this fact, and they told us the farmer would be up that morning. There wasn’t much more we could do.
Down again to the Red Brook and this time we crossed over for a climb onto Old Hill, finding the tor fairly easily.
Better still was yet to come. We repeated the process with a descent to and crossing of Bala Brook and were soon at Black Tor. Arguably the best tor of the walk so far (with only Tristis as a potential rival). We sat for a while and looked across to Shipley Tor. Not too long though as we had an appointment with the “facilities” at Shipley Bridge.
The River Avon was pleasant, and we looked forward to following it back upstream a bit later on.
The Hunters’ Stone lays conveniently right by the road. In some circles this is referred to as a “hillplodder tor” (ie one you can bag for little effort from the road). This one you wouldn’t even have to get out of the car to do.
We arrived at the car park, and more importantly the building in the car park 😉 Inside we found some leaflets from the DLPS. A bit late, but it was reassuring to find that the details we’d (admittedly with some prompting) given were right and the decision to not interfere with the lamb, beyond establishing that it was properly hurt, were as they advise.
Lighter by a few pounds we headed up the Avon and found a spot to temporarily dump our packs for the out and back walk to Shipley Tor.
Relieved to find them still where we left them we resumed our course upstream and arrived at the dam. Here we climbed a short way away from the path, dumped our packs behind a load of gorse and did a similar out and back to find Ryder’s Rocks.
This was easier said than done though, and we eventually settled for a splurge of rocks on the hillside a short distance from where Social Hiking has them marked. It was a relief when we got back to Paul’s to find that these were the right ones.
Reunited with our packs, we set about the trudge northwards across a largely pathless moor to intercept the Two Moors Way. This was fairly hard going in places.
The contouring around and some soft ground with significant descent and re-ascent soon put us off the idea of tacking Gibby Combe Tor, and we concluded this was best left for a frontal assault from Scorriton. We also ditched our planned detour into Holne.
A climb up onto a plateau and soon Venford Reservoir was below us and just about in the distance beyond it was Bench Tor. We set about crossing the moor, pausing at the Leat to fill up with water for camp. Across the road and we threaded our way through gorse to Bench Tor.
A short way further on, and often mistaken for being part of Bench Tor, is North Tor.
It was a bit of an earlier finish than the two previous days, but still quite welcome. By this point I’d been suffering from heel pain for an hour or so, and it was a relief to take the weight off. A relaxing evening was had in camp. I didn’t envy Paul his dinner of rice with my left over powdered egg. I was happily eating one of my remaining stock of Fuizion chillis.
Day 4: Friday
Convinced sunrise was a pathetic affair, I turned my time-lapse filming off only for the sun to actually appear a few minutes later. This was rather annoying. The lure of a Fox Tor cafe breakfast in only a couple of hours soon made me forget about this minor inconvenience.
We descended to the north into the woods, enjoying the walk on a good path through the trees. Contouring around the valley side soon brought us to Aller Brook Outcrop.
Now all that was left for us to do was follow the leat around to meet the road just before Combestone Tor. This is perhaps the finest “hillplodder tor” of all.
We spent a few minutes here and then took to the road, eager to finish the walk. Soon we were back at the car at the Forest Inn, relieved to find it (a) still there and (b) intact.
After 60km on the moor, there was only one place we could go, and so we headed for the Fox Tor for the breakfast, the thought of which had quickened our pace this morning. It didn’t disappoint. A quick pop around to the brewery to pick up some beer for Phil and Sarah, who I was popping in to see at Social Hiking HQ on my way home, and then we were driving back to Paul’s for a cup of tea, a quick shower, and the journey home.
PS. Phil and Sarah went and did part of the route Paul and I had done on the Saturday, and this included a visit to Wacka Tor. As I was driving home, Phil sent me a message. The lamb had not survived. It seems the farmer simply decided to leave it. I’ll spare you the picture of the crow-pecked corpse.