Dartmoor Beyond Sensible? - Training Walk 1

April 07, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

1st April 2022

Planned route:              

Watchet Hill

Hangingstone Hill

Whitehorse Hill

Black Hill

Cut Hill

 

Actual Leg duration time        7 hours 52 minutes

Actual Distance travelled       25 km

Average walking speed          3.2 km per hour

Max walking speed                 6.4 km per hour

 

This was the first descent walk I have completed for a while now and I still appear to be suffering some hang over ailments from my last challenge. It seems a joint isn’t happy unless it is aching these days!

Neither did I make the earliest of starts having driven to Belstone as my starting point. Warmed by the cars heating for just over an hour, getting out of the car on arrival was just a little delayed as I prepared for a sudden drop in temperature on the outside. A forecast of around just four or five degrees with a `feels like` figure of less than zero.

 

My minimum target, based on an assumption my aches and pains may force me to turn back prematurely is Whitehorse Hill.

Well, I had to get out some time and couldn’t afford to wait any longer. Layered up with two base layers, a polo neck top, a fleece and a waterproof coat, plus long johns under my trousers and a pair of fingerless gloves, I was determined to stay warm. Oh, plus a new beanie hat that has proved to be really warm, a bargain at £2 spotted in a charity shop as I peered into the shop through the window. Yep, still taking Covid precautions!

 

The route was to take in some tracks and areas I haven’t investigated before but also some of the tors I visited during my `Biggest Dartmoor Challenge Ever`. Visiting these again stirred the emotions as I passed and recalled the events of the challenge at each of the tors.

 

Let’s get started.

From the Belstone car park it is an easy walk through the village, keeping right, passed the chapel to the gate leading onto the access moor. Rather than turning left over Belstone tor I followed the track ahead which took me Scary tor. The track started grassy but soon turned into a stony metalled track, the sort I’m not particularly fond of. However, once over the initial slope it was downhill and easy walking.

The sun was shining with blue skies and bubbling white cloud and despite a cold stiff breeze behind me it felt very comfortable.

 

Now here is the `boundary` I need to set looking ahead of the challenge. Challenge, ah yes, I need to explain. My next challenge is shaping up to be, visit every hill on the OS OL28 map. This will compliment having completed all the tors from my last trip.

On the OS map it is not always entirely clear where the hill is and what area it covers. This makes defining success a little tricky. So, my definition of success is, I need to walk up, down or across part of the hill marked on the OS map.

Watchet hill will be claimed by walking to the flag pole and back to the track. So, while I walked around the base today it was sufficient to gather the info I need to continue.

Before reaching Cullever Steps I stayed with the track to the left. It remained stony but provides a clear track to follow all the way to Oke tor. Up to this point the track has provided some welcome relief from the wind and in the sun made it a very pleasant walk. Even time for a few phone snaps as the sun popped out between the rolling clouds.

 

My next target point was Knack Mine and the ford across the river. From Oke tor the track remains easy to follow all the way to the ford. This section of the river always seems to stay at the same level regardless of the weather so the well placed stones provide easy passage across to the other side. In the shadow of Steeperton Gorge and sheltered from the wind the sun was definitely taking the chill of the temperature and questioning if five layers were becoming too warm.

This was almost as far as I had travelled along this track so I was interested to see if the track marked on the map did indeed take me all the way to Hangingstone Hill. The answer is, yes it does. It is however quite a long stretch of track and as it stands, luckily, I will be walking down the hill during the challenge.

Topped with a military hut and a cairn it provides impressive 180 degree views of the area. It also provides a clear indication of how challenging the surrounding area is. With no or little `markers`, walking further takes you deep into the open moor.

My next marker is Whitehorse Hill, which is separated by a flat plateau piece of moor approximately one kilometre further on. The question is, can I walk a straight line to it.

 

I’ve heard several accounts of the terrain beyond Hangingstone Hill, most of which suggest the area is covered in deep bog areas and any crossing should be taken with extreme caution if at all.

But hey, a planning trip is not a planning trip unless you investigate it for yourself is it. As in all cases with little to spot and head for I set the compass for a straight line to simulate being in the fog. It didn’t take long to realise that even during this current very dry spell the area was living up to the accounts I have read.

Large sprawling boggy areas filled with water and partially covered in vegetation and dead grass. A matrix of large pools of water/bog interspersed with tufts of ground/grass enabling a nimble person to jump between them. At best, even today, this was going to be a very time consuming exercise. In poor weather this would be near impossible to navigate. In fog it would be suicide. Looking behind me it wasn’t even clear which route in I had taken, slightly concerning.

Fortunately, the warning signs had appeared before I had travelled too far in so the right decision was to back out and look for an alternative route to Whitehorse Hill. I guess it could be done but not by me, I just don’t have the patience to tip toe across an area of patch work guessing and hoping I’ll land on solid ground with each step I take.

 

 

The map does indicate a dotted line representing a track taking a wide semi circular diversion around the worst of the boggy plateau placing you on the start of a small `peat pass`. This proved to be an easy track to walk but question how visible it may be later in the year when the grass has re-established itself.

The peat pass did surprise me. A clear track cut into the banks of peat and laid with stones and granite. An unmistakable track albeit a short one. It has been clearly cut out allowing people to reconnect with a straight line bearing to drop down the other side onto Whitehorse Hill. I assume it was also used in the time when peat was being farmed from the moor.

There are a couple of memorial stones marked on the map which I should have `bagged` while I was there. Not entirely sure why I didn’t. Possibly as I was contemplating my next move.

The weather was still incredibly good with clear visibility for miles and having just come over the top of the hill my next target should be Black Hill with my final destination of Cut Hill. I now needed to calculate time left in the day. Cut Hill was just too far away to reach and return.

It wasn’t critical to reach them today so looking around I decided to investigate what looked like two military huts dead ahead. Another relatively clear track provided easy walking landing me on Quintin’s Man Cairn. Another spot I haven’t visited but had on my list at some point.

A good spot for lunch out of the wind and sheltered between the two huts. With the sun still shining bright and visibility very clear there was plenty of open moor to enjoy in all directions. Packing up the remains of lunch and gazing across to Cut Hill I was very tempted to head off across the open terrain to bag and check out a couple more hills. Time was getting the better of me though so made the sensible decision to retrace my steps back to the car.

 

 

On a very dry, sunny day this is an easy walk for most in my view, with the exception of maybe not trying to take a straight line across the top of Hangingstone Hill!

 

My average speed isn’t huge so a comfortable eight hours walking (aches and pains aside!)

 


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