Did your new year dawn with a fantastic list of New Year resolutions? As 2016 began here in Plymouth Devon I made my usual list of resolutions
- Eat healthily in conjunction with slightly less delicious chocolate
- Hike more miles in new places
- Hike old places to see the new changes
- Set myself a challenge to beat
It was the last bullet point item that I was struggling with; I could try to beat my daily best, a reasonable 40.8 miles hiked on a humid day in June 2015. No, it didn’t appeal, I needed an excuse to get my hiking boots on every week when possible.
#Walk1000Miles Challenge – The Hashtag
It was whilst I was online on various social networks catching up with the news from my adventurous friends that I started to see the hashtag #walk1000miles mentioned. It got me thinking about how much I do indeed walk in a given 12 months and the shocking truth is the postman probably walks more than I do.
Granted I tend to hike a more arduous terrain and my daily totals can be a lot higher but my yearly figures are not that great. A plan of motivation was needed and fast. So from the comfort of the sofa in a warm lounge in my partner’s house in Devon I made my mind up.
I will aim to walk over 1000 miles entirely within the Dartmoor National Park boundary in 2016.
I need to average around 20 miles per week, every week within Dartmoor. I’m fortunate and now live less than 20 mins drive away from the moor proper. So please follow my progress here on my blog, where I will of course be sharing my photos as well as mileage totals.
If you want to join me on a walk at the weekend, even to just say hello as you go about your own adventures please do get in touch. As always I’ll have Dave with me, my lovely Border Collie dog. He walks his own adventures right by my side. My partner also joins me when she can and together we are exploring some fantastic wild countryside.
Princetown to Leather Tor Bridge – 9.8 Miles Hiked
With a 1000 miles to hike in 361 days I packed my walking kit in the car and headed off to Princetown, home to the infamous Dartmoor prison and a good location to start a walk on a day forecast to be wet and windy. Winter hikes on moorland need good planning to try to avoid where possible river crossings and boggy ground.
The route I had chosen was a mix of old and new to me; I parked in Princetown Devon and set off with Dave by my side, taking the stone track bridlepath south from the town centre towards Nun’s Cross farm. The weather was forecast to be wet and windy. Needless to say at times it was exactly that!
Breaks in the cloud allowed the sunshine to briefly illuminate the sky and ground, water reflected from almost every part of the moorland. December had been very wet and the ground was saturated by early January. The path ahead that I walked was for a few fleeting moments a giant silver mirror, a dazzling white path struck purposefully across brooding dark moor.
South Hessary Tor to Nun’s Cross, Dartmoor
Dave my border collie walked ahead as he always does, my adventurous canine pathfinder. Every hundred metres or so he will turn around and check on my progress. I couldn’t ask for a better canine companion when hiking alone on the moor. We look after each other as we walk mile after mile.
Water runs perpetually, seeping out from every join in the dry(!) stone walls. Puddles form, from an inch to a foot deep in places. Dave very rarely has difficulty finding fresh running water to drink from, though of course I do always carry plenty of clean water for the both of us.
The first landmark on the path south of Princetown is South Hessary Tor, 450 metres above sea level according to the OS Map. As you walk this part of the moor you will also see countless boundary stones, marked PCWW 1917. These were placed by Plymouth Corporation Waterworks in 1917, to mark their land which is the water catchment area for the nearby Burrator Reservoir.
About half a kilometre north of Nun’s Cross Farm I took the clearly marked path that heads west towards Older Bridge and eventually Crazywell Pool and Leather Tor Bridge.
The path is a mix of broken granite and old bricks. The voids between the bricks and stones filled with Dartmoor’s finest watery peat. I prefer to look around me, watching the weather, the wildlife, the brooding mysterious tors. Sadly I had to look down at every foot step I took. Time after time my ankle twisted as I picked my way around the uneven ground. Never had I wanted to walk on soft bog so much!
Crazywell Pool and Cross
Two lovely examples of Dartmoor’s famous stone crosses can be seen easily from the path, the first cross is situated a few metres to the south of the path. I have walked here (and had lunch) on a sunnier day and the reflection of sunlight from the distant water of Burrator Reservoir can be striking.
Another kilometre to the north-west is Crazywell Pool and the nearby stone cross. Lots of legends surround the pool, I like the notion that the level of water rises and falls with the tide at Plymouth. Supposedly the pool is so deep that this occurs. Don’t let modern science and learning dispel that myth. Dave looked out towards the distant horizon as he does whenever we stop for a break.
Does he have the wanderlust that I have? He certainly likes to always be on the move and only poses for the briefest of photos if he knows a fuss will be made after the shutter clicks.
Leather Tor Bridge, Dartmoor
The open moor ends abruptly as the rough path entered Raddick Plantation, which echoed with the sound of chain saws on this walk. Warning signs confirmed that the towering pine trees would soon be felled. I picked my way through the churned mud from the forestry vehicles, Dave dragged sticks from every inch of the path; now this was his idea of adventure!
Vivid green moss smothered tumbling granite walls like a baize blanket thrown across the surface; intervention by mankind was now sympathetic to the moor. Dry stone walls were anything but; the ever-present moisture allowed life to flourish in the crevices between individual building blocks.
I stopped briefly to take a few photos at Leather Tor Bridge, which spans the River Meavy. The impressive stone clapper bridge was built around 1833.
I headed north now along the plantation track, picking my way around ankle-deep puddles and thick mud, a result of the close-by heavy machinery. The plantation ended as abruptly as it had started and I then faced a bit of a problem.
River Meavy – Bridge Too Far Gone
When I walked this route before, I crossed the River Meavy via two steel planks which span the river between granite boulders; unfortunately one of the steel planks had recently been washed downstream and was beyond reach and the remaining plank was balanced precariously on about an inch of rock.
I was caught between a rock and a (safe) dry place!
I had wanted to walk alongside the Devonport Leat towards the aqueduct near Black Tor; the path adjacent to the leat is on the whole level and a lot drier than the alternatives. Not wanting to get my feet very wet I erred sensibly on the side of caution and threaded my way towards the aqueduct on a different path.
Devonport Leat – Winter Waterfall
I reached the aqueduct, a quirky feat of engineering; basic yet functional. The River Meavy flows beneath the Devonport Leat and during a wet winter a cascading waterfall adds to the attraction.
Dave and I scrambled up Raddick Hill, the air chilled a degree or so by the adjacent thundering water. Picking a flat rock next to the weather-created waterfall I sat down and had lunch, whilst pondering this table setting over other fine spots I have dined at. If you’ve read back to my Sussex hiking days you’ll recall I had a favourite spot in Eartham Wood for lunch.
With the weather closing in, there wasn’t much time to sit and contemplate life on the moor; best to keep moving and give the rain a harder target to hit, ha ha if you believe that!
The final part of the walk involved following the Devonport Leat east to Older Bridge and then following the main path at Nun’s Cross Farm back north towards Princetown. Between myself and the car was a lot of rain. The heavens literally opened above me and poor Dave. Rain bounced off my eyeballs with ferocity!
The leat provided a welcome navigation aid, with mist and rain closing in around us, any thoughts of a detour up to the trig point at Cramber Tor were tempered by the inability to see it! The wind whipped up in a matter of minutes, tugging furiously at my sleeves and collar; the sky now an inky black. I listened for thunder but fortunately heard none.
Dave ran ahead and hid behind the patches of tall grass whilst I felt icy cold penetrating rain drops run down the inside of my Gore-Tex coat. In all my hundreds of miles of hiking this was probably the first proper torrential downpour I had been caught in. You could have called me lucky up until this point!
With head down I walked north from Nun’s Cross towards Princetown, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the weather, the rain and clouds are part of what makes Dartmoor magnificent; the sound of running water, mist swirling over barren tors, skies awash with the hue of inky blues.
Rain keeps the crowds away but in reality you are missing out on yet another reason to hike the moor; brooding drama.
Route: Princetown car park to Leather Tor Bridge and back.
Distance: 9.8 miles (15.7 km)
Princetown car park: OS Grid Ref: SX 59062 73476
South Hessary Tor: OS Grid Ref: SX 59712 72351
Older Bridge: OS Grid Ref: SX 59837 70546
Crazywell Pool: OS Grid Ref: SX 58217 70461
Leather Tor Bridge: OS Grid Ref: SX 56939 70008
Devonport Leat Aqueduct: OS Grid Ref: SX 57317 71376
Devonport Leat: OS Grid Ref: SX 58589 70593