My quest to hike Dartmoor and discover its less than hidden prehistoric past was going well. A scan of my OS Explorer Map and the internet revealed a beautiful stone row and circle not far from Burrator Reservoir, a location I knew well.
Down Tor Dartmoor
I parked at the eastern edge of Burrator Reservoir, at the Norsworthy Bridge car park. A busy corner on the reservoir with walks in many directions for people of all abilities. A well-worn path led onto the moor. The map confirmed this was the route to take.
I set off with my border collie happily leading the way, he has a good nose for following well walked paths. The sunshine was warming the land, it felt great to be outdoors. My first obvious and immediate destination was Down Tor, a kilometre east from the car park and at 366 metres high a pleasant view point.
A few people were exploring the tor and why ever not, with its magnificent views back to Burrator Reservoir and in all other directions. I would imagine on a still summer’s day it would make an idyllic picnic spot. I need to do that one day, just stop hiking so far and enjoy a picnic in one location.
Me being me, there was another quirky and historic destination on my mind, the nearby Hingston Hill Stone Circle and row.
Down Tor Stone Row
It did surprise me that the people I spoke to on the tor, the pleasant “lovely day, lovely view” folk didn’t follow me east towards the stone row. I think these prehistoric treasures are the true magic of Dartmoor.
You don’t have to be religious, spiritual to enjoy them to their full, just be appreciative of the importance and beauty they meant to the people who created them.
With the stone row and circle to myself, well Dave the border collie and myself, I set about wandering the stones and chatting to the grazing Dartmoor ponies.
We, as in us living in 2015 don’t really know the true meaning of these monuments in granite. There is limited documented history about the restoration of the rows and circles, this stone circle at Down Tor (Hingston Hill Stone Circle) was re-erected in 1894.
I like to leave the true meaning and history to my imagination at times, did our ancestors watch the setting sun in awe, the rising moon in wonder from these markers. I don’t want to discover that they are in fact washing line standing posts.
I want to let my imagination run as wild as the ponies.
I kept thinking sooner or later I would meet some fellow hikers but no, I had the landscape to myself. I hope if you are reading this blog you will take the time to visit and discover your own piece of Dartmoor solitude.
I keep mentioning my OS Explorer Map, the main reason is it can keep you safe, the second reason I love my map are the items of interest, curiosities that are marked on it.
Dartmoor has a lot of stone crosses, old boundary markers, route waypoints. So with time and weather on my side I took out my compass, consulted the map and headed for the nearest stone cross.
Heading north from the stone row at Down Tor I crossed Newleycombe Lake, which as you can see from the photo is not a lake but a stream that feeds into Burrator Reservoir. The descent was a little steep in places and the area was littered with the spoils from old tin workings.
I found a handy granite stone to step across the stream and kept my boots dry for once, I clambered up the steep moor on the other side.
Following a compass bearing and keeping my eyes open I soon spotted the isolated stone cross. I won’t lie, I was really pleased. I love quirkiness, seemingly random objects that have stood the test of time. Of course when the stone cross was first erected it was anything but random.
What a gorgeous location, sweeping views of the moors and not a soul to be seen or heard. Dave my border collie and myself sat down and had our own individual me time.
The clouds drew shadows on the moor, vast dark patches moved swiftly across the curves of the terrain, as one blanket of shade followed another. I could have sat here for a while and cloud watched.
Crazywell Cross and Pool
I had a circular route in mind when I set off from the car park and the next place to find on my hike was the wonderfully named Crazy Well Pool (Crazywell Pool). It was somewhere to my west. Off I walked without a care in the world, this was turning out to be a lovely hike for stunning views.
The sun was warm in the sky, I sat down on one of the millions of pieces of granite and had my lunch, bliss. Towards the west the water of Burrator Reservoir reflected like an intense silvered land mirror. Almost too dazzling to view.
This was one of those life is good moments, I have been having a few of them lately thanks to my hiking England blog. Dave the collie sniffed the views and kept himself out of trouble, he’s a very good companion.
A short walk from Crazywell Cross is the wonderfully named Crazywell Pool. Bathed in legend and superstition. It was thought to be a bottomless pool and that the water level rose and fell with the tides at Plymouth.
Sunlight bounced off the surface of the gently rippling water and illuminated the banks of heather, ponies drank from the water’s edge. The pool was created as a result of flooded mine workings, so it might not be bottomless but it certainly is deep.
From north of the silent pool I followed Devonport Leat as it wound its way adjacent to Cramber Tor. Devonport Leat was constructed in the 1790s, the purpose to carry fresh drinking water from high up on Dartmoor to the expanding dockyard at Devonport, Plymouth.
It made a change to photograph something not composed of granite, the weathered wood of the sluice gates and the metal gearing sat well in the afternoon light. There are numerous crossings over the leat so finding yourself on the wrong side is not such an issue.
Devonport Leat would lead me eventually to Black Tor, which was the most northerly part of the walk, from Black Tor and the nearby stone row I would then follow the River Meavy back to Norsworthy Plantation and the car park.
Before that part of the journey however, I had a delightful walk to the aqueduct where the leat passes over the River Meavy. The civil engineers in the 1790s certainly did a good job and at the same time made a great navigation aid.
The water sparkled in the early evening sunshine, a blue ribbon falling off the moor, into the taps of Plymouth. I hope people give some thought to how stunning the other end of the water-main is. I crossed the aqueduct via the wooden walkway planks and turned to the right and headed towards Black Tor and the promise of one more stone row.
The sound of running water once more flowed across the landscape, it was a short walk to the stone row via a river crossing on an old steel pile. This stone row was long abandoned and if it had ever been restored it was many many years ago.
Black Tor Stone Row
I took a few photos but didn’t stay long as time was marching on and I had another tor to walk up, plus a forest plantation to wander through. Black Tor is close to the Princetown to Yelverton road. I walked to the summit with Dave the border collie still happily following me, though he was getting tired by now.
From Black Tor you can clearly see the huge television mast at North Hessary Tor, a landmark that can be seen from miles around Dartmoor National Park. I wandered around the rocks of the tor, always fascinated by the weathering patterns.
It was getting late in the afternoon now and the light was being kind, every angle produced an evocative view. The panorama of Dartmoor changes with every inch you walk, with every passing moment in time. The rocks cast massive shadows and the air was cold on the dark side of the tor.
The final part of my route took me back to the aqueduct and alongside the River Meavy to the Norsworthy Plantation and Leather Tor Bridge. The air was fresh with the smell of ferns, chilled air from the running water that seeps from every inch of Dartmoor.
Leather Tor Bridge, Dartmoor
The open moor became forest plantation after I crossed the Devonport Leat on one of the numerous footbridges across the water. The walking was easy now, a wide forest access path led downwards towards Leather Tor Bridge.
The sunbeams created dappled shade in the woods as I walked with the River Meavy on my right, fleeting glimpses of rushing water reminded me that this wasn’t a walk in the park, this was Dartmoor National Park, a wilder more adventurous park.
I was sitting on a rock as Dave the border collie explored the river, the water reflected my mood; bright, cheerful, with purpose. After a few minutes a chap on a mountain bike arrived at the bridge and he stopped and we a really long chat about Dartmoor.
After a friendly goodbye I walked with puppy the final 1/4 mile back to the car.
That was the end to the perfect walk, stunning scenery, wide open moorland, ancient stone crosses, clear water leats and a chat with someone as passionate as me about Dartmoor.
Route: Burrator Reservoir to Black Tor stone row and back
Download Map of Route
Distance: 7.15 miles (11.5 km)
Burrator Reservoir Car Park: OS Grid Ref: SX 56861 69305
Down Tor: OS Grid Ref: SX 58041 69415
Stone Row: OS Grid Ref: SX 58703 69275
Newleycombe Lake (river crossing): OS Grid Ref: SX 59361 70000
Stone Cross: OS Grid Ref: SX 59161 70322
Crazywell Pool: OS Grid Ref: SX 58223 70462
Devonport Leat Aqueduct: OS Grid Ref: SX 57341 71367
Black Tor: OS Grid Ref: SX 57348 71767
Leather Tor Bridge: OS Grid Ref: SX 56901 69955