Dartmoor: Holne Chase (with kind permission)

Having had a friendly encounter with the owner of Was Tor a few weeks back I was in a positive mind that approaching landowners to ask for access permission might not result in a flat “No!” every time. When the majority of tors and rocks that remain on my list are buried deep within private land and not a simple case of a five minute trespass, there was no harm in asking. Better to wander freely rather than step stealthily in the shadows.

The owners of Holne Chase were extremely helpful and, on enquiry, I was delighted to discover the owner does allow access, simply requiring notice beforehand. The land, bounded on three sides by the Double Dart, and well fenced on the other section, is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). It is usually only accessible to those renting out the holiday cottages on the estate and even back when William Crossing wrote his account of his visit, it was only open to the public three days a week.

So, armed with kind permission, Richard Flint and I met up with Tim Jenkinson at New Bridge car park, to explore the area. I was keen to finally meet Tim, who I have mentioned countless times in my blog posts. He is considered an authority on the tors and rocks in the East Dartmoor area and Ken Ringwoods’ book features a number of tors that he has discovered.

We could have parked on the estate, but Rich and I had planned to do a walk later from New Bridge and feared the car park would be full, so we began from here. It was a steep road walk to the entrance about one and a half kilometres away.

Cleft Rock
Cleft Rock

As we approached the chase, we had a glimpse of another outcrop still on my list; Cleft Rock. This lies within Ausewell Wood, which is private land, on the other side of the Double Dart. I have just been told I can get a permit to enter in September. I gather that the wait is due to logging or perhaps to protect the wildlife; when Jim and I went into the woods, in January, we spotted police notices for nesting birds. I look forward to revisiting with permission.

We entered the grounds of Holne Chase, the house let as a Hotel until 2008 when it became uneconomically viable. The owners of Holne Chase, Mr and Mrs Richard Simpson then decided to take possession of the property and convert the Stable Block and Garden Cottage into Holiday Lets and live in the Mansion. For more information, you may wish to visit the history section on their website http://www.holne-chase.co.uk/history-holne-chase

As we passed by on the road to the river, we could see a lady, who we presumed to be Mrs Simpson, trotting across the well manicured lawns with a couple of small dogs before her.

Front Lawn of Holne Chase Hotel
Front Lawn of Holne Chase Hotel

She greeted us cheerfully, I confirmed we had been given permission and then she went on to advise that there were a lot of ticks in the woods. Checking we knew where we were going, she wished us well on our walk and we were soon down to the side of the river, immediately feeling privileged to be seeing this “forbidden” section of the Double Dart.

The River Dart
The River Dart

There is a wide track or driveway following the course of the river around the peninsula. There are various points where the river can be reached for fishing, but only if you have rented one of the cottages and booked a permit to do so. Some of these spots are ideal for wild swimming. The track makes it easy going.

Rock Basin in the River Dart
Rock basin in the River Dart

We passed a few mining adits along the track. There is clear evidence of a large tin mine higher up, as discussed in a pdf document on the Historic England Website, but there is no evidence that these passageways were associated with that works.

One of a few old mines
Old Adit
Forbidden River Dart
River Dart

At sections where the river bends, the bank steepens and it becomes impossible for the drive to follow. As it climbed we got glimpses of Raven Rock on the opposite hill, a frustrating outcrop to do justice in a photograph.

Raven Rock
Raven Rock

We passed some unnamed outcrops beside the track, but these were pretty insignificant compared to what awaited us further upstream.

Holne Chase Rocks beside the River Dart
Holne Chase Rocks
Holne Chase Rocks
Holne Chase Rocks

On the opposite bank, on a significant bend, an outcrop rises straight up from the river. It is best viewed from this side, to be on the other would be too close to admire it. This is “The Lovers’ Leap”.

Lover's Leap (aka Launceston Tor or Landscore Tor)
Lover’s Leap

William Crossing romanticises about the scene and I feel it still applies more than a hundred years later;

It has been considered by many that the Dart at the Lovers’ Leap is seen at its finest. Those who love it best, where it forces its way through rock-strewn vale, its murmuring heard only by the curlew, may not be prepared to endorse this view, but they will, at all events, be ready to acknowledge that nowhere throughout its course is the picture, of which it forms the principal feature, more enchanting than that presented at the spot where it kisses the foot of the rock with the forgotten story in the valley below Buckland.

Gems in a Granite Setting
Lover's Leap (aka Launceston Tor or Landscore Tor)
Lover’s Leap

As the name suggests, and William Crossing eludes to, there is a story with the outcrop, the purported site where two lovers threw themselves into the Double Dart.

We left the wonderful scene here, continuing north, upstream where the bank began to bend left and Eagle Rock started to appear within the trees.

Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock

Unlike Lovers’ Leap, the huge rock face is set back from the river, and the drive passes below it. As with the aforementioned, though, it would be best viewed from the other (forbidden) side of the river.

Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock

Walking beneath, it is impossible to capture its entirety in an image. My photographs can only show individual characteristics of this outcrop.

Base of Eagle Rock
Base of Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock

We took a last look back at the river, then set out on a track up, into the peninsula, to explore a hill fort named Holne Chase Castle.

The Dart near Eagle Rock
The Dart near Eagle Rock

We had little ascent before we began to encounter the best display of bluebells I have ever seen! We tip toed through the display, it felt sacrilegious to disturb the scene that breached the ramparts of the hill fort which, as is often the case with these remnants, little more than a ditch.

Bluebells in Chase Wood
Bluebells in Chase Wood
Bluebells in Chase Wood
Bluebells in Chase Wood

We found a path to follow through the fort, our intention was now to return to the river. As we went I spotted some rocks deposited, off track, within Chase Wood, where the hill begins to rise to its highest levels. It was difficult approaching what turned out to be a field of clitter, but its discovery prompted us to visit the ground above, which could have an outcrop. Ascending from the clitter would be more trouble than worth, so we returned to the track as the map showed it met another path we could take to the top.

The map proved trustworthy. Up on the top we found some outcrops, positioned directly above the clitter found earlier. The rocks were modest, but well positioned with views across to Buckland Hall. This being a new, undocumented find, we dubbed them “Chase Wood Rocks”.

View from Chase Wood Rocks
The view from Chase Wood Rocks
Chase Wood Rocks
Chase Wood Rocks
Chase Wood Rocks
Chase Wood Rocks

Being on the summit of Holne Chase, at a heady height of 198 metres, we had also unwittingly bagged a Tump of that name (a hill in Scotland, England, Wales or the Isle of Man which is separated from adjacent tops by a height difference of at least 30 metres on all sides).

Having rerouted, it was easier to follow the track over the hill which would take us down to the hotel rather than return to the river. It proved fortuitous, as it led us through another magnificent display of stunning bluebells before descending.

Bluebells in Chase Wood
Bluebells

We skirted the area of the tin mine, disused shafts marked on the map, and a long deep cut across the top of the hill. I would very much like to explore the area further, and I have no doubt I will return.

Leaving Holne Chase
Leaving Holne Chase

But, on this occasion, we descended to the hotel, rejoined the track below the lawn, left through the electric gates and passed down the pretty driveway. We were more than satisfied with our visit and very grateful to the owners for giving us permission.

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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