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Home arrow News arrow Meet Reports arrow Dartmoor 5th - 8th August 2005

Dartmoor 5th - 8th August 2005

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5th - 8th August 2005

By Gareth Pratt

“They were the footprints Mr Holmes of an enormous hound!”

I’ve always been a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and in particular the “Hound of the Baskervilles”. The opportunity to walk on Dartmoor, in the areas that inspired Conan Doyle to write his classic tale of a large and savage dog attacking lone walkers, was to good to miss.

I made certain that I had all my kit before I left. Waterproofs, boots, backpack, 5 extra large tins of Pedigree chum………just in case……..

I met up with Ian, Marianne, Clare, Mim and Jeremy at the Dartmoor Expedition on the Friday evening and, after much discussion we decided on a circular walk from Widecombe that would take in the Eastern Tors and Moors of Dartmoor.

The next day, we set off up at about 9am onto the Hamel Ridge, which heads north from Widecombe to the Grimspound. it’s a pretty broad and nondescript ridge dotted with cairns and trig points.

We pressed on to the Grimspound, which is basically a stone circle enclosing about 4 acres of ground. Apparently it is a homestead and an enclosure for livestock rather than a defensive position, but it is a most impressive structure. On the way past Kings Tor we were approached by a middle aged couple, and their extremely bouncy and friendly brown Labrador dog. “Don’t worry” they informed us cheerfully, as their dog leapt up with the seeming intent of knocking over as many humans as possible in the shortest time possible, “He won’t hurt!”. As the dog bounded over to Ian, he doubled up and tried to fend the animal off. “Ah” the lady said to Ian in a tone of voice that implied that people who didn’t like dogs were, in her estimation somewhere lower down the scale than Nazi war criminals “you’re not dog person are you”. “Not that” replied Ian as he leapt out of the dog’s way for the umpteenth time, “I just don’t want him breaking my radio!”.

The path then took us down from Kings Tor into the Widecombe valley and over to Hayne Down, the first of the really impressive big Tors, the main feature of which is a spectacular pinnacle called the Bowerman’s Nose. It’s a natural rock sculpture that from a distance looks like a old man wearing a cap, and possessing a very prominent nose. We stopped for lunch here. It was immensely peaceful, and after another update on the cricket from Ian we moved off.

After about another hour or so we arrived at Hound Tor, so named because it is said to resemble a pack of hounds, although we couldn’t see the likeness. Marianne, Mim, Jeremy and Claire decided to go for a scramble around the Tor, while Ian and I found a quiet ledge where we could listen to the cricket. Hounds Tor is a fantastic place, but it does get rather busy, and in some ways gives a taste of the horrors that await the walker at Haytor. There then followed a steep descent into the valley, and then an equally steep ascent up to the Haytor Moor. Crossing this moor you will find some incredible stone tramlines, which were laid down in the 1820s to carry stone from the quarry at Haytor Moor down to Teignmouth. The lines consist of slabs of stone laid onto the ground and then ruts carved into them to take the tram wheels.

Haytor Rocks are a constant feature of the walk so far. They are visible from all the high points on the walk, but reaching them was a bit of a bit of letdown. They are only about half a mile from the road, and are swarming with people. I suspect the best time to see them is on a winter’s evening, when they should be fairly quiet. That said, they are hugely impressive. Like all of the tors in this area, they sprout up out of the ground, are severely fractured and deeply scored and grooved. It’s not a place to hang about on a Saturday afternoon in high summer though.

We crossed the road, and ascended Rippon Tor, which commands fine views down to the coast at Teignmouth, and then crossed Hollow Tor before starting our final descent to Widecombe. As we walked into Widecome, we universally decided to have a cream tea This was much needed, and despite the fact that we all ordered small cream teas, for some reason Ian and Marianne got twice as much as the rest of us!

The last leg of he walk was the steep pull out of Widecombe, over the ridge and down to the bunkhouse. By now my get up and go had got up and gone, and so it was with some reluctance that I followed the others through the village and up that last hill back to the bunkhouse.

We got back, all fairly tired, but satisfied with a excellent day’s walk that really did show the best that the eastern area of Dartmoor had to offer. No sign of a slavering hound yet, except for the over enthusiastic brown Lab; still, hope sprang eternal.
On Sunday morning we headed off to Dartmeet, to do a walk that would take us right into the heart of Conan Doyle country. From Dartmeet we planned to walk over the Huccaby hill and onto Dartmoor proper

It was much hotter than the previous day, and we were soon walking over the hills and up onto the moor itself. There was no shelter from the sun anywhere and temperatures rose. There were also no tracks and so we had to plough on over the moor as best we could. A group of cows were a fat lot of good when it came to asking directions. They merely stared at us and chewed the cud. Eventually we crested the hill, and walked along a goodish path until we came to two crosses on the hill. Both were obviously very old, and presumably were there to act as way markers for travellers of old, or to provide spiritual encouragement for those crossing the moor for trade purposes. Another hour or so of rather slow walking brought to Fox Tor.

In itself, Fox Tor is just another Tor, one of many on Dartmoor. However Fox Tor is special because it overlooks Foxtor Mire. It is generally believed that it was Foxtor Mire than was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Great Grimpen Mire in “The Hound Of The Baskervilles”. Conan Doyle stayed at Princetown, not far away, when writing the story, and doubtless would have heard the story of the convict that escaped from Dartmoor Prison and drowned in the Foxtor Mire.

Meanwhile the cricket was reaching a thrilling climax at Edgbaston. We all sat gathered around Ian’s radio as England beat Australia by the narrowest of margins, 2 runs, to clinch the first Ashes test. Much to Jeremy’s disgust. What with the sun beaming down from a cloudless sky it was perfect way to spend a lunch stop. Finally we girded up our loins, and set off towards Foxtor Mire.

Our initial plan was to walk to Princetown, about another 3 miles away and then return to Dartmeet along the Swincombe valley. I stopped to take a few pictures, and the others wandered off. As I walked on to catch them up, a man hailed me and asked where we were going; “Over the Mire to Princetown” I replied. “Don’t cross the mire” he said “The official path is very indistinct. If you stray from it you’ll go in up to your knees. It gets worse the further west you go. I’ve just crossed it and I fell in!”

I caught up with the others and explained what the man had said. “Bugger that!”, expostulated Ian. “I’m damned if I’m slogging across a bog. Did he really say to his knees?” “Yes” I replied. “Tall chap was he?”. “Yes he was” “Right then. I can’t see the point in falling in the bog, and I don’t fancy walking an extra 3 km just to get another 600 yards across the valley” I suggested that we stay on this side of the valley, cross to Childe’s Tomb and then follow the river back to the Dartmeet road, then return the way we had come. This was agreed and off we went. Childe’s Tomb is a most interesting structure build of huge slabs of granite, topped with a solid granite cross.

We kept going and after a brief rest walked into Dartmeet, tired and hot. Mim was due to meet us about 3pm having spent the day with her sister and so we immediately found out the nearest seller of Cream Teas and headed for it. I decided that I was going to buy the “biggest, most morally unjustifiable cream tea in Devon”, and hang the consequences. We all decided that was a good idea. The Cream teas that were produced for us were huge things. Two wedges of scone, and a vast dish of Jam and an even vaster dish of clotted cream. It was delicious. I couldn’t finish all my cream though, and even gave the local dog two scoops of it.

It was another excellent weekend with the STMC. Certainly an ambition fulfilled for me, as Dartmoor is one of the few areas of the UK that I haven’ walked, and to walk in the footsteps of Sherlock Holmes was even better. Dartmoor is a wonderful place, and the sense of space and distance that it gives is fantastic. When you’re out on the high moors away from the crowds you really do feel as if you are on your own in a unique and beautifully rugged landscape, which in good weather is spectacular, but in bad weather would be quite horrendous. I would recommend a return visit for the club.

I never saw the hound though……….

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