Sunday 17th November 2019
Earlier this year, Country Walking Magazine penned and published a circular route on Dartmoor that they regard as the ‘Mini Ten Tors’. Much smaller than its fifty-five mile cousin, this one is only nine miles in length and can be completed in a single day.
Trev, from the YouTube channel Summit of Nothing, had organised this event as his second in a series of fundraising walks, looking ahead to a Himalayan trek he’s embarking on in 2020. I wasn’t able to make the first one at Belstone but I signed up, paid my dues and drove on down to Devon.
This route is available to view on OS Maps (please follow this link), although it is best viewed with a full or trial subscription, where you can get the full Ordnance Survey detail beyond the standard mapping.
Most of this event was organised through the power of Facebook. We knew that Trev has earmarked the ‘middle’ car park (visible on Google Maps) between two along the B3387, as our official starting point… But on arrival, we all discovered that this area had been blocked off with large stones. Perhaps to reduce erosion; perhaps to encourage people to pay-and-display elsewhere.
I could either stop outside the visitor centre – which I knew was pay-and-display – or try the car park at the top of the rise, where the meters had been wrapped up in an ‘out of order’ state. A few others had also parked here, including Max (who I recognised from his Beautiful Dartmoor YouTube channel – which sadly doesn’t appear to have any content, these days) and Josh, who is one of the first members of my Meetup walking group.
Despite this divide, both halves of the group met at the specified point across the road and, after brief introductions to and from Trev, we set off a bit later than planned and with two absentees from the RSVP list… On our way up to Haytor Rocks.
Rising to 457m above sea level, this has to be one of the most
tourist-friendly visitor-friendly parts of Dartmoor, with the road, visitor centre (toilets) and multiple car parks sitting so close by.
For the very start of a walk, it was a challenging climb of a good hundred metres in only a few hundred metres of forward travel.
A few climbed to the very top of this tor and would do for most others. I decided not to – although, as with touching a trig point, it could be said that I haven’t officially ‘bagged’ any tor that I haven’t climbed.
Next time, perhaps…
Above, you can see just how far we weren’t from the upper car park and why these rocks are never short of a few visitors.
Walking parallel to the road now, we walked south-west towards Saddle Tor. I forget the exact figures but there must’ve been close to fifteen of us; a mix of age and abilities.
A couple of people had wild-camped the night before, which is permitted in certain parts of Dartmoor – but not all of it. Please see this map for the definite answers. Around half of the attendance had also made it to Trev’s previous walk which began at Belstone.
From Saddle Tor, we would cross the B-road and make our way up to Rippon Tor. Another reasonably tough ascent that initially looks so far away.
There’s no public right of way linking these two tors but the routecrosses a dry-stone wall via a stile beside a hawthorn tree.
Slow and steady, we made our way to the top. There was a narrow path on the ground that we could follow and it wasn’t as challenging as some of Trev’s ‘straight-line-between-tors’ directions from the early days of Summit or Nothing on YouTube.
At 473m above sea level, there was even a trig pillar waiting for us.
We’d have to cross that road again on the continuation of our Mini Ten Tors circuit. Ahead, the sky looked a little more cloudy than the MetOffice had forecast – although they had predicted it would remain a dry day.
On the way down, Max (of Beautiful Dartmoor) spotted an ancient cross that isn’t recorded on the OS Map. For someone still in his teens, he is incredibly knowledgeable of all things ‘Dartmoor’ and deservedly stole the light of Trev’s camcorder on several occasions. Others were also keen to hear and learn more of the history to this landscape.
Moments before crossing the road, a father and son who’d spent the night wild camping caught up with us… They were the two who were absent from the start and they’d done very well to make up some much untamed ground!
Top Tor was next in our sights…
Immediately followed by Pil Tor and it’s distinct avenue dividing the rock.
Widecombe in the Moor was spotted (it’s a village) before we marched on to the next tor.
Crossing back over Top Tor and then the B3387 to Bonehill Rocks, we were faced with another mighty climb ahead of us: Chinkwell Tor.
It was around here that I remember speaking with Charles, who had completed the Camino de Santiago earlier this year – both the popular Frances route and also the shorter Portuguese pilgrimage, which can be completed in only ten days.
It was also a good day for spotting faces in the rock!
A great feature of this walk is that (weather permitting), you can look at the surrounding skyline to see where you’ve been and where you’re going. Even if the horses above are looking elsewhere!
We mostly bypassed Bell Tor on our way up to Chinkwell.
From Chinkwell Tor, we made our way across to Honeybag Tor (445m above sea level).
We did stop for lunch on the northern edge of Chinkwell Tor and before reaching Honeybag. But we’d then have to cross back over the former in order to continue the walk.
By this time, the clouds were congregating as the temperature and pressure seemed to drop. Dartmoor, at it’s most dramatic – while staying dry!
On our descent, heading east towards Houndtor Down, increasing drops of rain could be felt – in spite of the aforementioned forecast and promise of a decent day’s walking in November…
In smaller waves of our larger group, people began searching for their waterproofs and then the raincovers to keep the rest of their contents dry. I only went for my jacket, feeling as though trousers might be overkill, only a few miles from the end of the walk.
It was around 15:00 by this point. Several people commented on how they hadn’t anticipated a nine-mile walking taking this long, even after the initial delay of our start until 10:30… But we had spent plenty of time exploring each of the tors (I didn’t bother trying to count them but I trust there were no fewer than ten).
On the approach to Hound Tor, Max ventured off to discover a cairn circle and and cist lurking nearby.
As the rain eased almost as gently as it had arrived, our spirits remained high while some went off to climb Hound Tor.
This was only my fifth walk on Dartmoor and they’ve all come within the space of eighteen months… Just when I thought I was about to experience a dry one, we were rained on, just as I have been on each of my previous four walks here!
There was one more rock (not necessarily a tor) to bag and Trev had warned us that it would be the most challenging ascent of the day…
On the way down, we passed the site of an abandoned medieval village which is also cared for by English Heritage.
At the floor of the valley, we would cross the Becka Brook by a footbridge. We’d followed a bridleway thus far and so there were no issues with navigation. Beyond the bridge, the going became a bit wet underfoot although we all survived to begin the day’s final ascent.
Everyone seemed to find that ‘second wind’ and we each made it up with a sense of determination. Perhaps it was the pending darkness, thoughts of those toilets beside the visitor centre or the adrenaline of having survived one of Dartmoor’s famous rain showers.
From Smallacombe Rocks, we continued south to meet a stone tramway that crosses this part of the moor.
Further back, I’d met Tony, who also happens to live in Weston-super-Mare and happens to know several people who I currently work with. Sometimes in life, it seems you have to travel eighty-miles before you meet someone on your doorstep! A very small world, indeed.
We followed this track as far as a maker for the Templer Way; an eighteen-mile route that guides you to Teignmouth. Every year, the local mountain rescue organisation put the linear walk on as a fundraising event. I’ll try and keep it in mind for 2020, as I completely forgot this year.
It was 16:00 and the daylight was diminishing. We reached a point beneath Haytor where the group must divide, as we were destined for two separate car parks. We said our goodbyes, with the bulk of our attendance following Trev towards the visitor centre.
Max (who else?!) led a few of us back to the higher car park, via a second ascent of Haytor Rocks, a few metres extra of hiking and possible height gain that the others would have evaded.
There was something special about being on Dartmoor under these conditions. On a Sunday evening, with all that we had seen and experienced. All in spite of the inevitable ninety-minute drive home that would follow. Some had travelled from much further afield.
I did speak with Trev a few times about meeting again [that’s not me in the photo above – I think it’s Lester] and I hope that will happen in 2020. Coming down from Rippon Tor, I did a bit of talking-to-the-camera and might’ve featured in a couple of brief scenes later on. Hopefully most of it will make the final cut… Which I believe will go live on Sunday 1st December at 21:00.
If you’re not already familiar with the YouTube channel, you could start by watching the previous fundraising walk from Belstone.
I wish Trev well in raising money for next year’s Himalayan trek (he’s already over halfway). If you’d like to, you can sponsor him here. A friend of mine did Everest Base Camp two years ago and I’m sure she had to raise a similar amount.
I also have my own YouTube channel: Walks with Olly