Autumn on Dartmoor brings a noticeable change in the weather. Waterproof coats are essential kit and as I discovered on this walk protection from hail is also needed!
I had hiked this route before but as with any natural landscape every minute of every day is different. The colour tones of the ground, the angle of the sunbeams in the sky. The intensity of the hail showers! You will never walk the same mile in the same footsteps.
Gutter Tor to Eylesbarrow Mine – Hiking Dartmoor
I parked at the old scout hut car park at Gutter Tor, follow the signs for Nattor, Sheepstor. The car park on arrival was empty, as I had chosen a mid-week walk in November. Not the busiest time on the moor. Dave my border collie was keen to get started, for him Dartmoor means exciting smells and running water to jump over and drink from.
The wind was cold, brisk and the clouds rushed towards me in a never-ending stream of different shapes, sizes and colours. For many reasons I needed this walk on the moor. Life had become a little overwhelming recently, a combination of things that niggle away at you. For me and I hope you, what better way to clear the mental cobwebs than a hike on open moorland.
The path from the car park, eastwards to Eylesbarrow Tin Mine is rough stone, in wet autumn months it is a welcome surface to traverse compared to the saturated peat bog that surrounds. Along the path man-made marker stones can be seen engraved with PCWW 1917. These date from 1917 and mark the water catchment boundary of the Plymouth Corporation Water Works.
Eylesbarrow Tin Mine
No matter how many times I walk along this route, I always find time for photos at the abandoned Eylesbarrow tin mine workings. The changing of the seasons provides a dramatic backdrop, the stone buildings weather at a pace undetectable to human eyes but the wind and rain are taking their toll.
Wild ponies gather at this location, making it quintessentially Dartmoor; abandoned industry, wild ponies, open moorland, legendary views.
A path branches off eastwards from the main northerly route to Nun’s Cross, taking me towards Plym Ford, Crane Hill and a more circular route to Nun’s Cross Farm. Dark clouds brewed up on the distant horizon, squally showers threatened. I pulled up my neck-tube, tightened up my Tilley hat and went rugged.
There is something wonderful about the power of mother nature; her ability to change the mood lighting at a whim, to change the temperature you feel on your skin. She makes you truly feel alive.
Solitude For The Soul
If you have read back through my writing, back to the days when I hiked the South Downs Way you will know that I give a nod to those souls no longer with us, I’ll say my piece to those that rest in peace. Dartmoor offers that soul resetting in abundance. Back in West Sussex I would talk to the voices in the wind, at Chanctonbury Ring, an Iron Age fort that oozes legend and connection.
Dartmoor doesn’t judge like people do, I can chat to lumps of granite and not appear, well I hope not, too eccentric. I can place one foot in front of the other and at the same time process one memory after another. It’s like a blank canvas that we walk across. Make your own memories in this (un)forgiving landscape.
The path I walked (the Abbot’s Way) followed the western flank of Crane Hill and turned north-west to eventually join once more the main trail from Eylesbarrow to Nun’s Cross. The remains of a stone cross, approximately 1 km east of Nun’s Cross Farm, made an excuse for a bite to eat and a survey of my domain. I say my, because I hadn’t seen a single person for several hours now.
The wind as always kept me company with its mesmerising tune, the rhythmic swaying of the tall grass in perfect harmonic accompaniment.
Dave my border collie posed for some photos by the remains of the cross, he’s so forgiving of my stopping and starting, posing and “surveying”. The weather was closing in, the sporadic squally showers that floated across the sky like giant black jellyfish were now forming a threatening blanket.
Not wanting to be out on the wild moor in wet twilight I headed off towards Nun’s Cross Farm itself. Easily identifiable by being flanked by perhaps the only tall trees for many miles.
I crossed over Devonport Leat via the narrow footbridge, close to Nun’s Cross Ford on the OS Map and had a look at the sluice gate, I can’t stop being an engineer!
Nun’s Cross Farm – Dartmoor Bunkhouse
Nun’s Cross Farm was built in 1871 and was used as a small holding. By the 1980s the building had become dangerously derelict and was close to ruin. Thankfully for those seeking Dartmoor adventure the building is now fully weather proof and used as a bunk-house by an outdoor adventure business. Breathing new life into the stone walls. The harsh winter tales those could tell.
It is possible to drive and park a car within 1 km of the farm these days but it doesn’t take much imagination to realise the hardship faced in severe winters, the isolation and fear. Imagine the fury of a howling wind as it tugged and pulled at the very fabric of the structure.
That growling and creaking as the wind sought to wreak destructive havoc. Roof tiles rattling, loosening, ripping, tearing. It is easy to stand and ponder under fleeting sunbeams, another story beneath a maelstrom of malevolent air.
With hail showers moving ever closer to Dave and myself, we set off on a short detour to investigate another nearby path.
I walked north from the farm, along the main path by Nun’s Cross. The cross, also known as Siward’s Cross was most likely erected during Edward the Confessor’s reign (1042–1066) and stands at the junction of the Monks’ Path and the Abbots’ Way. Certainly the largest and oldest of the Dartmoor crosses but perhaps not my favourite, situated where it is. Not remote enough for my liking but I’m just fussy about isolation!
Older Bridge – Devonport Leat
Located slightly north-west of the farm and cross, Older Bridge is a granite clapper bridge probably constructed in the 1790s at the time the Devonport Leat was constructed, to convey water from Dartmoor to the ever-growing dockyard in Plymouth.
Dave had a drink from the leat and I had another sandwich, seemed rude not to. From this point on the map I would retrace my footsteps, bypassing Crane Hill back towards Eylesbarrow Tin Mine and eventually the car park at Gutter Tor. With the weather changing by the minute I was unsure if I would be able to take any more dramatic shots of the Dartmoor landscape. I was thankfully wrong though poor Dave the dog did have a new experience.
All Hail Dartmoor
As I walked back towards Eylesbarrow Tin Mine the distant weather seemed suddenly less distant; wind was now howling through the long grass of the moor. I turned my head to better hear the sound, it was mesmerising. A whistling whoosh, the type of sound that Hollywood typically plays for a wild, haunted location. Within seconds the sky had darkened to an ominous shade of black.
Lumps of icy hail began to fall, I pulled down the brim of my Tilley hat and looked for shelter, not easy out on the open moor. With the only buildings now nothing more than knee-high stone ruins.
As the hail started to fall harder it occurred to me that Dave, my 8.5 month old border collie puppy had never seen or indeed felt hail. The clue was watching him run around in circles looking for shelter from the now heavy stinging lumps of ice.
I sheltered as best I could amongst the mounds of the tin mine, the slopes from the many pits and spoil heaps providing some respite from the aerial ice. I called out to Dave and he ran and hid under my outstretched arms. We sat out the worse of the hail storm and waited for that haunting whistling wind to blow some late afternoon sunshine back our way.
Immense clouds of ice meandered across the vast open sky; textures resembling dark cotton-wool that had been vigorously brushed over and over. The almost infinite hues of blues and deep inky purples were stunning to observe.
The clouds were alive, power-packs of stored frozen energy; a meeting of Atlantic warmth and North Pole icy chill. Down here on the moor, Dave and myself observed in awe.
With the hail now blowing away east on the cold wind, we once more carried on walking back west towards Gutter Tor under more promising evening skies. Gutter Tor offers views over Burrator and Sheeps Tor, with the added safety of being a simple climb down from the tor to the old scout hut car park. Ideal for twilight time on the moor.
Sunbeams shone where hail once fell; the whistling tunes of the wind now seemed cheerful again. Beams of light illuminated lucky chosen patches of moorland; those directly underneath caught in some kind of extraterrestrial warming tractor beam. Do you wish upon a sunbeam?
An aerial battle between fire and ice raged above my head. Once you learn to embrace the weather, hiking takes on a whole new dimension. I can watch for hours the never-ending struggle between the elements.
Time was on my side, the rocky trail though uneven in places allowed for a modest walking pace, about 3.4 mph for me. Guttor Tor would be next on the list of places to revisit today.
Guttor Tor Dartmoor Devon
Back now at the old scout hut car park, my point of origination I walked the modest climb to the summit of Gutter Tor; some 350 m / 1148 ft above sea level. From the car park the climb is easy and takes no more than 5-10 minutes. Which is why I saved that until last as I wanted somewhere to finally stop and ponder and go ahhhh.
Dave sat and smelled the view, as he does. I watched the next band of rain showers move closer. So the relaxed sit down on a slab of granite was a little rushed but I still had time to enjoy one final view of Dartmoor before heading home.
Long distance views gave long distance warnings; Cornwall was dark, Dartmoor blue sky. Stay too long, say goodbye to the dry.
I watched the sky change once more from spectacular sunbeams to silent rain, distant darkening clouds fell to the ground in slow motion. Rain drops travelled thousands of feet to land at my feet. It was time to leave the moor for another day. I descended Gutter Tor as rain fell steadily and purposefully.
As I unlocked the car door, the sky once more was putting on a subtle light-show just for Dave and myself. Another band of rain-clouds were taking centre stage; putting on a performance for anyone enlightened enough to look up and watch. The perfect end to a 9.5 mile hike.
Route: Gutter Tor car park to Nun’s Cross Farm and back.
Distance: 9.5 miles (15.3 km)
Gutter Tor Car Park: OS Grid Ref: SX 57868 67313
Eylesbarrow Tin Mine: OS Grid Ref: SX 59824 68168
Crane Hill: OS Grid Ref: SX 61522 69190
Nun’s Cross Ford: OS Grid Ref: SX 60827 69773
Nun’s Cross: OS Grid Ref: SX 60469 69950
Older Bridge: OS Grid Ref: SX 59824 70548
Nun’s Cross to Eylesbarrow Tin Mine: OS Grid Ref: SX 60244 68788