Sunday, 2 June 2019

Dartmoor: Some Tors and Rocks in Taw Country

Steeperton Tor

This walk wasn't supposed to be as long as it was, but it was which I take full blame for. It was a hot day too, requiring suncream and ample drink stops, but it's all part of 'The Dartmoor Experience' as I call it; experiencing everything that Dartmoor has to offer, from the mist on Cut Hill to the searing heat without shade. Today we experienced the latter.

Tim Jenkinson and I arrived at Belstone car park to meet Paul Buck and start the walk onto the moor, first passing through the pretty village. The track on the eastern side of Belstone Common is a nice route onto the moor, as Steeperton Tor looms ahead like a small mountain high above Taw Marsh, the flat depression below.

We ford the Taw at Horsehoe Ford to take the grassy path to the foot of Big Whit Hill, on the south-western side of Cosdon Hill, where Flock o' Sheep Rocks could be found. After missing the recumbent cross last time, I was pleased to finally see it today. Tim and Paul both describe the area in detail in Dartmoor Magazine No. 136 p.48.

Big Whit Hill Cross

Flock o' Sheep Rocks

Flock o' Sheep Rocks

We went higher to come across the entrance to a hut circle and a small cist, the latter of which is on Dartefacts.

Big Whit Hill Cist

Big Whit Hill Cist

We beelined for Little Hound Tor, or rather I did, as Tim and Paul were disinterested! I quite like the tor.

Little Hound Tor

Little Hound Tor

So where next? Isn't it obvious? The White Moor Stone Circle of course! Since we were in no rush today, we also visited the White Moor Stone, an impressive standing stone near to the stone circle. I couldn't believe this was my first visit.

It is inscribed with 'DC' for the Duchy of Cornwall and 'TP' for Throwleigh Parish. Also note the two additional 'T's.

White Moor Stone Circle

White Moor Stone

White Moor Stone

White Moor Stone

White Moor Stone

We took the path to Hound Tor (Okehampton), a tor I love visiting as it's the one I tend to stop at for a quick snack. I just love the views from here.

Hound Tor (Okehampton)

Hound Tor (Okehampton)

Now instead of heading to Wild Tor like I usually do, we took the track downhill (westward) with Steeperton Tor dead ahead. In doing so, we passed a Throwleigh Parish Boundstone.

Throwleigh Parish Boundstone

Fish rock near the ford

The plan was to cross unnamed ford to steeply ascend Steeperton Tor, but the brook, named after the tor, looked enticing upstream so we followed it. Paul also took the opportunity to filter some water as the day really started to warm up.

We entered what Eric Hemery calls Chimney Bow or Bow Combe, a beautiful valley with cascades, small outcrops and clean water. It is essentially a waterfall broken up by boulders as is seen at Yealm Steps and East Dart Falls. Idyllic!

Hemery enthuses: "At Chimney Bow, the brook falls between huge boulders and steep hillsides to its tiny middle reach under Steeperton Hill. From the head of the falls can be seen the elevated basin of Raybarrow Pool and the distinctive tump of Round (Hound) Tor. A right-bank leat once conveyed water to the streamworks near Small Brook Foot to supplement the supply leated from that stream."

Entering Bow Combe

Bow Combe

Bow Combe

Bow Combe

Bow Combe

Bow Combe

At the head of the combe, we came across a magnificent tinners' hut or blowing house (different maps give this feature different names). Its condition is remarkable.

Paul in the tinners' hut

Fireplace

Moss

Looking to Hangingstone Hill

This side of Steeperton Tor is fairly flat and gentle, Eagle Rock, the southernmost, being our first outcrop of what turned out to be stupendous ridge of rock. Why it is given its own identity I do not know.

Eagle Rock - Steeperton Tor summit rock - 532m

Eagle Rock

Eagle Rock view of Hangingstone Hill
View along the ridge. OMG!

I had no words to describe the moment, the views unravelling for miles northward to Exmoor and the coast. I've heard that some people think the tor is poor, but I honestly can't see why. Its outcrops are well-jointed, some broken forming rock shelters, and are sited so perfectly. Even with military huts, the tor stands out and feels really high. This is why Steeperton Tor is in my top 10 tors list.

Steeperton Tor rock shelter

Steeperton Tor hut

Steeperton Tor

Steeperton Tor

Paul and someone else

Steeperton Tor

Steeperton Tor hut
Eastward view

We descended south-west to a small outcrop in the River Taw to see if it was worthy of going on Tors of Dartmoor. It was dismissed but the part of the river at SX 6136 8833 is still worth a visit due to the deep water which is perfect for paddling.

Cracked boulder

Small cliff

Taw River

Safely across we ascended to the Wheal Virgin Boundary Stone SX 61262 88438 (grid reference courtesy of Tim). As you would expect, it has 'WV' inscribed into it! It was here where I donned my suncream as I felt my head burning, my arms too.

For a great read, please check out Tim Sandles' Legendary Dartmoor site.

Wheal Virgin Boundary Stone

Wheal Virgin Boundary Stone

I remarked to the team how I hadn't been to Taw Rocks yet and, given they are situated a little further up the valley, wondered if they'd consider a visit even though they'd both been before, Paul twice. The diversion would add some substantial mileage to the walk but for some reason, they agreed to take me up there.

Contouring the hillside southward took us back to the left bank of the Taw where the walk upstream was never-ending, but it was enjoyable and once we reached the main outcrop Paul filtered some more water.

Outcrops north of Taw Rocks

Taw Rocks

Taw Rocks

Taw Rocks waterfall

We met the track to the south at the ford to begin ascending Okement Hill. I have some interesting memories of this stretch of track: it was during a Ten Tors training walk, here, where my shoulders began to weaken so I had to give my 75-litre pack to one of my kind teammates for a lighter pack, and, upon reaching the summit of the hill, do I remember seeing Mr. Hunt, our coach, sheltering from the relentless wind and rain in OP 15. He had ridden his bike out from Rowtor. 

I never grabbed any photos of Okement Hill on that walk, nor could I see any views, so it felt like I'd never been here before!

OP 15 at Okement Hill - summit 564m

It was time to finally head in the direction of Belstone, taking a windy military track to Deep Ford, a crossing of the East Okement River. On our left, we noticed a small outcrop at OP 7 which we deviated to, on purpose, as Paul had noted it before this walk. As was the case with the small cliff below Wheal Virgin, this was another outcrop we dismissed on account of its diminutive stature. 

OP 7 Outcrop

OP 7 Outcrop

Over a bridge, we embraced Oke Tor's steep western slope. 

Oke Tor

Oke Tor

Oke Tor

Little Oke Tor, documented here, would be our last tor of the day, as I started to show the symptoms of heatstroke. 

Little Oke Tor

Little Oke Tor view of Oke Tor

Avoiding Knattaborough Tor we made a right downhill to rejoin the track on the eastern side of the common. I needed to get in shade quickly and I can't tell you how nice it was to get back to Birchy Lake on the outskirts of Belstone village. The ice-cold drink at The Tors Inn was most welcome!

GR Letterbox - very old

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