Day 3’s 20.2 km route with 550 mtrs ascent and 620 mtrs descent. (Click for a larger version)
Day three of this walk proved to be a frustrating one in terms of trying to get to where I wanted to go. It seemed that my route was thwarted at every turn by relatively deep streams.
It might be that I have a very short memory, but today’s walk was by far the most difficult that I have ever had to do. What North Dartmoor lacks in high Mountains, it more than makes up for this in its tussocky terrain.
This type of terrain on the Northern Moors is extremely demanding. Every foot step requires considerable effort due to the bog and the large differentials of ground height caused by the tussocks. One’s forward progress is a mixture of awkward stumbling interspersed with the occasional fall.
Operating like this over many hours really takes it out of you. One never quite knows where one’s next footstep is going to go as the terrain is so rugged. Sometimes it plants well, other times you end up being rudely jarred by the foot disappearing into a particularly deep tussock hole. On other occasions one’s foot ends up on the side of a steep tussock which causes one to slip and sometimes fall.
In all a very tiring exercise that pushed my endurance to it’s limits. Even Cairngorms in Scotland don’t exhibit this kind of rough terrain!
Anyways, as usual I’ll let the photos take you on your virtual journey:
I awaken in the morning to some high winds. As a result I unzip the top portion of the outer door and do my cooking in the vestibule, where the stove flame is protected.
All my food is bagged. Normally I have two bags per day. This is the breakfast bag, but there is also a ‘day’ bag which has the food issue for the rest of the day. Having the food bagged like this makes food management very easy on a long journey. I also have a routine where the day bag is unpacked and the food placed in very specific locations on the rucksack. The hip belt pockets for the snacks or in the under-lid stowage for lunch items.
Breakfast is soon ready. It’s too cold and windy to eat in the vestibule, so I close the tent down and eat indoors.
Time to go! All the kit is taken out of the tent and the tent is then swept out. When it’s dry like this, the tent is normally the first item to be packed into the rucksack. This allows everything else to be packed in around it. Hence why my kit is out in the open!
All packed! Now it’s time to get ready for the stream crossing…
As with all my camp spots, I leave the area in pristine condition. You would never know that I had been here!
Across the West Dart to the East I can see Longaford Tor – can’t wait to visit it!
Boots are off around my neck and I’m ready to ford. But alas I find that the water current gushing down by the side of the Weir’s centre structure is way too strong and the underlying stone too slippery. I have great difficulty anchoring a hiking pole on the slippery surface. A tentative footstep results in the lead foot being forced from it’s position by the strong current. As a result I decide to abandon the crossing as I cannot risk getting wet from falling in
I probe a few other points on the stream with my hiking poles. The West Dart proves to be surprisingly deep. In the end I decide to abandon the crossing here and head North up to Devil’s Tor. The intent is to get to Rough Tor from there and make my crossing of the West Dart River at that location. I have forded at that location in the past, so I’m confident that I can do it again. Alas, Longaford Tor is going to have to wait for another walk
The first step to getting up to Devil’s Tor is to crest the ridge-line to the West. Once up top I can turn Northward toward the Tor.
The view toward Higher White Tor. I really loved the scenery in this area, but the downside is that there are a lot of walls here which can making planning a little difficult.
As I climb up into the ridgeline I take a look behind me toward Longaford Tor and my camp spot for the night.
Nearly at the top of the ridgeline. In the far distance I can see an Army Firing Range marker marking the boundary of the Merrivale Firing range. I did my checks before coming out, live firing will only occur in the Okehampton Ranges the following day, so I have no concerns in this regard.
The ground is extremely boggy. With my boots it means my feet are soaking wet, but you do kind of get used to it! 🙂
I’m now up on the ridge and have swung Northward toward this walled boundary. The terrain has gotten extremely tussocky – this in combination with the bog makes every foot step a difficult one. You really need to try hiking in this type of terrain with a 15kg load to fully appreciate how difficult the going is.
I’m now at the wall and take a moment to look Southward toward the TV station at North Hessary Tor that I had visited the day before. It now looks a long way off!
Luckily for me there is a ladder to get over the wall – at least it saves some climbing 🙂
Once across I get my first glimpse of Rough Tor in the far distance on the right of this picture. I’m not going to head directly toward it as that would mean an additional stream crossing and more hill climbing. Instead I decide to contour around to it via Devil’s Tor to the North.
Devil’s Tor is directly ahead! The winds are quite high up here and I’m finding that I’m having to walk directly into it. This adds further difficulty to forward progress.
A look back behind me toward Longaford Tor. It’s only around 2km away, but it looks a long way off!
There’s Devil’s Tor! I decide to stop off there to snack out and have a hot drink from the flask. The ridgeline of the Tor is perfectly placed to protect me from the strong Northerly wind.
The view from Devil’s Tor toward Great Mis Tor – this was the original planned camp spot for the previous day, but I had additional time in hand which meant I could head further East.
I’m now on route to Rough Tor. The terrain here is some of the worse I have had to walk through so far. Not only are the tussocks knee deep, but there are occasional holes in the ground to catch out the unweary….
It’s starting to hail a little here, but to the South the sun still shines…
On the way to Rough Tor I do end up with one of my legs exploring one of the said holes in the terrain. This resulted in a fall to the ground as it was very unexpected. Even on the final approach to the Tor there is no let up!
The view toward the Fernworthy Forest from the top of Rough Tor. My original plan was to head that way as I wanted to visit Sittaford Tor and revisit Teignhead Farm which had formed part of the route of my first ever walk on Dartmoor!
Whilst looking around the Tor I spot this fork! I’m guessing the Army left this behind.
The Army hut on Rough Tor.
To the East across the valley is the wall boundary marking my fording point of the West Dart. I have forded this stream on a previous walk, so this was all familiar terrain.
To the South I can see a few Dartmoor Ponies doing their thing in the wilds!
There’s the potential crossing point of the River Dart. As can be seen the whole area is very boggy around here. I probe the water with my hiking poles – it is much deeper than when I crossed it in May 2013. I decide to follow it Northwards and to continually probe it to find a spot that was shallow enough for a crossing.
My hiking poles indicate that this spot is perfect. Here the water only comes up to knee level. Once again the hiking poles have really proved their worth on this walk!
After fording the West Dart it’s a case of climbing the 539 mtr hill by this wall. Once I make it to the top the intent is to head for Sandy Hole Pass and try to effect a crossing of the East Dart River.
The climb is quite arduous. The tussocky nature of the terrain in North Dartmoor really makes itself felt.
I soon get to the top and decide to snack out for a few minutes. Here I’m enjoying the view Westward back toward rough Tor.
Back on with the walk. I’m now headed North East on a compass bearing that should take me to Sandy Hole Pass and the East Dart River.
I get occasional sightings of the Fernworthy Forest which is a further indication that I’m headed the right way.
Although the terrain on the North Moors is very demanding I just love the feeling of being in a wilderness. To get anything like this feeling elsewhere one has to travel to Scotland!
Up ahead I can see the rocks and valley of Sandy Hole Pass. Just a case of heading straight there!
The East Dart! From the views of it so far, it’s looking like a ford here will be out of the question too. I guess it is possible to ford it if one is willing to take off everything below the waist, but I wasn’t prepared to do that!
After probing the water with my hiking poles, it does indeed prove to be too deep to ford with trousers on I consult the map and decide to head Northward and make my crossing just North of the East Dart Head. However, by doing so, my plans to visit Sittaford Tor and Teignhead Farm are off.
I’m now on the grassy verge of Sandy Hole Pass. It seems weird, but I’m really enjoying the view of the rocks. I’m guessing its the fact that they give me a break from viewing grassland as far as the eye can see!
I’m not sure why it’s called Sandy Hole Pass, but it does provide a convenient route Northward!
As I head Northward I keep an eye on the East Dart to see if there are any obvious crossing points, but nothing seems to present itself.
I climb out of the Pass and decide to head Northwest up onto Cut Hill and then from there to Black Hill. This route should limit the number of stream crossings I’m going to have to do.
There is Cut Hill directly ahead. The terrain here looks smoother but it’s an illusion, it’s still full of boggy knee jarring tussocks!
I have now made it to within 500 mtrs of Cut Hill Water which crosses directly in front of me. In the event it presents no problems to cross!
The final climb up Cut Hill is now on!
Once again the grass tussocks make forward progress extremely difficult. It’s a combination of their their large variations in height and the fact that one cannot always predict how deep a foot placement is going to be. This makes the walk very jarring with the occasional trip up.
As I get toward the top I start picking up boundary markers that separate the Merrivale Firing Range from the Okehampton Firing Range. A trail of sorts also puts in an appearance too. Although the trail is very boggy, it is a lot flatter than the surrounding tussocks so I follow it.
A look back toward Sandy Hole Pass some 2 km in the distance.
As I head further upward, the terrain takes on a the character of a Peat Bog. I’m very near the North West Passage here I’m guessing this mini-cairn marks the passage?
Woot! There’s the top! It’s more boggy up here, but also a lot smoother. The only real downside is that I’m now taking the full force of the Northerly winds.
Down to the Northwest I can see Fur Tor – a Tor I had visited on a previous walk. I had toyed with the idea of visiting it, but to do so would mean more stream crossings, so I stick to the plan.
All of the Peat Bogs I have been to on Dartmoor have these cut outs in the terrain. I don’t know if they are man-made or naturally formed, but they make excellent wind breaks, so I sit in the lea of one to snack out in relative shelter.
It’s now out with the compass to confirm that the hill ahead is Black Hill. The plan is to head there, then head directly to Hangingstone Hill. I know from a previous visit that this route will avoid stream crossings and also provide me with a track once I descend down from Hangingstone Hill. As fun as cross country walking is, I was really looking forward to walking on some relatively flat terrain!
This is the view toward Fur Tor and Great Links Tor in the far distance as I head Northward toward Black Hill.
The winds, occasional hail and terrain make the walk to Black Hill quite a tiring one. I don’t think I have ever felt so close to my endurance limits. North Dartmoor’s terrain really takes it out of you!
On the way to Black Hill I come across this stone marker…
This stone is not marked on my map, so I don’t have a clue what it is. I’m guessing it’s very old though…
Nearly at the top of Black Hill!
Once at the top I orientate myself toward Hangingstone Hill. I know that I’m going to have to be careful as the map indicates that the surrounding area is one big mire. For the map to specifically show this for Dartmoor which is essentially boggy throughout invites some caution.
When a Dartmoor map shows marshy areas like this one, it’s time to take notice! It seems that many of Dartmoor’s streams and rivers emanate from this area…
I initially decide to take the direct route to Hangingstone Hill as the terrain doesn’t look too bad from here.
At this point I have run into a potential problem. There is a lot of ground water here, plus the entire ground bounces in a rather unnerving fashion like it is floating on a a deep bog. I wonder what would happen if a foot placement were to go through this upper bouncy layer? I decide it is too dangerous to carry on heading in this direction…
I swing Northward toward the higher ground in the hope that it will extricate me from this rather dodgy terrain!
The ground soon firms up again. This is the view back to the marshy area. If you look carefully you can see the subtle change in vegetation. All of the ‘greener’ looking area is the marsh. I must remember to avoid such areas in the future.
It’s now a slog up to Hanginstone Hill. I can’t wait to get there as it will provide me with a respite from the boggy and difficult terrain that I had been encountering all day.
The whole area is criss crossed with little streamlets like this one, so one has to watch one’s foot placement. On the plus side, I have plenty of water on tap!
Woot!!!! The top of Hangingstone Hill – I don’t think I have ever been so glad to see a hill! It’s my ticket to a well made track – the first track of the day!
The Army flag pole marking the top of Hangingstone Hill.
Normally I don’t like these Army shelters as they spoil the view, but this one enabled me to take a respite from the gusting winds. It felt like my own slice of heaven!
I’m now on the track heading Northwards down off Hangingstone Hill. Not having to walk on boggy tussocky terrain is such a relief! The plan now is to contour around Steeperton Tor to get to the Taw Marsh. I have viewed the Marsh in the past from the hills on either side and it had always looked interesting, so for this walk, I thought I’d take a look!
Navigation wise it’s now quite simple. Just follow the track until I get to the crossing of the River Taw. There is one turning that I will need to be wary off, but once there I just need to hang a right!
Walking on a track is just pure bliss after a day in amongst North Dartmoor’s Tussocks!
Here is the turn off. It’s one of those weird turns where on the map you need to carry on straight ahead, but on the ground it looks like ‘straight ahead’ is to follow the main track as it veers left. Luckily my experience tells me to hang the right here!
Up ahead I can see the drop down which should take me to the crossing of the River Taw….
There is the crossing. This is my signal to hang a right cross country and contour both the stream and Steeperton Tor Northward.
The route Northward. There is now a tangible sense that I’m ‘nearly there’ 🙂
I note that there are many good camp spots on the way down this valley. Flat sheltered ground that is out of the way and by a stream – perfect!
I soon pick up the wall on the left side of the stream that indicates that I’m officially in the Steeperton Gorge.
The gorge starts to open up. I will soon be in the Taw marshes!
The terrain makes forward progress difficult. As a result I decide to climb up and contour around from a higher elevation. This should also give me a better view of Taw Marsh so that I can pick out a route more easily. The terrain here has one hidden got you though… It’s laced with copious amounts of thistles which makes for an prickly experience!
I’m now on the Northern face of Steeperton Tor. I need to keep heading Northward until I intercept a small stream. It’s then a case of crossing that then hand railing the River Taw Northward until I reached its main fording point.
The terrain soon flattens out with very easy going. Around me I can see what looks like the ruins of an old settlement.
Again I run into great terrain for a camp spot. I toy with the idea of camping here, but decide to press on instead.
Here’s the stream! I now have to effect another crossing. Once again the hiking poles proved invaluable to locate the shallow points!
I have now forded across the stream. Whilst towelling off I take the opportunity to enjoy the view, snack out and ring out my soaking socks!
There appears to be some kind of track. From the look of it, many horses have been through here. This part of the walk is dry, flat and very chilled out. The only concern now is the amount of daylight I have left.
Up ahead I can see and hear farmers rounding up their cows which they eventually herd off the moors to the North. But as I proceed North I spot a cow and her calf. I kind of feel sorry for them as it looks like the farmers had missed these two as they were so far out.
By this stage I had been heading Northward for quite a bit with no sign of the track I should be on, or the ford. So as a result, I head cross country directly to the River to see if there is another way across. It turns out to be way too deep. I decide to look at my GPS to check whether I have overshot the fording point. When I unclip it I’m surprised and alarmed to find it’s off! I initially think that I might not have turned it on today and as a result have no track data of the walk However, on turning it on it becomes apparent that it had turned off on my last fording point. I can only guess that the rough handling of the rucksack must have triggered it’s off button.
Here one can see where the GPS was off. I really had thought that I had forgotten to turn it on in the morning and resigned myself to having the first ever unrecorded walk. I wasn’t too happy about this as I wanted to see how effective my map and compass navigation had been across the Northern Moors. Luckily, in the event it had only turned out to be off since the last ford, which was a kilometre and a half away.
After getting my position on the GPS I’m surprised to discover that the track I was looking for was remarkably close and that the fording point was nearby too! This is the view back to the South as I take note of the descending sun…
Here is the fording point Wooot!!!! Just got to cross it then I can make camp!
It was probably one of my most embarrassing fords ever! Good job there was no one around. I had done my usual and had the boots slung around my neck, trousers rolled up and hiking poles at the ready. However when I entered the stream the water barely rose over my foot! Lol – at least no one was looking 🙂 This is the spot I picked for tonight’s camp.
I start to fill up my bottles from the Water-To-Go bottle, but I’m so fatigued that in a first, I don’t bother to use the filtered bottle and instead just fill up my bottles directly. I figure that this water will be boiled anyways so there shouldn’t be a problem. I’m amazed at how fatigue can sometimes affect one’s decision making processes…
I eventually get the tent up and prepare myself for a well earned rest after what has to be one of my hardest days of hiking – ever!
A rather tired me waiting for the water to boil!
It’s already starting to get dark, so it looks like I made camp just in the nick of time.
As is usual on all my trips – the last day’s supper is always the chicken curry! Yup, I’m a sucker for tradition! After supper I go straight to bed!
The final camp spot right by the main fording point near Higher Tor.
The evening was a very cold one. It was also one where I got woken up by the sound of various people talking and the light of various torches. It sounded like they were making camp here too.
I was too warm in my sleeping bag to want to go out and greet them. Plus I suspect that I might have ended up startling them. It would be interesting to see who they were the following morning. Especially as this was a cold night in December – I wasn’t expecting to see anyone on this trip!
That’s it for Day 3’s walk. Tune in next week for the last day!