Getting Back On The Horse: Part 3 – Pole to Pole

The forecast for the next couple of days was markedly better, and it seemed a shame not to take advantage. So I made plans to stay another couple of days. This would be solo though, as Paul had to go to work and Cath had to go home.

The obvious thing of doing a two night backpack on the local part of the moor had one flaw – although not entirely exhausted the possibilities, I’ve covered a lot of the north moor, including on this trip. Some new territory was wanted. I could of course have simply bussed to another area and meandered about for a couple of days and nights. But far better to do something more meaningful.

I looked at the map and absent-mindedly plotted a trans-moor route on the OS Maps app on my phone. Coming in at just over 50km, it seemed just right – not an uphill struggle whilst being enough distance to be a good verification of my readiness to backpack properly again. So that was it, plan settled. Looking at the map, it would almost be a crossing from the northernmost to southernmost extent of the National Park, give or take a few hundred metres. So Pole to Pole it would be.

Entering the National Park close to its northern extremity

Paul dropped me off at Belstone services, just outside the border of the National Park. So the first thing I did was pop inside for breakfast. Then I headed along the lanes to Belstone and out on the track to Taw Marsh.

The track to Taw Marsh

Crossing the Taw at the ford necessitated a change of footwear, and gave me a chance to try out my new camp shoes, a pair of £12 sandals from Tesco. They worked great and I continued walking in them for a while to allow everything to dry off, but also to find a rock to sit on to change back into boots.

I followed the trodden lines through the rough boggy grass to the foot of Metheral Hill and contoured around to just below Hound Tor, climbing then up to the Tor. About 1,400m away lay my favourite tor – Wild Tor. Well it must be my favourite, I’ve camped there twice.

I arrived at Wild Tor and lingered to inspect the granite and take plenty of reference photos for future art works.

Wild Tor

Next up was Hangingstone Hill and I pulled up onto the top in the same conditions as last time I was here – breeze, rain and low cloud.

It took a bit of effort to find the path that skirts to the east of the top and leads around to the peat pass, thereby avoiding the worst of the boggy ground. But eventually I was on Whitehorse Hill.

My next target was Quintin’s Man, and I headed south into terra incognita. It was easy enough to find, the range huts being visible from quite a long way off. They provided some shelter from the now heavier rain and stronger wind. So much for the no rain at all forecast.

At Quintin’s Man

Now I had a decision to make. Kit Rocks lay SSW about 1km away. I could either follow the range poles south and then west or take a more intrepid route. I chose the latter, hoping to cut the corner off, but also because the range poles were so far spaced that they didn’t appear of much use as a handrail. 500m or so SW from Quintin’s Man I found a prominent rock, that doesn’t seem to be listed, but may be associated with the tinner’s hut marked on the map.

Prominent rock by the North Teign (approx SX 618 834)
Kit Rocks

I arrived at Kit Rocks, glad to have completed the off piste work. Long tufty grass with hidden watery traps is not my favourite ground to cover by any means. The lure of simply following the East Dart won out over more tufty grass bashing to Winney’s Down – that could wait for another day.

I headed down alongside the East Dart, having to work just as hard to avoid wet feet and boggy bits next to the river. Finding a place to cross was hard as the river was just that little bit too wide to step or jump across without a good run up. And the boggy ground precluded a good run up. I found the narrowest point I could with a helpful sticky-out bit and threw my pack over. I was committed now. A leap across and I almost made it, my left leg trailing in the water. Bugger.

The raging East Dart
Broada Stones

I soon forgot this though as I rocked up at Broada Stones. Approaching the little stream that joins the East Dart nearby, I saw a reddish brown thing by the water and went to investigate – an unusual rock perhaps ?

Nope, it was something else. A horse, lying on its side with its head under water. Dead, of course. Photos were taken in anticipation of phoning it in to  Dartmoor Livestock Protection. Across the stream, a foal looked out from around a subsidiary outcrop. Not much I could do, except get back in mobile phone signal range.

The Orphan
Extract from the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society website

I headed downriver ticking off Sandy Hole Rocks (North) and (South) before climbing up over Broad Down. Back in range, I called Karla and left a message.

Heading for Sandy Hole

Now the wall provided an easy handrail, although I was back in familiar territiory anyway. I picked up some water at Cherrybrook Rocks and climbed up to Lower White Tor, which I’d decided would probably be today’s camp spot. Finding an ok, albeit a bit slopey, spot on a grassy patch surrounded by rocks, I stopped for the day, put the tent up and awaited the call back from Karla, sending her the equine photos and a screenshot of the location. Apparently, she had to put a horse down in almost exactly the same spot recently.

Camp at Lower White Tor

At sunrise time I stuck my head out of the tent, and promptly shut up shop again. A blanket of white. Certainly no sun. And what’s that pattering on the tent ? It can’t be rain – the forecast said not only no rain at all, but not even a risk of rain. And it was a tor-specific forecast for neighbouring Beardown Tors. A look at the forecast and it still said no rain. Clearly I was now in some sort of parallel universe.

Wistman’s Wood

A break in the rain allowed me to get the tent packed away, but soon I was climbing over Higher White Tor and Longaford Tor in full-on clag and rain. I dropped down to Wistman’s Wood which at least gave some relief from the wind. The path brought me to the road and a tarmac trudge into Princetown. I must have looked quite a bedraggled sight to the stream of Dartmoor Brewery vans that passed me. As if to rub salt into the wound.

The Fox Tor Cafe provided the expected relief and refuge. My usual breakfast, but I made the startling discovery that I actually enjoyed the one at Belstone more. I know this is a form of heresy. I was also able to buy some matches and lunch supplies, avoiding the need to go to the shop nearby.

The Cafe also provided one more thing – a break in the weather. I set off to a brightening sky. South Hessary Tor provided my first sight of people on the moor on this walk, and the path out to Nun’s Cross provided plenty more. I headed up onto Eylesbarrow but didn’t stay long as the weather was closing in again. A walk down to Higher Hartor Tor and then Lower Hartor Tor and it was time for me to seek shelter in the lee of rock again as another heavy shower passed over.

Lower Hartor Tor

I crossed the River Plym and climbed up to Calverslake Tor before picking off Little Gnats Head too. Now for some more navigational fun. An easterly course across pathless ground should bring me to the Abbot’s Way and Broad Rock. As I looked down at Erme Head, knowing I was roughly where I needed to be, I got a GPS fix and was startled to find I was allegedly bang on top of Broad Rock. Pity I couldn’t see which one it was, let alone the restored lettering on it.

Erme Pits

I headed down to Erme Pits, crossed over and detoured to Black Rocks. As I neared Dry Lake Ford a decision had to be made. I was sort of on target to be able to get a train home today – if I pushed hard I could get a teatime one that would whisk me straight to Paddington without needing to change and get me home for 10:30 ish. Tempting. Even the next train would get me home for half past midnight. And the next one gave an option to sleep on the train and get home for breakfast. or I could simply camp as planned and travel home the next morning. I picked up some water anyway so I could maintain the choice. I was starting to think my feet wouldn’t make it.

I climbed up to meet the Two Moors Way and familiar ground again. A brief attempt at a strong pace got me just about on target for the early train but was killing my feet. As the track passed Sharp Tor a couple of hundred metres away, I thought “I’ll just take a look, and it there’s a nice spot, maybe I’ll camp.” Of course there was a perfect spot in the lee of the rocks. That’s it, decision made then.

I’d just got the tent up when a guy and his son came by and it transpired they were camped up by the cairn. Pleasantries were exchanged before we retired to our respective tents.

Camp at Sharp Tor (Ugborough)

I woke early to another non-sunrise, but this time no rain. Plenty of low cloud though, and I set off for Ivybridge not being able to see much. I could see Hangershell Rock though, and detoured to bag it properly. Then it was a straightforward skip down the path to the station, a change of clothes in the shelter on the platform before boarding a packed train home.

Hangershell Rock
Leaving the National Park near its southern extremity

I’d made it across the moor in a little over 48 hours, a distance of nearly 54km and two wild camps. The asthma hadn’t been a problem, and I’d found a way to contain it sufficiently to be able to enjoy backpacking.

I’m back.


Horsey update: Karla from Dartmoor Livestock Protection went up the next day and found the dead mare, but the foal had gone. She even neighed to try to attract it (apparently although this sounds silly, it does work). The hope is that it met up with other ponies.


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