Just before lockdown began in March, our eldest son went on his first school residential. He only spent one night away but for him it was a massive adventure. His class went down to the Dewerstone and stayed in the cottage doing all kinds of cool outdoor activities. He loved every minute. Apart from losing his welly in a puddle, his highlight was the ‘Weasel Walk’ that they did, climbing over boulders, squeezing through cracks and getting gloriously muddy like all kids should from time to time. He came back exhausted and exhilarated, and was wanted to take us there ever since.
I’m not a complete stranger to the Dewerstone myself, though I’ve always gravitated more towards the open moor than the wooded valleys. Back in the day, when I was a little stronger and fitter and perhaps a tad lighter, I spent a few days climbing there with college. In fact, I did my only multi-pitch lead climb there. I don’t remember much about it, other than the grade was VDiff and it felt bloody high going up the second pitch. Ultimately, I realised that I’m not particularly good with heights, and after a few years of mainly top-roping I decided to keep my feet on the ground. I do remember my climbing days with a lot of fondness though, and the climbs at the Dewerstone – though not the hardest routes I climbed – saw me at the peak of my powers.
The weather at the weekend was pretty awful, with lots of heavy rain in the days leading up to it, but Saturday afternoon promised to be clear. We’ve been enjoying the last throes of autumn and, for once, eldest son piped up about the Dewerstone while we were planning rather than after we’d got home as he usually does. Better to be in the woods than on the open moor if the forecast turned out to be wrong, so we headed for Shaugh Prior.
The last of the rain passed as we drove over, and by the time we arrived the sun had started to come out. Few others had gambled on the weather and the car park was quiet. The river was not. We crossed the bridge over the Plym and the waters roared down the valley below us. This was not a sparkling river leaping down from the hills, but a fearsome torrent sweeping mud, debris and rocks before it. We held the boys’ hands tightly and scurried quickly across. We had actually arrived just as the river reached its highest point:
The Dewerstone takes its name from the legendary Wisht hunter Dewer, who would hunt down people out on the moor at night with his pack of fell hounds. Dewer is another name for the Devil; according to various tales he would either drive people off the 50 metre high Devils Rock with his hounds or trick them into losing their footing on the highest precipices. There has also been some work connecting the name with the Norse god Tiw (who gave us Tuesday), which is an interesting and plausible twist on the possible origins of its name.
We were there on Halloween, though that was as sinister as it got for us. The woods at Dewerstone are, classically for Dartmoor, steep-sided and grow through and around great tumbled rocks, which are themselves half-swallowed by moss. With the sun to the south we climbed up the wooded valley, leaving the river behind. Its roar would follow us until we reached the highest parts of the tor. There is a good path up to the east that leads towards the buttresses that overlook the Plym; it climbs steeply but briefly before turning north towards Dewerstone Cottage. We left the path to explore some of the smaller collections of rocks and to get to the small tor at the top of the hill. This proved hard going at times and you need to find your own route at times, but we had some good ‘Weasel Walk’ tips from eldest! Eventually we came out of the woods to the tor, where the air was fresh and clear and we could enjoy the sun on our faces while we enjoyed a coffee and a snack.
The views all around are amazing, and it’s no surprise to find that the site was occupied during the Iron Age when there was a hill fort here. Any ditches have been long infilled, but there is still good evidence of the remains of the banks that would have once protected the northern approach.
We headed on a path roughly north to come back into the woods and descended the hill to an old track that led us to a small disused quarry. From there we were able to follow a stream downhill to Dewerstone Cottage and the Climbers Hut, which brought great excitement from eldest son who went into another round of telling us all about when his welly got stuck in the puddle. Having worked a bit in outdoor ed, it’s great when you know you’ve really had an impact on someone, so huge respect to the instructors from Spirit of Adventure who now run the cottage and are clearly doing a fine job!
From the cottage, eldest son was insistent that the downhill path would lead us back to the car park. We decided to trust our instincts rather than an eight-year-old’s memory, and so took the longer uphill path back to the car park rather than the downhill short-cut he correctly recommended. Still, it gave us more time to enjoy the woods. By now, the light was getting lower and we were heading towards the Golden Hour. The woods were stunning, an astonishingly beautiful time to visit, and we took our time on the way back.
If you’re planning to visit the Dewerstone, take a look at the National Trust walking route which takes in most of the route I’ve described. To get to the buttresses or to the top of the tor, you’ll need to split from the main route.