Hartland Tor is one that has a distinct appeal for those lucky few of us who work with young people on the moor. For most, it’s a fairly insignificant place; a small pile of rocks in a smallish font on the map, not quite on a bridlepath and only a couple of kilometres from the road. Not remote and challenging enough for a serious day walk, but too far from the road for many.
It lies in an attractive spot overlooking the East Dart River, which cuts through the valley below, and from here you can get a surprisingly wide field of view. From the top of the tor you can see right up the valley to Sittaford Tor and the Grey Wethers Stone Circles, and anyone travelling to Postbridge from that direction has to pass close by here and can be sighted most of the way. Its proximity to Postbridge, and the fact that many Ten Tors and Duke of Edinburgh groups have to pass on one side or the other of this valley, means that it’s a well-known spot for outdoor leaders who can often be found lurking here with a flask of coffee remotely supervising or checkpointing their teams. Why wait with the minibus at Postbridge when there’s such a fine spot so close? Why should the kids have all the fun?
The path up to Hartland Tor starts on the eastern side of East Dart at Postbridge, opposite the East Dart Hotel. Heading north you soon come to a rather squelchy field, take a leap of faith over the wet ditch that crosses it, and head through the gate in its far western corner. You’ll pass the ancient farm known as Hartyland, which was the birthplace of 19th century Dartmoor poet Jonas Coaker. The Victorian chronicler of Dartmoor, Rev Sadine Baring-Gould, described Coaker in his book Dartmoor Idylls:
Jonas was considered, and considered himself, to be a poet. Alas! some persons conceive themselves to be inspired with the divine spirit of poesy if they can make cow rhyme with bow-wow, and kitchen with pitching. Jonas, it must be admitted, was a sorry poet, really was no better than an indifferent rhymster. Of poetic fire, of imagination, he had none, but he could knock lines together that jingled like horse-bells, and these pleased the unexacting ears of the moorland men.
I know who I’d rather have had a pint with, though. Jonas was, by all accounts, quite a character and at one point was the landlord and chief raconteur at the nearby Warren House Inn. I wonder if the Coaker family who have run nearby Runnage Farm for generations are his descendants.
So tip your hat to Jonas as you climb the short hill behind Hartyland to Hartland Tor. Saturday was a good autumnal Dartmoor day: the hills were as many shades of russet as you could make on a palate, and although there wasn’t much wind at ground level the clouds and rainstorms scudded by at quite a rate. Bright sun and heavy showers meant that we saw quite a few rainbows, including an impressive triple as we ate our lunch.
The view from the top isn’t Dartmoor’s most dramatic but it’s a really pretty view of the East Dart Valley around Postbridge. We picked out Rippon Tor and Buckland Beacon on the skyline to the east, with Hameldown and Riddon Ridge closer as well as Bellever Tor peeping over the treeline. In between, river, farmland, open moor and forest all intersperse. It’s a better view than you’d get from the minibus in Postbridge car park.