Sunday, 14 July 2019

Dartmoor: South Zeal to Shilstone Tor via Whitehorse Hill Cist (Part 1)

Whitehorse Hill Cist

The first thing you may be thinking is, "Max, why on earth have you focused a post, a walk even on an item that isn't an outcrop?" Hmm... and my answer to that is very simple: this place is remote, appealing and historical. Oh, what's happened to me?

This walk was not just about the cist, though, as it would take me to neighbouring Hangingstone Hill with its 'Hanging Stone', and Watern Tor would be revisited. I also had a new outcrop to bag courtesy of Bob Fitzpatrick, and nearer the finish, Rival, Buttern and Shilstone would tick off many more unbagged tors in the vicinity.

Off the bus at South Zeal, I took to the steep lower slopes of the huge Cosdon Hill. I have still to this date always ascended from the north for convenience. I wanted to beat my previous record of just over an hour to ascend when records began! But firstly, I would take a beeline for the huge clitter known as 'Foxes' Holt', with its stone post, shown in 'Dartmoor 365'.

Foxes' Holt feather and tare

Foxes' Holt Cave SX 64052 92598

Foxes' Holt clitter

Foxes' Holt stone post. Mud painted by Paul Buck two days ago.

Foxes' Holt stone post. Mud painted by Paul Buck two days ago.

I took another beeline to the track on the north side of the 'dome', negotiating several cows, reaching the northerly cairn where I turned 90 degrees left towards a small outcrop, displaying feather and tare in abundance at SX 63749 91669.

Cosdon Hill North Summit, with the actual summit behind

Ruined outcrops at the given GR

Ruined rocks at the given GR

Obviously, the summit was the next point of call. Reaching the top is always a sigh of relief as whichever way you chose to ascend, I can guarantee it wasn't easy! I had a small chocolate bar to bask in the achievement.

Cosdon trig

Cosdon Beacon

Now, I would go in search of a few outcrops on the western side of the hill, at SX 6336 9157 and SX 63360 91478 respectively. Thanks go to Paul for these GR's.

The outcrops are mediocre but are reminiscent of a ruined tor in this very spot.

The best part of the ruined tor at the first GR

A propped-up logan stone at the second GR

I had a choice to make now, and one I had been thinking of during the whole bus journey: do I descend the massive eminence to bag two new tors in the Taw Marsh basin, or do I keep most of my height by walking the ridge-line?

I checked my map to help with the decision and, when looking down into the valley with the enormous Steeperton Tor rising above it, a tor I'd have to climb from its steepest side, I thought "no way!" I missed out two tors by choice, but it made sense as the aim of the day, Whitehorse, sits on the same ridge as Cosdon with minimal descent.

I ended up returning to the beacon to pick up the track; glad I did, as I discovered my chocolate bar wrapper had fallen out of my pocket.

Back to Cosdon Beacon

The track from here to Little Hound Tor is quite bland, but it meant I could easily snatch a mile in about 15 mins.

Up and over Little Whit Hill, also known as the summit of Little Hound Tor, I veered off right to the main and best outcrop of the tor. This also worked in my favour as it dodged some cattle on the 'ridge path'.

Track to Little Whit Hill and Little Hound Tor

Little Hound Tor

Little Hound Tor

Little Hound Tor outcrop

Then, the White Moor Stone Circle.

White Moor Stone Circle

White Moor Stone Circle

This terrain is so simple! Hound Tor was next, and a pile I always choose to have a 5-minute rest on. It's very pleasing to the eye, not Watern Tor pleasing but a different kind I can't put into words! Lowly appearance maybe as I like those tors?

Hound Tor

Hound Tor

Hound Tor

Hound Tor

On Hound Tor I checked the time. Pleased to report I was ahead thanks to the shortcut (if you could call it that), I knew that had I gone down into the valley I would've wasted ample time. After all, the tors there would be better approached from below.

Between here and Wild Tor I had my third batch of cattle to avoid, however, these ones were placid and dismissed my presence almost entirely. That said, I gravitated to the southernmost mass of the tor to explore it properly.

Approaching Wild Tor

Wild Tor

Wild Tor

Wild Tor

Wild Tor
Wild Tor

100 metres south of here is another picturesque outcrop, its appearance somewhat different compared to the main tor. I took another 5-minute break here and had a snack before heading off again.

Wild Tor southern outcrop

Wild Tor southern outcrop

Wild Tor southern outcrop distinctive horizontal joints

Wild Tor southern outcrop, the main tor behind

South of here was unknown territory for me, so I made sure I knew where I was frequently as the path does become faint in places, an indication that it's less-trodden.

In little time I came to the top of Wild Tor Ridge, at 547m, topped by a redundant peat kiln. In remarkable condition, this prominent albeit small feature was once used to turn peat, a valuable resource, into charcoal before being transported off the moor.

Wild Tor Ridge peat kiln - not a cairn

Wild Tor Ridge peat kiln - not a cairn

It was here where I passed three people, the first sighting of the day. This also happened to be the moment where I became excited as Hangingstone Hill was beckoning. The closest I had ever been to this highpoint was back in January 2018, but it was misty and we had missed the track north of the hill to reach the terminus of the ring road.

Up and over the brow, I ignored the summit cairn and range hut to arrive at The Hanging Stone, a former logan stone on the north-west side of the hill atop an exposed granite outcrop. I could now make out several western tors, including Hare Tor and Great Links Tor.

The Hanging Stone

The Hanging Stone

The Hanging Stone

A lamellar outcrop above The Hanging Stone

The top of the hill affords excellent views in a wonderful location. It is rare to feel so high when you've got several 500m + peaks in view, but because this hill is above the 600m mark, Steeperton Tor and Cosdon Hill look impressive, though somewhat insignificant. Watern Tor also appears lowly, a perspective I've not until now experienced.

As I've said before, one of the highlights about Dartmoor for me is the isolation provided by the huge expanse of open moorland, 'getting away from it all'. Hangingstone or Newtake Hill ticks every box and it's surprisingly easy to reach.

Hangingstone Hill

Hangingstone Hill

Hangingstone Hill summit cairn and northward view

The top has been reached

Despite the dry weather we've been having recently, I decided on Frank Phillpotts' Peat Pass as I knew it would be the safest option.

Peat Pass

Peat Hag

Looking over to Mid Devon

Peat Pass Marker at the Whitehorse end, clearly restored

Whitehorse Hill is both dramatic and undramatic. Its summit is a bit indistinct, but I think by visiting the cist you can claim the bag. My interest in the hill came from a YouTube video, by Gary Roberts, that motivated me to reach this remote location.

According to the official Dartmoor National Park website, "The grave contained the cremated remains of a young adult, probably a female, which had been placed in the cist in the Early Bonze Age between 1730BC and 1600BC." Whilst I am not a historian, nor am I particularly interested in that field, when it coincides with Dartmoor I am willing to investigate the subject to see if it fits with my criteria: i.e. is it worth the effort and my time?!

Whitehorse Cist

Whitehorse Cist

Whitehorse Cist

Whitehorse Cist

That's all for Part 1. In Part 2, the walk takes a turn for the worst as I try to cut a corner from Moute's Inn, and I end up among elephant (tussock) grass below Rival Tor after descending the hill from Watern Tor.

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