I always have mixed feelings about the clocks going back. I love the hope and optimism that spring seems to bring, summer is for camping and being outdoors, and I love the residual warmth and colours of early autumn. The clocks going back represents the end of most of those things and a desire to hunker down and wait for light and life to come back to the world. It also means late sunrises and afternoon sunsets, though, and the combination of the golden hours and autumnal colours always reinvigorates me.
We marked the going back of the clocks with, as should be mandatory, a solid lie-in and a stroll on the moors. Our eldest son had been looking at our Dartmoor Scratch Map and had attached himself to the name of Honeybag Tor. This was a really interesting one. It overlooks the Widecombe valley and it’s a familiar feature in the landscape but it’s surrounded by fields in all directions but the south. This means its not a tor you can go to while passing on your way to somewhere else, and I couldn’t recall ever having been there before.
We pulled up at the Bonehill car park on a classic autumn day. There were dark clouds brooding all around and the wind felt as dramatic as the colours of the leaves in the valley below. My wife was cold before we even left the car. Bonehill Rocks is a great little bouldering venue, with loads of short climbs of around 2-10m, and as we passed one of the routes I shoved my hands into a crack, leaned back and smeared my feet on the rock to demonstrate to the boys how to fall off a rock with a beer belly. A couple of actual climbers on the next route along smiled at my effort: I told them ‘I’d have had that twenty years ago’.
The path from Bonehill drops down briefly to the Widecombe road then climbs the other side into a landscape of shattered rocks slowly making their way down the hillside. These granite peaks have been broken over aeons by water getting into cracks and freezing; freezing water of course expands and as time passes the cracks open up and the rocks break apart. The results here are spectacular. The first tor you pass, Bell Tor, is really just a large cluster of boulders slowly descending into the valley below.
The path continues to rise to Chinkwell Tor behind. This is one of those walks where you regularly think you’ve arrived at the top, only to find that there is another summit just behind. As we climbed, so the wind strengthened. By the time we got to Chinkwell Tor, you could barely stand up on the top of the ridge, but a metre or two below on the east you could, barely feel it. The views from the top really start to open up. The East Webburn river carves through the valley to the west, creating steep-sided slopes that drop away spectacularly. By now, the sun was getting low in the sky, and I utterly failed to capture the majesty of the scene with my camera. Sometimes your eyes create the best record. While we were there, we found the Chinkwell Tor Fleur de Lys letterbox, which the boys were tremendously excited about until they realised it was just a stamp in a box. We really need to do letterboxing properly sometime…
Between Chinkwell Tor and Honeybag a feature is marked on the map as Slades Well. Of course we checked this out as we were passing; it must be named for some historical reason, but to our inexpert eyes it seemed to be just a rather deep hole in a wet gully. I’d love to know more about it.
From Slades Well it’s a short and easy climb to the top. We took a few photos and managed to find a spot broadly out of the wind but also in the sun. Down in the valley below, the shadows were lengthening in the late afternoon light. Trees around the field margins cast their shadows towards us, and the tower of Widecombe church stood out clearly. To the north, we could see the woods in all the spectacular colours of autumn around Natsworthy, Easdon Hill further behind, and I even fancied I could spot Castle Drogo in the distance. I wonder how the upper Teign is at this time of year?