Sunday 27 March 2022

Dartmoor South to North (32.05 miles)


This walk (OK, let's call it a hike) had been in the planning for a couple of months, ever since I started that fundraiser in January. I was not expecting to reach my target of £1000 in 3 days, so when it happened, I had to contemplate actually doing the walk. I waited for a day that I could both do (obviously), but that also had amazing weather. That day was to be 26th March.

But what is this all about? Well, in November 2019, my mum sustained a nasty fall on the western slope of Yes Tor, breaking her foot in two places. We were stuck, we needed help. The only thing to do was to call the emergency services. It is not a great feeling having to call someone out as you feel like you are wasting their time, but they are there when we need them. Making that call was a brave decision because prolonging it, out here in the cold when it was getting dark, would have been foolish and increased the danger.


The local search and rescue group is North Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team (on Dartmoor there are three others: Tavistock, Plymouth and Ashburton). Like all search and rescue teams in England, NDSRT receives no government funding and therefore relies on donations from the public to keep it functioning. I will say this: it is not until you have to deal with these volunteers that you realise how invaluable they are, taking time out of their lives, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to provide a service that saves lives; not just on North Dartmoor but also further afield. Had they not reacted so quickly and stretchered mum down to the awaiting vehicle we would have been in serious trouble.

In January 2022, over two years since the incident, I had still yet to show my gratitude. Saying thank you on Facebook is good and all, and certainly powerful, but I wasn't happy with that. I wanted to do something great, something that people will remember. I have always been weary about going too far out of my comfort zone, but with Dartmoor I've always felt one with it, a degree of bosom that has made me feel more comfortable. I have watched countless videos of people walking across Dartmoor, primarily North to South, by Summit Or Nothing, Wandering Jay and Life on the rocks, to name but a few. How about I do something like this combined with a fundraiser, I thought? Surely that was enough to warrant a donation or two?

So the fundraiser was set up, I easily achieved the total I was after within a short period of time, and then I had a route to plan. Walking across Dartmoor in either direction is, whatever route you choose, a difficult feat to accomplish, especially in a single day. I had taken inspiration from other people's routes, but I was not totally satisfied as I felt that they took in too much ascent/descent in the Central Basin, as well as not focusing on the stunning high moor, by visiting Postbridge and Week Ford. I wanted to draw a route that was right for me. Because of closer proximity to the South at Ivybridge, I decided to start from there, heading South to North.

On 26th March, at 3am, my alarm awoke, I had breakfast, and by 3:35am I was out the door driving down to Ivybridge. Sleep had been intermittent, not deep, and I was naturally worried about what the day ahead had in store for me. I arrived at Stowford Bridge (365 square X11) by 4:10am and set out, following the Two Moors Way, in the dark with a headtorch. I made it to the tramway and followed this north. Just after Piles Hill (V12), it became light enough to ditch the headtorch, and at the same time I replenished myself with some water to decrease the pack load.

Moon over Western Beacon

This track is monotonous so I was glad to be doing it early. Indeed it does possess some lovely views of the Erme Valley and passes the beautiful Leftlake, but it's very samee which meant that I progressed along it quickly. Sunrise was blissful, and upon reaching Redlake Pit (R11) I couldn't resist climbing to the top. This, 'The Dartmoor Volcano', is not be a natural feature (once being a conspicuous white mound), but it is a striking landmark in an otherwise barren area, and offers superb views all around.





Now into some new territory. I have, for the longest time, been surprised to never hear of anyone walking between Redlake and Ryder's Hill. Why, I thought, as there is such a clearly defined track linking them? No walks that I've seen encompass it; in fact, they seem to go out of their way to avoid it. I was curious and wanted to see for myself why.

Upon reaching the Avon, I sat down on a rock and sipped some more water and tucked into a chocolate bar. The infant river, because of how dry it's been, was simple to cross. The track, whilst well-defined, was a bit wet in places, so I can only imagine the state of it in winter... but since when has any route to Ryder's been a dry affair?

Track to Ryder's Hill

Ryder's Hill

At the top of the hill, at exactly 7:30am as my itinerary estimated, I informed the great people of Facebook as to my whereabouts. The sun was out, the skylarks were singing, all felt good, and I was excited to continue. There are several tracks that emanate from the summit of Ryder's Hill and I've found myself on the wrong one on more than one occasion - they all look the same.

Eventually finding the correct one, I made a quick descent to Hooten Wheals (P12) and, passing Horse Ford Cross and Down Ridge Stone Circle, arrived at Swincombe Fairy Bridge. I took off a layer, drunk some water and ate a banana. I was nearing the end of the South Moor section and thoughts were on the next stretch.

Hooten Wheals

Horse Ford Cross

Swincombe Fairy Bridge

I visited John Bishop's House (O11) and Prince Hall Bridge (N10) in quick succession.

John Bishop's House

Prince Hall Bridge

I had a short walk beside the B3357 to continue along the public bridleway, but I was stopped en route by passing driver Ian Lane, who had camped on Devil's Tor the night before. We had previously met at Fur Tor on New Year's Day, and he asked if I needed a lift to anywhere. I politely declined, although the temptation was there!

I'll admit the next stretch, across Muddilake, was a tough section. It is just so mundane. I crossed the B3212 and sat on a rock for another drink and, this time, a flapjack. I was running about 20 mins behind, though this, I realised, was because I did not take into account how long it would take me to walk from Prince Hall Bridge (estimated arrival 9am) to Littaford Tors (estimated 10am). I was not concerned as I managed to reach Higher White Tor bang on for 10:45am. It was simply not understanding that Littaford to Higher White would be much faster.

I passed Little Bee, Littaford, Little Longaford and Longaford Tors in quick succession, not hanging around. On Higher White Tor (K10), I alerted people that I was 19 miles in with 14 left to go, and well into halfway.

Longaford Tor

Higher White Tor

Lower White Tor

Now that I was on the North Moor, I was confident in my ability to get to the end, so determined that I flew past Lower White Tor and reached Brown's House (J9). Another sip of water consumed, I set a rough bearing for the top of Wildbanks Hill, 539m. Why, you are probably thinking, would anyone in their right mind visit this dull eminence on a long-distance day walk? I had been struggling before when route planning to work out how to reach the North Teign from Lower White; do I visit Braddon Tor and huff it across tussocks to Sandy Hole Pass and then take the path over Stats House Hill, or do I go via Wildbanks Hill and then take the paths to Flat Tor and Kit Rocks?

I chose the latter because it had more tracks and less ascent. I also felt that the river crossing would be simpler here. The path from Wildbanks to Flat is not immediately clear, but it does develop. I should warn you that it is over a dangerous stretch of unstable ground that, in hindsight, I shouldn't really have attempted alone. You can discern it quite easily as dark brown grass in a depression, and it was here that I unstrapped my bag in the event that I sunk. As I stepped across, the ground around wobbled; it was like a bouncy castle.

Safely across, Flat Tor was reached, but the wind picked up and it didn't feel suitable nor welcoming for lunch, so I just had a drink instead.

Brown's House

Wildbanks Hill

Flat Tor

Heading north, trying not to lose the faint path, I crossed Hangman's and Cut Lane Streams to reach the bank of the East Dart, crossing it with ease. The marvellous Kit Rocks lay ahead, providing both comfort and wind shelter; a perfect combination for lunch, which for me consisted of a yoghurt and strawberries.

Kit Rocks


Kit Rocks

Leaving the tor behind, I focused on getting to Quintin's Man. The paths were good but the location itself is not my favourite. Blighted by military range huts, it is not the prettiest spot, but its only saving grace are those wide-ranging vistas. The 'Man', or 'Maen', is also not apparent; was there ever a standing stone here, or was Quintin (or Quinter, as it was once called) a man who once worked the land?

New territory again, from here to Whitehorse Hill, encountering a number of people. This remote terrain offers splendid views. Whitehorse Hill is the site of a Bronze Age kistvaen and a truly awesome relic of our ancient past.

Quintin's Man Cairn

Whitehorse Hill Cist

Peat Pass Marker

Through the peat pass and over to Hangingstone Hill, I felt a sense of pride, knowing that from hereon it was almost entirely downhill to Okehampton. It felt premature but sat by the range hut I felt like I had achieved the insurmountable... but I wasn't done just yet - and I still had a fair trot ahead of me.

Hangingstone Hill

I thought that reaching the gravel track would be the end for my feet, but it wasn't. It was, however, getting warmer and busier as a number of teenagers bravely crossed the headmire of Steeperton Brook. Over Ockside Hill, I took the uneven track down to Knack Mine Ford (E9). It felt like summer: this valley (Steeperton Gorge) has its own microclimate that wind struggles to penetrate. I sat on the grass and sunbathed for a few minutes, enjoying a flapjack in the process. I was all too comfortable and reluctant to budge.

Knack Mine Ford

Oke Tor

Passing Oke Tor (D9), I was well into the final leg. I met Paul Buck, who had walked out to see me finish, at Knattaborough Tor. Time flew by as we talked with not much to document other than a brand new benchmark find at SX 61019 92076 - one that I had failed to notice last time around.

To conclude the moorland section, and to save my legs the hassle of the rocky ground in West Cleave, we stayed high and visited Cleave Tor, with its stunning non-granite cliff.

B.M. 1255.8, W facing, beside track

B.M. 1255.8, W facing, beside track

Cleave Tor

The final part was a descent past Eastlake on the tarmac road, and here, although it started at Oke Tor, the calf in my left leg really started to play up. I could still walk easily enough, but it was niggly and not overly pleasant.

Passing under the A30 and Fatherford Railway Bridge, we made it to Fatherford Viaduct (A9). I didn't know how to feel, as it was just Paul and I, but I felt elated to have safely travelled just over 32 miles from South to North, in 12.5 hours in total, on a glorious day. I was amazed that my physical ability didn't let me down, but most importantly, how invaluable everyone's support was on Facebook throughout the day. It was a collective effort, and I thank everyone who has supported and donated.

Here's the route:

And HERE is the JustGiving page. I won't end this anytime soon just in case anyone wishes to make a donation/further donations now that I've completed the hike.

To thank everyone individually would take me until Christmas, but I would like to give special thanks to Paul Buck for seeing me finish and for kindly dropping me home; also to my mum for taking me to Ivybridge the next morning to retrieve my car; and lastly to North Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team for being AMAZING! I apologise to Clive Darke for not thinking of crossing Charlotte's Bridge to see if anyone was waiting for my early finish; we will have to catch up sometime. Similar goes to Gavin Grimsey; I hope you feel better and we must also meet up. I was not anticipating on finishing before 6pm, let alone 5pm!

I don't know what the next challenge will bring but I, for one, cannot wait.

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