Friday 21 August 2020

Dartmoor: High Down to Princetown - Perambulation First Leg (13.16 miles)

Great Mis Tor

If I'm honest I was slightly dreading this walk not only because of the terrain and the river crossings but also because of the weather: it's not an area of the moor that I had really explored but I knew that a fair bit would be off the beaten track, and the weather forecast was looking sketchy, but only did it really come true near the end which I am most grateful for.

This was our first leg of the Perambulation of 1240; sometimes known as 'Dartmoor's Greatest Long Distance Walk', it follows the route that the knights took to create the forest boundary of Dartmoor and encompasses most of the North Moor and about half of the South. Many people complete the route as a multi-day circular wild camping in between, but due to commitments and by choice, we chose to do it in stages, drag it out and get the most out of the route. We had hoped to have almost finished the entire course by now, but Covid-19 had other plans!

There is no official starting point but Sheron, Fiona, Amanda and I had agreed that beginning with one of the longest legs with the longest walk-in to the actual forest boundary would be best, which meant starting at High Down.

Fiona and Amanda drove in their own cars to Princetown where they dropped off Fiona's car and drove to High Down whilst I was dropped off at Sheron's to be driven to the same starting point. The tops of Arms and Brai Tors were covered in cloud but the wind was lifting it slowly - and I remained a little optimistic that we would get some good views.

I should note that almost all names for the checkpoints used different spellings to the ones used now, but to keep things fluent with my other walks these will be omitted and, sadly for some, I will go with the 'modern' names even if they are mistranscriptions.

High Down. The tops of the tors have just appeared.

We took the track to the stepping stones, ford and footbridge, passing the Stuart Thayre Memorial and the steps up the wall beside it.

Stuart Thayre Memorial

Steps near Memorial

High Down Footbridge

Immediately after crossing the footbridge, the first incline of the day hit us, as we thought it would, and what's worse was that none of this contributed to the forest boundary. This was just a warm up!

Between Arms and Brai there is a saddle, and this is where the track levelled out, following the course of the old peat track. A pile of stones marks the point where a track heads off to Great Links but we kept right, still ascending towards Dick's Well and the boundary stone to be found there.

Arms Tor

Cairn beside the track SX 54558 86123

First hill of the day completed... the one and only photo we got with all four of us in it!

L BS Bound Stone No.3 SX 55154 86120. 'L' for Lydford, 'BS' (on the other side) for Bridestowe and Sourton.

It was awesome to see the clouds whizzing around the tops of Great Links and Hare Tors and we were soon in it too as we rounded the south side of Lower Dunna Goat to follow yet another peat track/gully south-east to come to the higher ford over Rattle Brook. This was the official start of the forest boundary but first we had to find a way across the brook. Off came the pack and, with the help of Amanda and Fiona, I leaped and made it onto dry ground.

En route I also noticed a frog!

Frog near Lower Dunna Goat

Rattle Brook Higher Ford SX 55970 85816

It was a leisurely stroll over sometimes awkward ground following the Rattle Brook downstream. We stayed above the brook like the knights likely would've where there were occasional sheep tracks. Over Green Tor Water and, soon after, The Scad, Sheron spotted a tinners' hut.

Eric Hemery calls this a 'beehive hut' but other sources seem to go with tinners' hut.

The Scad Tinners' Hut SX 56254 85094

Continuing downstream, we dropped down to the brook briefly to explore the ruins of what appears to be as a wheel pit. I can't find any reference to it although I haven't spent hours digging. Is this Wheal George or something related to Rattlebrook Mine further up the valley?

All three group members had visited Deadlake Foot and Rattlebrook Foot, and given we were contouring away from the river to Watern Oke, I saw no reason to go right down to both of them. The knights likely stayed up high, and I was happy to do that, giving me something to aim for when I next visit this area. I'm not cheating!

Wheal George (?) Ruin (Wheel Pit?) SX 56306 84273

Wheal George (?) Ruin (Wheel Pit?) SX 56306 84273

Deadlake Foot (Rattle Brook)

The magnificent Tavy Cleave came into view at the confluence of the Rattle Brook with the Tavy with one of my remaining bags, Knoll, standing proudly above, its huge clittered crest suggesting a crag of some magnitude prior to weathering.

Rattle Brook

Knoll, Rattlebrook Foot, Sharp Tor, other Tavy Cleave Tors

Watern Oke holds fascination for me: there are, according to John Hayward in 'Dartmoor 365', over 70 hut circles, and many resemble pits using grass as walls rather than stacked-up rocks. The clitter here is immense, and I did stumble upon what I think could be a cache.

The cloud is just touching the top of Hare Tor

Watern Oke Cache? SX 56338 83657

Hut Circle, Watern Oke Settlement

Now for the most dreaded part of the walk, not just for me but for all of us: crossing the River Tavy. This is a major river either way, and after heavy rainfall, of which we've had a fair bit recently, it is a torrent. We came down to the foot of Western Red Lake to assess the situation. We walked upstream a little way but nothing looked suitable. This wide river has no clapper bridge like the Avon or North Teign and so is quite a barrier on the Perambulation.

We crosses just metres above the foot, choosing our own ways to tackle the beast. Sheron took her boots and socks off, Amanda did the same but wore water shoes, and Fiona used two bin liners for either leg which is a brilliant idea, the only issue being you have to hold onto both while watching your step. I was the last to cross and although I had the offer of bin liners, it would mean one of the members having to cross again and I preferred to go all out and just cross with my boots on.

Western Red Lake Foot SX 56641 83237

I'm used to having wet feet, and it doesn't bother me massively especially if it means I can get across a river safely without cutting my foot open. My poles were a blessing on this crossing; they are great at testing water depth and enabled me to choose relatively shallow areas to cross whilst my trousers were pulled up to my knees.

I took off my boots beside WD Stone No.22 to squeeze out any excess water and did the same for my socks. Now this is where I learnt a lesson: I don't carry a spare change of socks with me and in situations such as this I probably should have. Amanda offered me a spare pair that she wasn't using which I reluctantly, because of embarrassment, accepted. Because my boots were already wet, these socks also became wet but they were very comfortable and it would've been rude to decline such a nice offer!

WD Stone No.22

WD Stone No.22

We followed Western Red Lake upstream to the three ranges pole, or as I call it, 'the fat range pole' where all three Dartmoor live firing ranges meet. In August, though, no live firing takes place and we were very safe to be here. I got a little bit confused here since my GPS was showing my position to be north of the boundaries' meet, but I was told that The Meads, which is close by, is known for giving inaccurate compass readings as Simon Dell had told Fiona in the past.

Western Red Lake. A 'lake' on Dartmoor is a stream.

The Fat Range Pole SX 56621 82575 (?) - might be an inaccurate reading

Track from Western Red Lake

We actually followed a decent track following the range poles near enough to WD Stone No.25 where we could see our next checkpoint, Limsboro' Cairn, high on the horizon. I tried to find a track to it, but failed which was fine since the going wasn't too bad underfoot.

WD Stone No.25

WD Stone No.25

Lynch Tor, White Tor distant left

Limsboro' Cairn Flagpole

Next we were headed to White Barrow but I asked if we could have a side trip to hill 505 m, which is called 'Green Hill' but both Crossing and Hemery, since it is a top I haven't bagged and is no detour really. The group obliged.

Limsboro' Cairn GPO Marker SX 56614 80377

Green Hill (North Dartmoor)

Poles to mark the top

White Barrow is actually very green, and is little to get excited about although it does sit on the well-trod Lych Way that traverses the moor from Bellever to Lydford.

Cocks Hill, because it was nearby, was also bagged and another now peak for me.

White Barrow

Cocks Hill Pool SX 56923 78971

Cocks Hill

We headed south-west to pick up the course of Dead Lake to follow it down to its foot where there are two possibilities for a rock called the Hanging Stone, although both seem to be a bit too far upstream when following Hemery in 'High Dartmoor'. Deadlake Foot, on the River Walkham, is another checkpoint and the second worry of the day. Although a smaller river, the Walkham was flowing quite fast and is deep in most places.

Hanging Rock Contender No.1 SX 56588 78195

Hanging Rock Contender No.2 SX 56560 78196

Deadlake Foot (River Walkham)

For the first time of the day, the group split up with Sheron crossing by the foot, me crossing midway down and Fiona and Amanda much further downstream. I didn't know at the time, though, that they had found a dry crossing otherwise I would've followed them, although at the same time I didn't want to leave Sheron.

River Walkham

I was a bit silly where I crosses but I figured it was only one step across the current to safety which, using my poles, seemed achievable and, fortunately, was. This time I just kept my boots on; the water really didn't affect the comfort and was quite refreshing.

En route to Great Mis Tor now, up the steep slope onto Greena Ball, we had three benchmarks to visit relying on my GPS to get us to them. The final one took a while to find because the original NGR I had was a little out, and this is where we had lunch - well, me, a banana - or half of one.

B.M. 1515.8, W facing SX 56605 77983

B.M. 1608.6, W facing SX 56353 77256

B.M. 1658.9, SW facing SX 56327 77140 - benchmark banana!

B.M. 1658.9, SW facing SX 56327 77140

I keep forgetting how impressive Great Mis Tor, our next checkpoint, is. It is a stupendous tor.

Great Mis Tor

Great Mis Tor

The track from here to New Forest Corner passes a benchmark I hadn't visited before, and upon reaching the site it was decided we would take in another by Little Mis Tor given its close proximity to the forest boundary. This was turning into a benchmark walk!

Sheron also, at the end of the military track, spotted a flagpole base.

B.M. 1616.7, SE facing, just E of track SX 56469 76608

B.M. 1594.2, S facing, just N of Little Mis Tor SX 56418 76336

Little Mis Tor

Little Mis Tor Flagpole Base SX 56462 76325

Following the prison boundary southward to Rundlestone, which also follows the course of the forest boundary, it began to tip it down quite heavy but only for a short period. In the above image you can see the shower to the left of the tor heading towards us.

The footpath soon became bounded both sides by walls where, yet again, Sheron noticed something else: an attempt to split a boulder using the wedge and groove method but, for some reason, had been abandoned.

Abandoned Feather and Tare, Mount View SX 57050 75584

Cows near Rundlestone

At Rundlestone, another checkpoint, we crossed over the B3357 road, passing over a stile, around another, and over yet another although the third was broken on the other side. Rundlestone Tor sits right on the boundary and is a nice tor, boasting two great rock basins on the summit slab. The clouds couldn't quite decide if they wanted to hide North Hessary Tor or not, for they came and left frequently.

North Hessary Tor, aka Ysfother (Oops, I broke the rule of omitting traditional names) has a trig point on the summit and was our last high point for the day.

Rundlestone Tor

Rundlestone Tor

North Hessary Tor Trig Point No.3442

North Hessary Tor

The group wanted to visit Little Hessary Tor to see the inscription which is 'something something TOR'. It is very difficult to read the beginning but I suspect it's 'PETER HILL TOR', although no one can be certain it would seem. 'Little Hessary' seems an appropriate name given the small tor's ruinous appearance on the side of the great North Hessary hill.

Little Hessary Tor '...TOR' Inscription

Little Hessary Tor

Little Hessary Tor

We headed back to North Hessary Tor to follow the forest boundary downhill in a south-easterly where, at a boundary stone and gatepost, we veered off right to pass to the right of the square plantation and some tinners' workings. The boundary passes right through some houses that were obviously constructed after the boundary was set off to South Hessary Tor.

On the disused Princetown Railway, we passed a PCWW 1932 Marker nestled by a wall corner before meeting the B3212 road which was journey's end. I, though, wanted a quick trip over to Soliders' Pond which is a depression and named as such because this was the place where a soldier died trying to reach Princetown during a blizzard.

PCWW Marker, Granite, No.23, 1932 Post SX 58717 73352

PCWW Marker, Granite, No.24, 1917 Post SX 58785 73304

Soldiers' Pond

Sheron and I said our goodbyes to Amanda and Fiona whilst we waited a short while to be picked up by Chris Tawn to be taken back to Sheron's car at High Down, though not without visiting a benchmark, a fingerpost and a post office, the latter so Sheron could pick up some supplies.

B.M. Not on Maps, near Nutley Farm SX 51172 75496

Batteridge Hill Compass Sign SX 50793 76484

Mary Tavy PO & Stores SX 50248 79355

All in all a great walk with some great company and hopefully on the next leg, from Princetown to Saddle Bridge, Chris will be able to join us for what is perhaps the longest leg although with no walk-in possibly the second longest.


  1. You have a wonderful writing style, Max. What a great record of leg1.

    1. Thank you! I do read my writing back sometimes and think I'm repeating myself all the time - but I'm pleased others do not see it the same way as I.