Monday, 30 August 2021

Dartmoor: Fur Tor from Willsworthy Range (16.15 miles)

Fur Tor (Okehampton Range)

The following account is taken from my post on the DARTMOOR 365 Facebook group on 28/08/21:

Yesterday's walk was once again into the deep, remote and stunning heart of the North Moor, but this time I started at Willsworthy Range Car Park. The route was little more than 16 miles in length, had multiple river crossings and negotiated some truly terrible ground but all of that was to be expected - hence why it was undertaken in ideal visibility and after a dry spell.

I strolled along the track through H4 Willsworthy Range which, until yesterday, I had never visited! I am not a huge fan of these impressive constructions but I appreciate that they serve an important purpose - and contrast the landscape nonetheless. I veered left to ascend White Hill where magnificent views were afforded of Dartmoor's western escarpment, but also penetrating deep into West Devon and North Cornwall.

Willsworthy Range

White Hill

White Hill

From here I passed through a gate and followed the slope north-east to Sharp Tor (Lydford), a simply stunning tor that I was keen to revisit (although I almost chose Hare Tor!) that boasts awesome granite shapes and memorable vistas that I spent a few minutes taking in from the summit (at 519m). I picked up WD Stone No.19 which is beside a cairn known as the Hay Tor Bound ('Hay' deriving from High, which most probably became 'Higher', then 'Hayer', and then 'Hare'). I then headed eastward to WD Stone No.20 which is at the head of Dead Lake. I followed the south side of this watercourse right down to its foot, and WD Stone No.21, where I crossed G6 Rattlebrook easily enough.

Sharp Tor (Lydford)

WD Stone No.21

I can't get enough of the view down H5 Tavy Cleave from above Rattlebrook Foot, it is absolutely mesmerising the sheer concentration of granite littered about the hillsides. At the two range huts at Watern Oke I lathered myself in suncream and enjoyed a sip of my water before contouring the hill above the H6 Watern Oke settlements to reach a lovely tinners' hut near Sandy Ford. Its construction was greatly facilitated by the surrounding clitter.

Tavy Cleave

Watern Oke

I descended to the Tavy, hopping between bog all the way to Sandy Ford, where I followed H7 Amicombe Brook from its foot to the foot of Cut Combe Water. This brook is wonderful but not overly dramatic; its course is relatively wide in my opinion to be called a 'brook' but it nonetheless provides tantalising views of Fur Tor. I did find myself jumping from grass tuft to grass tuft, however, until I reached my crossing point just above Cut Combe Foot. It was a bit unnerving at times as you couldn't tell what was dry bog and what was feather bed.

Amicombe Brook

Amicombe Brook

Once across the brook I was filled with excitement seeing Little Kneeset on the horizon as my next target. It had been over a year and half since my last (and first) visit, and I wanted to relive those majestic views. I sat on the southern outcrop and admired Fur Tor's densely clittered slopes before reaching the top at 507m. From here I headed eastward to pick up Pinswell Top (515m), where the peat pass known as Pinswell Cut (ref. Hemery) can be found. This spot is about as remote as you can get on Dartmoor and I was loving the solitude it afforded me, with no one else in sight and a light breeze in glorious sunshine.

Little Kneeset

Little Kneeset 507m

Pinswell Top 515m

I proceeded south to the very bottom of Rush Bottom where I picked up a dilapidated tinners' hut near the fork and contemplated my ascent to Fur Tor. Near the bottom, just before the hill rose in front of me like a massive wall, I had a drink to replenish my mind and strength. In all fairness, while steep, the ascent was relatively short and it wasn't long before I came to the plateau where the celebrated rock stack came into view. I was chuffed to have made it here by myself for the first time, and took to devouring some strawberries beside the letterbox in true Max style. The views from H8 Fur Tor are almost I would say unparalleled; they embrace vast and rugged tors and hills, including many 365 squares, and it is difficult for me to put into perspective how amazing they are.

Cut Combe Water Tinners’ Hut (1)

Fur Tor

Fur Tor

Just before my reluctant departure into the unknown, I set a bearing to Tavy Head, but in truth it should have been that 570m contour ring first which I was to visit en route. I consulted my GPS and found myself a little bit too far west which makes sense as the contour ring is not quite on the exact straight line course. Oh well! Why did I want to visit a seemingly dull contour ring, or a contour ring at all, you may ask? Well... it's this thing we have on Dartefacts, another challenge for baggers! Please visit Dartefacts.

Tavy Head is a magical place, and I did have some sort of an idea what to expect thanks to Steve Grigg's photos. It is a huge peat bank where fen gives birth to, as JH says, the second-fastest river in the British Isles. Slimy water dips down the sides of the peat like icicles, and it took me some time finding a safe way to the bottom of it but the view from below was even better.

Tavy Head

Tavy Head

Tavy Head

Now for the tough stuff, following the right bank of the river. In truth, this was horrendous walking and although I picked up a sheep track it sadly didn't last for long. I did, however, have some places to see to break the monotony; three tinners' huts and a ring rock. The third tinners' hut (SX 59017 81340) is barely there, and while approaching over awkward ground I stepped on something that may have moved but I certainly heard a hiss. I dashed for my life! Was it an adder? I don't know, but this long grass was making it a real pain (and nerve-wracking experience) fighting my way down to the Tavy. I had to calm down and have yet another drink, especially as what lay ahead was the absolutely appalling ground up to Red Lake Hill.

River Tavy Tethering Ring No.1

River Tavy Tinners’ Hut No.2

Once up on the summit (548m) I rewarded myself by spending a few minutes enjoying the unravelling vistas from this little-visited location. I set a bearing to the 530m contour ring because I wanted to see if it was anything special; sadly, upon arrival, not only did I walk over it without knowing but there is nothing that distinguishes it from the surrounding moorland. Next were two benchmarks, which involved battling my way through horrid tussocks past Walkham Head, but fortunately both were located. Result!

Red Lake Hill 548m

B.M. 1693.5, SE facing SX 57766 80586

B.M. 1647.9, W facing SX 57644 80344

I espied a herd of cows beneath Lynch Tor that I would need to walk around, so I headed up J7 Upper Walkham Valley to visit the (remains of) Walkham Head Peatworks. All I found were the remains of a piece of walling. Across the infant muddy watercourse at a ford I walked around the cows and up to J6 Limsboro' Cairn for a drink stop, and thence over to Lynch Tor itself with its fabulous westward views.

Piece of Walling, Walkham Head Peatworks

Limsboro' Cairn

Lynch Tor

As I made the quick descent to the army hut I contemplated visiting Bagga Tor, but as it was so close and another 365 square to add to the post (!) I made the detour. J5 Bagga Tor is an interesting tor, lowly from the west but stupendous on the north side where the tor has cast a large clitter down towards the farm of the same name. The tor is on the edge of the granite and as such reveals highly crumbled granite that, says Collingwood (2017), is "riddled with pink veins of quartz and tourmaline."

Bagga Tor

Bagga Tor

I made my way down Brousentor Lane and along the footpath to I5 Cataloo Steps, which I initially mistook as those stepping stones over Baggator Brook, both near to WD Stone No.31. I did not cross the Tavy as my legs felt a bit wobbly and I wanted to revisit Standon Steps footbridge, and it was here that I enjoyed a banana as you do.

Cataloo Steps

Standon Steps Footbridge

Standon Steps Banana

Past Higher Willsworthy I took the public footpath to Yellowmead, through fields of bovines and sheep, meaning I didn't see WD Stone No.37 - but I did see 38. Back out onto the moor I headed up to the curiously shaped military building before dropping back down to the car park, though not without seeing H3 Roadside Information. Due to summer growth, and lack of awareness, I only found WD Stone No.03 and the boundstone that oppose each other, but for me that is sufficient to bag the square, for now anyway.

WD Stone No.38

WB (Willsworthy Bounds) Stone, No.01

WD Stone No.03

I was pleased to have successfully accomplished this walk as it meant that I had ticked off five new 365s and two 500m peaks, leaving only one left, that being Crow Tor Top. I didn't really mention how hot the end of the walk was, particularly between Lynch and the car, but thankfully it didn't impact me much apart from the very, very end. Water was a must. This isn't a route to tackle in poor visibility or after prolonged rainfall; even doing it alone in good conditions like I did brings many risks.

P.S. It didn't occur to me at the time but this walk saw me enter all three military firing ranges, which means doing this in August is easy as there is no live firing on any of the ranges.

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