Thursday 19 August 2021

Dartmoor: 500m Tops West of Fernworthy Forest (9.75 miles)

Lade Hill Tor

This walk, which I did at the very beginning of August, almost killed me; read the full thing to find out why! (It's not clickbait!)

This is the first blog post I've written where I myself actually drove to the starting point. Having the freedom to 'go where I want' (within reason!) has been a wonderful gift that I can now finally enjoy, but it also leaves me spending half the day wondering where to go, as was the case here as by the time I arrived at Fernworthy, it was already gone midday. The aim of this walk was to bag some of those elusive 500m tops that are on Peter Freeman's list (which you can view here).

The car park at the far end of the reservoir was closed, so I deduced by cars in front turning around, so I parked in a car park that I'd passed which was a great back up. I headed west, crossing Sandeman Bridge and then bearing left onto a track that headed parallel to the South Teign River. This was already new territory for me; Fernworthy Forest is, after all, huge and I've not seen all of it, even now.

Fernworthy Forest

Where the track plateaued, I turned right, and at the next junction I should have accepted the slight decrease in altitude and turned right, but no, I instead turned left and continued along a less obvious track now covered in grassy lumps and branches. This was clearly not going to end well but for some inexplicable reason (stubbornness, methinks), I ignored the early warning signs and followed it up to the point where it met the boundary of the forest, expecting a gate to get me onto the moor further up the hill than the alternative route.

But there was no gate, and I should have retreated down the hill to the South Teign where I'm sure there is one. Yet that would have acknowledged an error on my part which I don't like doing so I instead turned left and followed the wall uphill, praying for a gate or point in the wall that I could hop over. All was fine at first, a small path enabling me to ascend the hill, but it soon turned into an absolute mess of tree stumps, branches, long grass and unstable ground littered with holes all in the area that was recently felled. I couldn't hop the wall because there was a long drop the other side and barbed wire atop, which I wasn't going to risk.

Fernworthy Forest Boundary

It was torture but at least I attained good views across to Kes Tor and Sittaford Tor. I began to accept that as I crested the hill, now in the 500m contour, I would need to descend again to reach a gate that, from memory from this walk, was locked, and guess what, it was still locked! The ramblers on the opposite side of the wall must have been quietly laughing.

The madness was over, or so I thought. I now had to rethink my route because I was on the other side of White Ridge to where I had intended to be, but it was almost a blessing because I have never been to the actual spot height of the hill, and the Ridge is a 500m top in its own right, and on Peter's list, so it felt a bit premature to claim it from walking below the summit which I've done on previous occasions.

Ascending White Ridge

White Ridge

The going was OK, and the views were fabulous - job done, right? Ah, back to the original route that I had come out to do in the first place. I basically beelined from the hill to the public bridleway by a group of hut circles (on the map). Lade Hill was the next top on the route, but I made the absolutely terrible decision to contour the hillside below Sittaford Tor to 'cut out the ascent' and 'make it quicker'. What a numpty I was.

The going to that newtake wall was hell; the grass was so tussocky and deep that I went over multiple times, unknowingly crossing the dry Vitifer Mine Leat which must have blended into the landscape, and basically guessing my foot placements. Granite boulders and, probably, snakes are hidden under this mess above the head of the Lade Hill Brook, and it was dangerous, particularly on your own with intermittent signal. I made a couple of phone calls (where signal allowed) to warn those at home that I would be back later than hoped.

Lade Hill Brook Valley

As I reached a stile in the wall I plummeted into a hole, and once across it was no better. I knew there was a track on Lade Hill but I would need to ascend further to reach it. I was almost knackered after battling through perhaps the worst terrain I've encountered on Dartmoor. Lesson learnt: just go up to Sittaford even if it is longer and more climbing.

I made the decision to visit Lade Hill Tor before the actual summit of the hill, the former of which I had visited before with Tim Jenkinson here. I sat beside the impressive boulder and had a drink prior to taking a bearing to the summit.

Lade Hill Tor

Lade Hill Tor

The top of Lade Hill is a grassy mound with no prominent features on it, but it had to be bagged. The views, once again, were far-reaching and certainly compensated for the disappointment that I felt atop Lade Hill.

Lade Hill

My next destination was Winney's Down South Top, a little south of due west, and marked by a boggy pool on its summit. I knew that my bearing (over almost a kilometre of horrendous ground) was not going to get me to the exact point, so once I thought I was in the immediate vicinity I checked my GPS and I was only 100 metres or so to the north, which was easily remedied.

This top is pretty dire by my standards, but at least it has a pretty significant pool containing all types of moss adding to an eerie atmosphere. I wonder if, like Crazywell, the pool is bottomless? Unlikely, but I'm not going in to check it out for myself!

Winney's Down South Top

Winney's Down Pool

I could see Stats House on the hill to the north but just in case it disappeared, I took a bearing and then placed the compass in my bag for safekeeping. The going, at first, was bliss; short-cropped grass atop a blanket bog, but at least I could see my feet! I would much rather get wet feet by walking on a cushion than trying to traverse tussocks which are real ankle-breakers.

The experience was short-lived, though, and as the hill began to rise in front of me I entered more long grass, tussocks, baby heads, elephant grass or whatever you wish to call the stuff, but I was in the knowledge that Stats House was close by and would provide me with respite.

Ascending Stats House Hill

Stats House

Stats House

I was quite taken by Stats House (OS 'Statt's House') atop Stats House Hill (OS 'Winney's Down'); it is a lovely ruin set close to the summit of the hill in a desolate spot, and from here I could even see the Roof of Devon among the remote hills of Cut and Quintin's Man. Hemery (1983) is passionate to expose and correct the Ordnance Survey's mistakes with the names in this area and I am more than happy to accept his assertions. Neither source is always right, I should add, but it would make sense for Stats House to be on the hill of the same name, as well as Winney's Down to be nearer the brook of the same name.

I headed to the actual summit spot height of 539m passing a Frank Phillpotts Peat Pass Marker en route. These little memorial stones denote the beginning or end of the peat passes on Dartmoor.

Frank Phillpotts Peat Pass Marker on Stats House Hill

Stats House Hill Summit

Dung Bonnet on Stats House Hill

Returning to the House, I was in the knowledge that the entire way back would be on well-worn paths which motivated me to make good progress through Maish Hill Brook and up to Sittaford Tor. Fortunately, I remembered that I had to visit a new stone circle, discovered by Alan Endacott, during swaling. It is a minor deviation from the path and well worth a visit. It has the second-largest diameter on the moor (after Mardon Down) and really is quite massive. All of the stones are recumbent, but there is a nearby standing stone acting as a waypoint.

The highest (known) stone circle on the moor.

Sittaford Tor Stone Circle

Sittaford Tor Stone Circle

Upright Stone by Sittaford Tor Stone Circle SX 63048 82798

Sittaford Tor may as well be the tor of stiles, but I still love it, even if like this trip there were other people present. The views are simply extraordinary and the tor does have some neat little outcrops beneath the grassy summit. It made sense to head over to Grey Wethers stone circles on my way back to Fernworthy Forest; I mean, it was all downhill from here, right?

Sittaford Tor

Sittaford Tor

Grey Wethers Stone Circles

As I approached the gate into the forest I was alarmed by a notice on it that, on closer inspection, informed me that I was not permitted to walk through that part of the forest due to ongoing forestry operations, to protect my safety. I was not particularly happy by this, but I appreciate that it is purely to keep us safe and as a plantation we have to expect areas to be closed off at certain times of the year for logging. I heeded the sign and went the long way.

The detour took me over Long Ridge to the public bridleway at Fernworthy Gate which I followed through the forest. Both sides of this public right of way were closed to the public for the same reason, so it seems that some major forestry works are intending on felling much of the plantation at some point. When these areas will reopen to the public remains unknown to me; if you know, please drop a comment.

Top of Long Ridge

Fernworthy Gate

I couldn't resist a quick detour over to the Fernworthy stone circle, aka Froggymead, before heading down to the road and arriving back at the car for a well-earnt banana! Indeed, as suspected at the start of the walk, the car park at the far end was closed, probably to enable large vehicles to transport logs out of the forest.

Fernworthy Stone Circle

Not even 10 miles this walk did test me, but I was chuffed to have completed it and White Ridge was a bonus. It gave me a new insight into the wilds of the North Moor, but it didn't put me off. I just need to plan better and utilise the tracks shown on satellite imagery and maps to avoid traversing bad ground again.

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