The following walk is best not to be followed. Its 6 miles across some of the most stunning landscapes that Dartmoor has to offer, but unfortunately, our as the crow flies navigation let us down abysmally here, and we would end up having to hack our way through dense foliage through a rather large chunk of the walk.
The following route takes in 6 squares of John Heywoods Dartmoor 365, K17, K18, L17, L18, M17, M18.
It's also worth investing in a Dartmoor OS map for navigating the moors, as it can be disorientating especially in low visibilty.
Back in late October of 2016, a month or so after our first real mountain hike (Snowdon and Tryfan) and after a three-month hiatus from Dartmoor, we returned once again for another day hike, but this time, opting for one of Dartmoor's most popular areas, the Haytor area.
Nath, our friend Jon, and myself (and Moby of course), had parked at the foot of Rippon Or, at the Hemsworthy Gate parking space. The temperature had dropped dramatically, and a blustery winter wind whipped across the moor as we loaded up our backpacks onto our backs, and yet we had still overdressed by a season, just the same, and was hot and bothered before we left the car park. This was our fifth Dartmoor Hike, and we intended to find Bowerman’s Nose before the day was out, a human-like rock formation, steeped in history and infamy. My brother had recently given me a painting he had done of that exact location, and I was quite interested to see it, so we plotted an ambitious circular walk to take it in.
We had never set foot onto the East Moor so far, and to be honest, the network of private land and winding roads that struck through the moorland had always put us off a little, but we were on a quest to fill in our Dartmoor 365 squares, and to so the South Moor had to be explored, today was as good a time as any. After his navigation fail on Tryfan the last time we went out, Nath was only to pleased to have Jon along to take over the map reading. Jon, a lifelong friend, had done a lot of training on the moors as a student, and so we were more than confident in his lead.
We set off South West, negotiating the climb towards Rippon Tor, the low autumnal sun was blazing down on us, bringing the inconvenience of blindness rather than the comfort of heat. The climb, as always when climbing first thing, was a strenuous one, battering us for six. There had also been considerable rainfall the night before, and the terrain underfoot was sodden at best and streaming as its worst, a mini river ran down our track of Rippon Tor.
The high point of Rippon Tor gave us an impressive panoramic view of the surrounding moor, and it was stunning to say the least, with a great view of our next port of call, Saddle Tor sitting of to the North East. We rested here for a spell, perhaps we would have taken a while longer had we known that this was to be the most isolated we would be for the majority of the day. After taking a brief rest to catch our breath, we soon headed down the hill towards Saddle Tor, having to clamber over a wall and the main road before climbing once again towards our destination.
Saddle Tor is a fantastic sight, an impressive dome of granite dominating the skyline above us to the left, and a more gnarly spread of rock to the right. There were two main clusters on view from our vantage point, one seemed slightly higher but less impressive, and less a challenge, so we opted for the domed Tor to the left. It seemed only right once on top of the Tor that I give it a “SUUUMMMMIIIITTT OOOOORRRR NOOOOTTTHHIIIIINNNG!!” at the top of my lungs.
The view of Haytor from here stole the show, it really is a breathtaking view, with a peculiar shape, something wonderfully interesting to its form on the horizon, like a mountain from a Tim Burton animation. Unfortunately, the Tor’s majesty was marred by the constant stream of traffic snaking through the moorland on the road directly below. This was the point at which the influx of traffic, both on road and on foot would increase, a detail that could aggravate the hiker seeking a moorland walk to themselves… like Nath. His day was going to get worst.
Saddle Tor sits about equidistant from Rippon Tor and Haytor, and pretty central as the crow flies. Being so popular a location, it is no surprise that the walk between Saddle and Haytor was quite obviously set out, carved between scorched bracken. The closer you got to Haytor, the more impressive the Tor became, and the more ominous the climb appeared, too. However, it wasn’t too bad a walk, whether we had limbered up a bit or the gradient was a trick of perspective, it's hard to tell. Once we climbed to the Summit and the views rolled on even further, we also saw that sight that turns a rambler, the dreaded car park, in fact, two of them, and hordes of people flooding onto one of the moors most accessible Tors.
Regardless, this seemed a good place to stop for our first lunch and coffee break, Nath once again brewing up with his MSR reactor jet stove. Throughout our break, the constant babble of pedestrians sounded we were in a busy city center not a location of Natural beauty. But still, crowds aside, the area was a pleasure to view and had surprised us a little to be honest, but I think that Nath still preferred the bleakness that Northern moor had to offer.
Northwest next, towards a heavy cluster of granite rocks looming over the edge of a valley top, that made up Holwell Tor. We passed the Haytor Granite tramway to get there and left Haytor behind. We naively looked across at the misshapen rocks of Hound Tor on the opposite side of the valley and decided that was going to be our next stop. However, the clamber down amidst rocks and foliage seemed harsh, and there didn't appear to be a defined path. This is where Nath took the lead, and started to pick his way down the rocks, and also where you may wish to find an alternative route.
These days, we tend not to take the route that the crow flies, learning as we have continued our exploration of the moor that the shortest route is very rarely the line through the middle. This was to be one of the occasions that helped to hammer this point home. As we eventually got through the overgrown terrain of this formidable rocky decline, we found what seemed to be a path into the woodland below, and soon bought us to a quaint riverbank which would have been a far more idyllic spot to have lunch than the hustle and bustled that Haytor had presented us with.
This was Becka Brook, and as we contemplated crossing, Jon soon took the initiative to wade through it, having his gaiters on he made it across with dry feet. Neither Nathan or myself wore gaiters, so we both looked for an alternative. We soon found it in the form of a suspect rope swing, that looked too low to pass without dragging the passenger through the water. However, Nathan did manage and in a rare moment of action in a Summit or Nothing video, he swung across and landed high and dry. Not one to be adventurous, I decided that a further exploration was needed, and a little way down stream I found a small granite bridge, and opted for that!
Next, we followed Nath along what seemed like a track, but which soon disap[eared and had us buried in a thick fern forest, which Nath had to trample down to get us through, making a path for Moby who was struggling more than we were. I think at one point Nath even had to carry his pooch through. This seemingly endless jungle hacking route seemed to go on forever, until we finally broke out and found a locked gate, private property, but which we decided to climb, to try and briefly get out of the ferns. And which for a spell did get us out of the woods, so to speak, as we circumnavigated the perimeter fence, all the while tracking along the valley, aware that we were walking away from our desired destination. Then we reached a network of fences, and low and behold, more ferns.
Stop, take stock, and start again. We climbed now, heading towards Greator, and trying to branch away towards Hound Tor. Before long we did break free, right onto a track beside a style. We laughed about it, but you coukld tell that after this and Tryfan, Nath’s confidence in his navigational skills had been knocked somewhat. Nevermind, we were now at the foot of Hound Tor, so made our way over to it for a look around. Again, we were soon inundated by more people, and as we found a relatively high point to stop for our lunch, we saw yet another car park meters away. As Jon quipped to Nath, “If you wanted to go somehwere with no people on a Sunday, you should have gone to Church.”
By this time, thanks to our detour and misadventure, the day was getting on, we were quite a distance from the car, relatively close to Bowerman’s Nose, but when Nath had begun to receive a string of phone calls and text messages from a friend in need, our walk was cut short. Bowerman’s Nose would have to wait for another day. We found the road and followed it back to Hemsworthy Gate, the walk by road was about the same as we had trodden to get here, and took us a little over an hour.
So in contemplation, we missed our central point of interest, we had seen more people than we care to on the moors, and we got completely lost in a fern forest, all vowing to check for ticks when we arrived home. But, the East Moor wasn’t as bad as all that, it had been a good day walking, some stunning tors, an absolutely stunning area, and one that we will look forward to exploring again at some point.