Dartmoor: a north to south traverse

Siwards Cross

Conditions looking favourable, I hurried down to Dartmoor on Saturday morning, to make the most of the weather. No less than five hours after leaving London, I was dropped off at Belstone, by my parents, and marching out onto the north moor with the sole purpose of doing a two day north to south traverse.

My plan was to overnight halfway at the campsite at the Plume of Feathers Pub, in Princetown, and complete the journey into Ivybridge by mid afternoon on Sunday. Had I had more time I would have liked to have taken the opportunity to bag as many tors to the left and right of my route, but you can’t have everything I guess.

Ponies enjoying Nine Maidens Stone Circle
Ponies enjoying Nine Maidens Stone Circle

Very quickly, I made my way passed the Nine Maidens Stone Circle, where ponies grazed and used the granite as scratching posts. By now it was obvious it was going to be a hot day and I was thankful I had packed light.

Approaching Oke Tor
Approaching Oke Tor
Oke Tor
Oke Tor

I was going over familiar, well trodden ground; the track ascended by Winter, up to Knattaborough, and Oke Tors, then descending to the ford in Steeperton Gorge.

Ford near Knack Mine (dis)
Ford near the disused Knack Mine

Despite the heat, going was good, eased by the military tracks all the way to Hangingstone Hill.

Hangingstone Hill
Hangingstone Hill
Belstone ridge, Steeperton Tor and Coston Hill
Belstone ridge, Steeperton Tor and Cosdon Hill

I thought about Frank Phillpotts’ peat pass to Whitehorse Hill, but decided on the “crow flies” option and immediately regretted it. The bog was fragile and it was a meandering slog to the Whitehorse Hill Cist.

Peat Pass, between Hangingstone and Whitehorse Hills, one, in retrospect, I should have taken
Phillpotts Hangingstone Hill peat pass plaque

I have written about this remarkable piece of archaeology before, in my blog post Whitehorse Hill Cist and Death on the Moor.

Whitehorse Hill. Cist
Whitehorse Hill Cist

There is still a good path to follow south, and with good visibility I could already see the next objective, Quintins Man. This is a rocky hollowed out cairn, a welcome place on a day when the wind is howling and you want a respite. Today, the air was still and it was just surrounded by disinterested cattle.

Quintin's Man Cairn
Quintin’s Man Cairn

Now the path disappeared and I headed down to cross the River Teign near Little Varracombe and hauled myself up through the long grass to the ruined Stat’s House. This is an old shelter built to house the peat cutters that used to work in the area. Evidence of the work done in the area can be seen in the form of a peat pass nearby.

Statt's House
Statt’s House

Now veering South-West, I went looking for the East Dart, to follow the river through Sandy Hole Pass as I recalled it was easier going than the higher ground.

Sandy Hole Pass
Sandy Hole Pass

I eventually arrived at the East Dart Waterfall, where I filtered some water for the remainder of the day. I didn’t linger long as there was still some distance to go.

East Dart Waterfall
East Dart Waterfall

Now I climbed up onto Broad Down and reached a wall that I hand railed West.

Following the wall over Broad Down
Following the wall over Broad Down

I also managed to bag another tor, Braddon; an uninspiring outcrop, but with a decent view of the Cherry Brook winding its way down Hollowcombe Bottom.

Braddon Tor
Braddon Tor

I descended to the river, and crossed it to bag Cherry Brook Rocks, and then Lower White Tor.

Cherrybrook Rocks. Near Hollowcombe Bottom
Cherrybrook Rocks. Near Hollowcombe Bottom
Cherrybrook Rocks
Cherrybrook Rocks
Lower White Tor
Lower White Tor

Not far away, and in the direction of travel, I bagged Higher White Tor, and then Longaford Tor stood out before me.

Higher White Tor
Higher White Tor
Longaford Tor from Higher White Tor
Longaford Tor from Higher White Tor

I could see people dotted on the granite, a sign that I was nearing a popular area for day trippers, and sure enough, as I passed Longaford, below me lay the West Dart River and The ancient oak of Wistmans Wood.

Longaford Tor
Longaford Tor
Wistmans Wood
Wistmans Wood

A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), this is an example of high altitude oak woodland, and with its moss covered granite boulders (or clitter), it can be an eerie sight to be here when a mist blankets the slopes of the West Dart.

Sheep grazing by Wistmans Wood
Wistmans Wood

A car park near the Two Bridges Hotel is just twenty-five minutes away from the woods, and it is frequently visited. I was passed by quite a few photographers heading off to capture the oak as the sun was lowering in the sky.

Welcome shade near Crockern
Welcome shade near Crockern
one of the two at Two Bridges
One of “Two Bridges”

I arrived at Two Bridges and hit the tarmac for the remainder of the day. It was only a couple of kilometres, though and it made a change to have stable ground beneath my feet, so I marched on purposefully into Princetown and the Pub.

My night wasn’t a restful one. I have to admire the loving couple in the tent about forty metres away, they had some stamina (last count was five), I just wish they had a quieter mattress! I was up and gone by about seven-thirty that morning, following the track that passes two of the boundary points on the Perambulation of 1240, South Hessary Tor and Siwards Cross.

Morning "stroll" out of Princetown.
Morning ‘stroll’ out of Princetown
Approaching Nun's Cross Farm
Approaching Nun’s Cross Farm

I followed the track towards the disused Eylesbarrow Tin Mines, then picked up a track heading eastwards to Plym Ford, the easiest place to cross the river. I was now in territory I hadn’t ventured into since I did the Perambulation back in 2007. If you are interested, the first blog post of the journey can be seen here.

Plym Ford
Plym Ford

As I remembered, the track on the OS map is not clear on the ground, and so I ascended Great Gnat’s Head, without straying too far left to its top, because I was looking for Erme Head and Erme Pits.

Erme Pits
Erme Pits

The tin mining remains here make for an interesting landscape; reclaimed by nature, the mounds are grassed and I feel it is worth the effort to visit to this remote and lonely place.

Erme Pits
Erme Pits

Crossing the River Erme, I followed the distinctive path above its bank. Once across Dry Lake Ford, the path leaves the river, which turns South, and you head for Red Lake. On the way, you pass a stone row, one of many in this area.

Stone Row near Dry Lake
Stone Row near Dry Lake

A few kilometres on, I reached a dismantled tramway, which ran from Ivybridge to Red Lake Pits, and soon after, a marker stone for the Two Moors Way.

Two Moors Way
Two Moors Way marker stone

I made my way up towards Petre’s Cross on Western White Barrow, looking back occasionally at the landscape of Red Lake Pits.

Red Lake Pits
Red Lake Pits

Petre’s Cross is little more than a small rectangular stone lump sticking out of a cairn. The cairn does have a shelter though, to protect you from any south-westerly winds, but not needed on this occasion as it was a beautiful day!

Petre's Cross
Petre’s Cross
Western White Barrow
Western White Barrow

I made my way down from Western White Barrow to reach the tramway. It was now a small matter of following it off the moor to Ivybridge. That said, there was still a lot of ground to cover! I crossed Ugborough Moor, and spotted a good wild camping site, at Left Lake Mires. One in the memory bank for future adventures!

Left Lake Mires
Left Lake Mires

The tramway snaked its way around the hills, contouring nicely. It just left you to concentrate on the views instead of footfall.

The disused Tramway to Ivybridge
The disused Tramway
Looking down to Piles Copse.  Stalldown Barrow high on the right.
Looking down to Piles Copse. Stalldown Barrow high on the right.

When I reached Piles Hill, I left the tramway to follow a stone row that went on for miles, all the way to a Cairn on Butterdon Hill. I just love finding these remnants of our ancient past, and they are a big reason for my love of Dartmoor!

Piles Hill. Longstone
Longstone on Piles Hill
Stone Row on Butterdon Hill (Ugborough)
Stone Row on Butterdon Hill (Ugborough)
Butterdon Hill (Ugborough)
Butterdon Hill (Ugborough)

Trig reached on Butterdon Hill, it was time to get down to Ivybridge to meet my parents. I descended to Longstone near Black Pool and then turned right, down to the tramway.

Longstone near Black Pool
Black Pool Longstone

It was then just a matter of walking down off the moor on a grassy path, to a gate that took me into a beautiful lane alive with wildflowers.

Off the moor and into a beautiful lane!
Off the moor and into a beautiful lane
Wildflowers
Wildflowers
Bluebells
Wildflowers

All good things come to an end, and signs of urban development began to appear.

Stowford Paper Mills A.D. 1862
Stowford Paper Mills A.D. 1862

As I neared my destination, there was one last surprise, the view of the River Erme cascading through the centre of town.

The River Erme, Ivybridge
The River Erme, Ivybridge

My timing couldn’t have been better; as I wandered into the town, I spotted my lift, parked by a garage. My mum was asking for directions to where I said we should meet. No need now, I had found them!

Thoughts on the weekend; Pretty pleased I had eventually done this traverse. I had been wanting to do it for a number of years but never got round to it. It didn’t disappoint! Would I do anything different? Yes, I’d do it in three days, not two, and, as I said at the beginning of this post, visit the significant tors and rocks that lie just off the route. No doubt, at some point, I’ll do just that!

Published by Moorland Walker

Paul is a backpacker, tor bagger, Bibbulmun Track End to Ender and West Ham supporter. He moved down from London to live in Okehampton in 2016, after realising he was spending most of his weekends on Dartmoor and it just made sense to make it permanent!

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