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'The Pimple' on the edge of Dartmoor, Tavistock, Devon- one of my favourite places...

‘The Pimple’ on the edge of Dartmoor, Tavistock, Devon- one of my favourite places…


Day five on our Tor Challenge involved heading out towards Princetown once more. Our start point was a small car park near to one of the tors we would be visiting and which is also home to a tall TV mast- north Hessary. A little cloudier than previous days but still dry and warm, so it looked like it was going to be a pleasant afternoon walk. and what’s more, we were aiming to cover 6 tors, which would bring us within reach of a total of 20 for the week.

As we set off we noticed an elderly couple just heading off in the same direction as us – towards Hollow Tor, and from here to the fairly indistinct Rundlestone Tor.

Hollow Tor

Hollow Tor

From there it was short walk long a road to the TV station and tor at north Hessary, the mast of which you can see for miles around, but which despite many years visiting the area I had never got close to. The mast is an impressive, albeit man- made intrusion in the landscape. The tor itself is rather tangled with the mast and surrounding walls and fencing, but is nevertheless and distinctive shape. I also found a small plastic box containing a stamp and notebook (see picture at the head of this article), an effort by a couple of local youngsters to place a ‘post box’ for visitors to leave a message and read those put by earlier visitors. It was a modern-day example of the Dartmoor Post Boxes, I suppose an earlier form of ‘Geocaching’:

‘A small pot (the letterbox) containing a stamp and visitors’ book is hidden on the moor, and a clue is written to lead others to its position. Clues may be as simple as a map reference and list of compass bearings, or may be more cryptic.

When a letterbox is found, the letterboxer takes a copy of the stamp, as well as leaving their own personal print in the visitors’ book.

Letterboxing began on Dartmoor but is now popular in areas all over the world.’ (source: Dartmoor letterboxing.org)

Travellers from Muenster, Germany logged into the 'post box' on north Hessary

Travellers from Muenster, Germany logged into the ‘post box’ on north Hessary

Taking a bearing to our next tor, ‘Foggintor’, we set off, but a little wary, because we had a walk guide which suggested that Foggintor was in fact an old quarry and one which you come across suddenly – beware 100 foot drops! We trudged down and then up bracken-strewn valley sides, heading for a group of rocks on the horizon which the bearing suggested was our target. We reached the edge of what looked like an old quarry but somehow the map and what we saw weren’t the same; where were we?

We pressed on thinking the rocks in front were what we were looking for and then looked back – in the distance and to the left of the route we’d taken, was an obvious old quarry with some apparently deep sides. We’d obviously not been accurate in our bearings and missed the quarry (I was sort of relieved, given the look of it). This is a ‘tor no more’, as the quarrying seems to have removed all evidence of the sort of rocks or peak that we’d come to expect.

Foggintor- quarrying has removed the tor?

Foggintor- quarry has removed what was there?

 So, we were actually standing next to our fourth tor target of the walk, Swelltor, also an old quarry, but with a more discernible peak and tor like appearance.

Swelltor- more quarrying

Swelltor- more quarrying

 From here it was a simple, fairly level walk across moor to our final target of the day, King’s Tor, which had some remarkable rock piles- see the pictures below.

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The views from King’s Tor were also good, though a mist lay over the horizon so we couldn’t see as far as had been possible earlier in the week. We looked across the valley to Yellowmeade Farm, which gave us our target for the return walk to the car. This looked to be straight, fairly short walk, but the map and walk guide advised that it would be marshy ground, so wer were prepared for wet feet! But apart from a few soggy areas, the lack of any heavy rain for a week seemed to dry out the peaty conditions underfoot, so it was more a case of hopping form grassy clump to grassy clump than wading through water!

So that was it, we got back to the car only to arrive at the exact moment the elderly coupe we’d seen early did too! They were over for the weekend from Somerset and were looking for letterboxes and had apparently found quite a few.

The day had brought 6 more tors (well nearly if you count our skirting of the tor no more) and we looked forwards to our last day, when we would climb an old favourite and bring our tally up to 20 tors.

Old School Gardener

The view in the morning - looking towards Tavistock from the car park near Merrivale

The view in the morning – looking towards Tavistock from the car park near Merrivale

Having seen off the rain and mist on the first day of our ‘Tor Challenge’, we started day two with bright sunshine- you could see across the moor for miles. Today’s plan was to do two walks with a break for lunch at a well-known pub (the ‘Dartmoor Inn’ at Merrivale). The morning began with a couple of hours walk close to where we were on day one, but the contrast in weather couldn’t have been starker.

Having parked up at the pub we set off following the road back towards Tavistock and then headed inland (having taken a bearing first) ascending and crossing the rounded crest of Barn hill to the first of the targets, Feather Tor, an unassuming tor from it’s approach, but with some interesting rock formations (and a rare Dartmoor tree!).

From here it was a short, but steep walk up to a much more expansive tor, Heckwood. It affords a view that is truly breathtaking and I think this, on reflection, was one of my favourite tors on our challenge. The walk back to the pub involved finding a stream and following this past Vixen tor (which is a striking formation, but unfortunately not accessible to the public), and involved some boggy ground, but nothing too uncomfortable despite the previous day’s rain.

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Lunch was a perfect combination of  ‘Pannini and Pint’, after which we drove to our afternoon walk- north of Tavisotck, near Lydford this time and involving one tor I’d walked a good few years back, Brat Tor with the famous stone Widgery Cross at its summit. This was quite a climb, but again, a combination of walking poles, good boots and light clothing made it only partly puffing!

The cross was erected to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It measures 12 feet 8 inches (3.86 metres) tall and 4 feet 4 inches (1.32 metres) across the arms. The shaft is 2 feet 1 inch (0.64 metres) square and is made of 10 layers of roughly cut granite blocks, topped off with a pointed rock. The blocks are of differing sizes, which interlock with each other to make the structure more secure. It was erected at the expense of William Widgery, the well-known local artist, and bears the inscription: ‘W. Widgery, Fecit, Jubilee, V.R.’

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From here we walked across a valley to Arms Tor (not sure if it’s called that because it has two distinctive blocks that look like arms?), which stands about 6 metres higher than Brat Tor at 457 metres.

From here, in the warm afternoon sunshine, we made our way back to the bridge and stepping stones over the River Lyd where I recorded a short video to capture the magical sound of the rippling water…..

The end of a marvellous second day and meanign we had already completed 6 tors in our Tor Challenge! Day three was to prove a bit of an eye opener in several ways…..

Old School Gardener

What a pile- some amazing granite on Great Mis tor

What a pile- some amazing granite on Great Mis tor

So, the first day of our recent ‘Tor Challenge’  began. It wasn’t promising- showers and low cloud hung over Tavistock for most of the morning and into early afternoon. But, as forecast, it lifted and was dry enough to venture out by about 4pm.

My wife had spent a lot of time researching our various walks and calculating distances, heights, grid references and bearings. we were well equipped with some new waterproofs, boots, walking pole and downloaded app for my phone (which gives a grid reference for your position and, if needed, a marker on a base map). We had looked into buying a GPS device for walking, but on balance, we felt this wouldn’t be necessary for the lengths and routes we’d gone for and with my new phone app (alongside other useful apps).

We’re not the sort of people to accept new things without question, and when it comes to clothing we’re definitely favour ‘natural’ materials over man made. However, I couldn’t resist buying a synthetic ‘base layer’ shirt in a sale we’d seen a week or two before and today was it’s first outing , under my new ‘waterproof and breathable’ jacket. I was im pressed with both, as you’ll see.

Any way, we set out for what promised to be a short walk to twowell-known tors – Great and Little Mis tors, lying just to the north-east of Princetown (of Dartmoor Prison fame) and within the Merrivale firing range (we’d checked and no firing was planned). According to Philip Henry Gosse (in his book ‘Land and Sea’, 1865), the name ‘Mis’ may derive from the tors’ druidical connections, being named after Misor the British moon goddess!

The way up- and the cloud/mist descends....

The way up- and the cloud/mist descends….

The ascent was long and reasonably steep from the car park (170 metres in fact to the summit of Great Mis tor, which is 538 metres above sea level). As we ascended we saw the low cloud covering the top of the climb and were prepared for our first taste of ‘blind walking’. We needn’t have worried. a well- worn path took us most of the way to Little Mis tor, and after a quick check on my new phone app, we knew we must have been just a few steps away from  Little Mis Tor- which we couldn’t see for all the cloud/mist. sure enough stepping out in what we thought to be the right direction, it suddenly loomed up before us- I thought it was a tree at first but it’s rocky outline was soon clear.

From here, once climbing the short route to its summit, it was short walk across open ground (following the pre-plotted bearing) to the tor’s bigger brother (or sister), Great Mis tor. this has been called ‘one of the grandest hills in Devon’ and is one of the largest tors in the southern moor, but today our view to it and form it was a complete fog, so we’ll have to return another day to appreciate the glorious view.

Great Mis Tor- the fortress looms up...

Great Mis Tor- the fortress looms up…

As we approached the tor (or so we thought) two walkers emerged from the mist walking towards us and we confirmed that we were on the right track. And a few steps further on there it was, certainly a more impressive ‘pile’ than its little sibling, and standing rather like some medieval fortress awaiting an attack- especially with its flagpole which is used to indicate if the firing raneg is beign used. We scaled it without a problem and peered around the immediate area as far as the mist would allow- not very far at all. Having climbed our first two tors, there wasn’t much else to do, so we returned.

Following my fortress analogy, coming down a different route still, at first, covered in mist and so focused on our immediate terrain (a large area of fallen granite boulders), felt rather like stepping on and over the bodies of fallen warriors, whose attack on the citadel above had obviously failed. It was eerily quiet and still with no hint of a breeze, and the clammy wetness stuck to our faces and clothes.

Reaching the bottom – and a clear sky once more- was a minor relief and boosted our confidence about our preparedness for the more challenging tors to come. A good start then. and I must say a comfortable experience too, as my new ‘base layer’ and waterproof had kept me warm and dry (inside as well as out) and my new boots were proving to be the dream footwear I had expected. We may not have given this new stuff much of a test, but it was the perfect primer for the days to come, which the weather forecast predicted would be dry, and mostly clear and warm.

The forecast turned out to be correct and the rest of our week enabled us to not only experience the climbing and walking to our tor targets for the day, but to soak up the scale and beauty of the Dartmoor landscape…as you’ll see if you join me for my next instalment of our tor challenge!

Day 2 beckons….

Old School Gardener



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