I had read about another magnificent stone row in the Sheepstor area of Dartmoor and planned a circular walk to explore. I parked at the foot of Gutter Tor, you will see the car-park marked on the OS Map, by the old scout hut nestling in some trees.
The car park does get busy as it is located at the beginning of a well-defined moorland track / bridle path which offers the hiker a multitude of moderate walks in several directions. Monk’s Way, Abbot’s Way and more.
The weather was perfect, late summer or more correctly very early autumn sunshine bathed the landscape. A breeze was blowing but the forecast was dry for the entire day. I was already in my good space and it only got better as the day unfolded.
Heading north-east from the car park, along the well walked track I was soon in open moorland, taking just 2 minutes from closing the car door. You won’t find that kind of wellbeing in the hustle of London; you need to come walk with me here.
Plymouth Corporation Water Works
After construction of the nearby Burrator Reservoir, completed in 1898 and enlarged in 1928, Plymouth Corporation Water Works (PCWW) placed numerous stone markers on south west Dartmoor. These boundary markers denote the water catchment area and have a date of 1917 engraved in the stone.
Yet another example of the many interesting quirky items to be found hiking on Dartmoor, they are marked on the OS Explorer Map in places but don’t rely on them for navigation as the ones in the photograph were not shown.
Drizzlecombe Stone Rows
After a kilometre of walking I took a side-track off to my right that according to my map would take me to some stone rows close to the River Plym. Having not walked here before I was unsure of what to expect, always the part of any new hike that I enjoy the most.
With sunshine illuminating the land I didn’t have any problem spotting the impressive stones, the largest standing over 4.2 metres high. A short distance off the popular track but I wonder how many people make the effort to visit.
My adventures begin with an expectation of the unexpected.
A search on Google will reveal a wealth of information about the layout, construction and restoration of the Drizzlecombe stone rows but for me the real magic, the enjoyment is simply to walk amongst them. I don’t want to know how they were built or why, I just am glad they were built.
Dartmoor puts a real perspective on things, I felt the need to take a selfie with my border collie Dave to give you an idea of the scale of the stones. I am normally behind the camera lens but as a special treat you get to see me and Dave in our adventure playground
Eylesbarrow Tin Mine
Reluctantly I said goodbye to the Drizzlecombe stone rows and retraced my route back to the main track towards Eylesbarrow tin mine. A handful of walkers drifted in and out of my vision, no crowds here jostling for a view of prehistoric standing stones.
Adventure begins with opening your eyes and mind to your surroundings. Follow others but set your own path in life.
Ponies explored the abandoned walls of the tin mine, did they sense a connection here with their equine ancestors. Ancestors that toiled hard in almost unimaginable conditions. We complain when we lose a data connection or our new Gore-Tex boots rub. We have very little to complain about really do we. Not when standing here with an open mind.
Eylesbarrow Tin Mine was active from the very early 1800s, possibly as early as the 1790s but like much of Dartmoor’s once thriving industry it is now just a romantic ruined reminder of a bygone age.
I chatted to a couple of ladies at the mine, more advanced in years than I but just as eager to explore the history and heritage of the moor. Age shouldn’t be a barrier to personal adventure.
Siwards’s or Nun’s Cross
Leaving the ponies to explore the tin mine I followed the trail northwards towards Nun’s Cross Farm, a point on the map that would be the top of my circular route.
Standing at the junction of two main tracks across the moor; The Monk’s Path and the Abbot’s Way. Siward’s or Nun’s Cross is the largest and oldest recorded cross on Dartmoor, being mentioned as early as 1240 and probably erected during Edward the Confessor’s reign (1042–1066).
A popular spot for hikers, I had to pick my moment carefully to get a photo without a crowd, OK without four people in the view! The well-defined path from Gutter Tor car park will take you here with moderate effort and a map.
Plym Ford Walk
Taking my map and compass from my rucksack I plotted a slight off-piste return route. I headed south east from Nun’s Cross Farm crossing over the ford and walking towards Crane Hill, stopping to take some photos of another long forgotten stone cross on the way.
Stopping to look north towards Princetown I was rewarded with a huge view, I really was in the landscape. My mind was already planning routes and adventures on the parts of the moor I could see.
With compass bearing leading the way and the occasional granite boulder as navigational aid I headed first south east and then south west towards Plym Ford; a sensibly named ford in the River Plym. The Abbot’s Way trail crosses the River Plym here and heads off towards Huntingdon Cross near Avon Dam.
A Royal Navy helicopter thundered low through the natural valley, Dave my border collie and myself looked up and watched; a few sharp turns and it was gone. The crew and Royal Marines off for yet another overnight Dartmoor training mission no doubt.
From the disused tin workings at Plym Ford I headed back to Eylesbarrow Tin Mine. The ponies were still eating their way through the grass and moss that covers the moor. The sun was late in the sky and I wanted to visit Ditsworthy Warren House and Gutter Tor before the light faded.
Walking by the ponies I took a few photos before heading back down the track towards Drizzlecombe but this time I headed to Ditsworthy Warren and what was to be the highlight of my walk. The timing was perfect, the casual walkers had gone home and the evening light was coming out to play.
Ditsworthy Warren House
As I clambered over the granite rocks of Eastern Tor I spotted Ditsworthy Warren House, built for the keeper of Ditsworthy Warren, an area of land covering approximately one square kilometre, where rabbits were commercially bred and kept for their meat and fur.
The house was constructed circa late 18th century, though evidence suggests a previous dwelling on the site. Long since abandoned and now used by the MOD as part of the Dartmoor Training Area.
The wind was blowing cold by now, another one of those locations where you begin to think that the wind always blows cold. Isolated, a feeling of not being alone; it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to hang around. It felt skittish. I wonder if the keeper of the warren had nightmares about all those rabbits kept for the slaughter, razor-sharp teeth, red eyes.
The late author James Herbert would have loved this setting for a chilling English horror. I was half expecting a fearsome black dog, the Yeth hound to be pacing the grounds.
The mind can play tricks but Dartmoor tricks the mind, every time.
I paced the grounds with my own hound, not stepping beyond the decaying boundary wall, though the gates were lying twisted and broken on the ground, inviting me closer still. Come closer, come closer, fear not.
I took my photos and left, stopping only to look behind some hundred metres away, a gorgeous location but it didn’t feel peaceful. This was a disturbed location, someone or something paces here, restless and relentless.
Gutter Tor Sunset
With the chill wind of Ditsworthy Warren sending me on my way I set off up the gentle scramble to the summit of nearby Gutter Tor, the cold wind now just that; a cold wind, not an ill wind. My final resting place on Dartmoor for today, time to watch the watery sunset over Burrator and Sheepstor.
I had my sandwiches and the dog ate his evening meal high up on the granite slabs; Royal Marines Commandos walked silently around the tor, a brief wave hello and they were on their way.
The sun was low in the misty sky and the air was still for a moment, the tide turning once more; daytime to dusk. I could see my car parked in the distance, so there was no worry about walking the final part of Dartmoor in low light.
With our evening dinner eaten it was time to walk off the tor and say goodbye to the moor; we will be back in a few days as always. Walking, writing, thinking, living. Our adventure our way.
Route: Gutter Tor to Nun’s Cross Farm and back.
Download Map of Route
Distance: 9.3 miles (15 km)
Sheepstor car park: OS Grid Ref: SX 57891 67317
Drizzle Combe stone rows: OS Grid Ref: SX 59243 67097
Eylesbarrow Tin Mine: OS Grid Ref: SX 59821 68162
Nun’s Cross and farm: OS Grid Ref: SX 60458 69945
Crane Hill: OS Grid Ref: SX 61523 69182
Plym Ford Tin Workings: OS Grid Ref: SX 60961 68450
Ditsworthy Warren House: OS Grid Ref: SX 58401 66285
Gutter Tor: OS Grid Ref: SX 57786 66887