Dartmoor’s weather can be something of a mystery, promising brooding clouds but delivering piercing sunbeams. The moorland landscape delivers the same pictorial promises; mist hidden crosses and tors rising high above brightly illuminated pasture.
Dartmoor Inn – Widgery Cross
For this mid winter walk I parked just off the main A386 road near the village of Lydford, a small lane runs eastwards from beside the Dartmoor Inn to a gated moorland car park. The car park was busy, the raindrops pounding the windscreen didn’t dampen the urge to walk!
No sooner had I put on my waterproofs then the rain abated and Dartmoor once more laughed at my attempts to judge the micro-climate; moorland 1 – human 0. A short walk north east from the car park, along a well-defined track brought me to a charming arrangement of granite stepping stones across the River Lyd.
Taking giant steps I crossed the river, my boots nice and dry as I stepped from granite stone to granite stone, Dave my border collie took the easier option, splash!
Fleeting glimpses of Widgery Cross, rising 452 metres above sea level teased me, the mist was low-lying and that persistent Dartmoor wind changed the visibility by the second. It is always wise when hiking to navigate to a nearby landmark and not rely on too distant an object. The cross being a great example; mother nature’s very own conjuring trick; now you see it; now you don’t.
Brat Tor, Dartmoor Walks
I like the name Brat Tor, it makes me think of errant individuals, I wonder if William Widgery was part of the brat pack? Widgery Cross was built by William Widgery to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. Standing a very impressive 12 feet high and visible for miles; when Dartmoor weather allows that is.
The ascent to the summit and the cross is deceptively steep but well worth the walk, not far enough from the car park for an excuse to have something to eat, that would have to wait until Great Links Tor.
Low cloud raced across the tors, like smoke from a distant forest fire, impossible to capture on a modest camera-phone; this is something you need to immerse yourself in. Wisps of mist formed and vanished in a blink of an eye, mesmerising to watch.
Sunbeams highlighted seemingly random patches of countryside, as fantastic cloud formations drew horizontal lines across the sky. Looking north towards Great Links Tor I saw nothing but low mist; hiding tonnes of granite behind a magician’s grey cloak.
Great Links Tor – High and Shy
Towering above me, seemingly floating effortlessly in the sky, monolithic granite appeared from the swirling mist, Great Links Tor was for this one day Devon’s own mythical Brigadoon. Despite my compass and OS Map clearly confirming the floating apparition to be the tor, I still felt a sense of excitement as the mist cleared and the tor was revealed in all its grand darkness.
Sheltering from the wind, it was time for lunch. I sat on a humble rock and absorbed the live weather forecast; sunshine and showers were coming my way. I confess I could have sat for hours and watched the ever-changing cloud formations. Great swirls of cloud painted enormous shadows over an equally gigantic landscape as they raced across the heavens.
Mist rushed over the weather-sculptured tors in a swirling dance of random beauty.
Arms Tor – Dartmoor Magic Hour
With a late lunch eaten it was time to walk back west towards Arms Tor and the hope of some magic sunlight across the moor. Photographers and artists across the globe seek out the light of the magic hour; that time before sunset when definition and contrast are at their best.
The long-distance weather forecast looked promising, blue sky was winning the eternal battle of this season’s backdrop. Suddenly Dartmoor erupted in high definition beauty; every weathered crevice of the nearby tors shouted out “look at me, look at me.” The magic hour was upon me.
I walked from rock to rock looking out to the distant horizon as it revealed itself before my eyes; the low cloud and mist now a distant memory. The Brigadoon moment perhaps just a figment of my imagination; for I could now see for miles and miles.
Green grass and moss appeared in Technicolor over-saturation, shadows were drawn long on the ground. The moor was bathed in a warm mid-winter glow. Dartmoor once again delivered breathtaking beauty in abundance.
Widgery Cross Dartmoor Sunset
With daylight minutes diminishing I walked south from Arms Tor back towards Brat Tor and the now silhouetted Widgery Cross. Sunbeams scattered out in every direction as the imposing granite cross blocked their linear path.
Kneeling on the forgiving moorland grass I took a photo or six; I can’t help myself when confronted with a landscape I want to share with you all. Every one of the 24 hours in a day is precious but the magic hour at sunset is perhaps the most fleeting and exclusive of them all.
Dartmoor revelled in the fiery glory, every mound of grass, every curved surface of granite called out to be photographed. Within minutes it seemed the magic hour was over. The warming glow in the sky dropped below another belt of cloud.
Reluctantly I put my camera-phone back in my pocket and pulled my collar up tight, the wind was chilled and dusk was creeping ever closer by the second. The descent from Brat Tor seemed steeper than the ascent; tired legs making sure of that sensation no doubt.
I retraced my route from Widgery Cross back across the stepping stones at the River Lyd ford and along the path to the car park by Dartmoor Inn. The weather closed in as the light faded, another Dartmoor adventure came to an end. This walk though only a modest 5 miles provided some truly stunning views over Devon and Cornwall.
The views from Brat Tor (452 metres ASL), Great Links Tor (586 metres ASL) and Arms Tor (457 metres ASL) are particularly stunning on a clear day, well worth the walk.
Route: Dartmoor Inn car park to Great Links Tor and back.
Download Map of Route
Distance: 4.99 miles (8 km)
Dartmoor Inn car park: OS Grid Ref: SX 52498 85315
River Lyd Stepping Stones: OS Grid Ref: SX 53205 85717
Widgery Cross Brat Tor: OS Grid Ref: SX 53960 85640
Great Links Tor: OS Grid Ref: SX 55080 86762
Arms Tor: OS Grid Ref: SX 54108 86285