Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Dartmoor: Great Stennent Tor

Great Stennent Tor

This short walk really was a last-minute decision made by my dad and I to meet up before Christmas Day. I was initially unsure about where to go but having seen two tors in close proximity to each other, Stennent Rocks and Great Stennent Tor thought it would be the perfect stroll, but boy was I wrong!

Upon arriving at the Sherberton car park (SX 65076 72775) we were stopped by a large group of people with horses and hounds embarking on a hunt, forcing us to wait - but there were no free spaces left so we had to park on the grass. It began tipping down with rain and the wind increased; it was difficult getting out of the car!

It was a rather tough descent into the wind as we approached Sherberton Bridge, bearing right before it past log piles to a gate which took me a while to open! (This route avoids using the nearby stepping stones.) I hadn't seen this particular mechanism used before. Finding a route to Great Stennent Tor was very difficult with bogs, long reeds and slippery rocks hampering a beelined approach. This was less of an issue further uphill but what was an issue was that the tor wasn't here! It had to be seen from below so we rounded the southern rocks carefully to gain the best possible view at SX 648 732.

Great Stennent Tor

Great Stennent Tor

Great Stennent Tor

I should note that this large scattering of granite on the hillside was first discovered by Steve Grigg where he posted a couple of photos on the Facebook Group asking if anyone had a name for the rocks, or if they were even worthy. Locating the rocks on a map was no problem and when we (Paul Buck, Tim Jenkinson and I) consulted the Dartmoor Forest Tithe Map we came across the name for the plot: Great Stennent.

You might be wondering what a 'Stennent' actually is, and I can happily say that's quite an easy name to define by Dartmoor standards. If you read Eric Hemery's book 'High Dartmoor' on page 496 he explains that 'stennen' means stony which is appropriate for a large rock field such as this. There are other versions of this spelling used throughout the landscape including Standon Hill, Stannon Tor, Stennent Rocks (nearby) and Stinnons or Stennen Hill Rocks.

Great Stennent Tor

With the rain lashing down on us we didn't linger at the tor's southern outcrops and therefore ignored the northern ones. We retracted back to Sherberton Bridge to head uphill to the farm.

Logs at Wydemeet

Sherberton Bridge

I was hoping to find a footpath leading off to the right before reaching the farm, but there was nothing to be seen: just a fence. OS maps show a footpath heading north which is where we wanted to go, but between it and us was a private field. Not knowing how to proceed we asked a lady at the farm (presumably the landowner) about the best way to approach our next outcrop. The first thing she asked was "Where's your OS map? This (the ViewRanger app that I was using at the time) simply won't do!" I calmly responded with "I do have one (on my phone)" to which the response was "Well get it out then!!"

She did, however, give us some directions before hurrying off to her vehicle, which was understandable given the relentless rain, but the footpath she was talking about was the one to the west and not the north, so it made no sense for us to follow what she'd just said. A problem we soon found out was that there were no signposts but plenty of unlocked gates which could lead a visitor without a map onto private land. We took shelter for a few minutes before passing through a gate to try to find the footpath, but I had a bad feeling that we'd regret continuing given we'd almost certainly have to return via the same route over land I was unfamiliar with, so I reluctantly made the decision to 'call this one a failure'. There is every possibility that this dotted path is not a permissive path but used to be at some point in history.

I looked at my OS map to conjure up another route, and it just so happened that I saw a footbridge marked at the Swincombe/West Dart confluence. This route was our last hope and now we had a break in in the rain thought we'd give it a go as I'm a stubborn boy. It did though mean we'd have to go back into the Great Stennent enclosure and passing below the rocks was, as expected, hard going, even on the footpath which came from the stepping stones which was littered with deep pools of water and bouncy moss.

After negotiating several dead-ends we arrived at the stepping stones at the confluence, and the bridge which we were meant to cross wasn't in situ - not at all! All that was left are the two supports with nothing spanning the Swincombe River. Damn! It was frustrating given the most widely used and updated map in the country had this bridge still marked, but I suppose it was an oversight on their part.

Yeah... you see what I mean?!

The FB (footbridge) doesn't exist

Not wanting to endure the worst of the bog that we had just traversed we went up and over Great Stennent Tor, visiting the northern outcrops at SX 6493 7337 which were missed previously, so the diversion wasn't a complete waste of time.

Just before the rocks, I spotted a small tor across the river on the same side as Stennent Rocks on the same footpath we were trying to reach earlier, at SX 64666 73567. It was here where I realised it would be better next time to approach from Dunnabridge, crossing the West Dart at the stepping stones not on the map but at the 'B' in Brownberry which would all be on open access land. I could then take the marked footpath south which is obviously a dead-end for the public without ever reaching the bounds of Sherberton Farm.

Hmm... I spy unnamed granite!

Great Stennent Tor

Great Stennent Tor

Great Stennent Tor

It was a relief to reach the road which would take us back to the car. I did, however, want to pay a quick side visit to Gobbet(t) Mine which is a Dartmoor 365 square mentioned in John Hayward's book of the same name. Dartmoor authors including Eric Hemery, William Crossing and John Hayward all spell the name 'Gobbet', whilst OS maps and Tithe Maps add another 't' onto the end of the name.

The logs again

Another unnamed outcrop near the Fairy Bridge at SX 64266 72782

Gobbet(t) Mine

Gobbet(t) Mine

At this spot, we got to witness the hunt return but it wasn't something either of us wanted to watch really: taking off our wet clothes was the priority as although it wasn't cold keeping wet layers on your body is never a good idea.

Our plan now was to head off to the Fox Tor Cafe to retire for the afternoon, but upon arriving it was evident that everyone else had the same idea as us, so we only stayed for a drink as it was quite busy and I didn't fancy a snack.

Fox Tor Cafe, Princetown

It was a mixed day which definitely didn't go to plan, nor did the weather, but it was still an experience we will be able to take away and hopefully learn from. It could've been a lot worse and we still got one tor out of it, seeing more of it than planned, and I also gained a D365 square.

Oh, and as I write this, it is Christmas Day so Merry Christmas!

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