I can’t overstate just how much we have missed Dartmoor during the last lockdown. For most of 2020, we were still allowed to go to Dartmoor for our exercise and just being able to do that had such a positive effect on our collective mental state. It allowed us to break out of home and go on some adventures and when travel distances became restricted in January it was like being under house arrest. Sure, we took some strolls down to the coast path and around town, but it wasn’t the same. The first thing we all want to do when the ‘stay local’ advice was loosened was to go back on the moors.
We went to Swincombe on Saturday but it wasn’t enough. Metaphorically we’ve been stumbling around on a Thursday morning, bleary eyed and unshaven, trying to get enough of a caffeine hit to start functioning fully again. So after a quiet Easter Sunday we were back in the car again and off back to Dartmoor for another family hike in the hope that’s we’d have enough Dartmoor back in our systems to feel fully human once more.
The weather had changed a little since Saturday. The skies were still mostly clear but the temperature had dropped a bit and the wind had swung round to the north. This had little noticeable impact on the coast but on higher ground it’s always another matter, and as we pulled in at Batsworthy the wind was suddenly biting. Our plan was to go up Kestor – another scratch off our Dartmoor Scratch Map – then explore some of the stone rows nearby, but it became clear after about five seconds that this wasn’t a day to be lingering around on the top with a six year old. We quickly revised our route and chose to head north to Gidleigh, completing a wide sheltered loop and only popping out on the top at the very end. This also meant that the wind would be at our back for most of the day. Sorted.
The first section was to drop down to the North Teign river crossing in Gidleigh Woods. Sadly, the south side of the valley has been stripped of trees almost completely over the last few years. There are probably sound economic reasons for this and I profess to know little about forest management. There were some moves in the area a few years ago to plant more native trees in the area, so hopefully in a decade or two we might see this side of the valley reforested again.
We crossed the North Teign via a footbridge and followed the river east until it started to drop away from us in some spectacular but hard-to-photograph rapids, before the path rose up the hill around Gidleigh Tor. The forest here is non-native conifers but its’ amazingly atmospheric, and around the top of the hill large mossy boulders make up a widely scattered tor. I often find little interest in woods like these but Gidleigh Woods is the exception. The trees are dense and quickly hide both sight and sound of the river below, and we even spotted a nuthatch running across the bark looking for grubs.
Soon we were back at the minor road near Gidleigh and climbing gently up to Berrydown and North Creaber. The road ends at a small car park, and we carried on up onto the open moor via the drovers lane at the top. The wind suddenly came at us; it wasn’t strong, but it was super cold and all of a sudden we realised how hungry we were. We climbed Scorhill and hurried down over the other side, pausing briefly to admire Scorhill Stone Circle before hurrying on for respite from the wind.
Before long we were huddled as best we could near the bridge over the North Teign River. It’s a pretty barren and flat landscape and there aren’t any places to shelter this far up. A few hundred metres further down there’s a steeper valley and some rocks, including the famous dolmen stone, but there were also quite a few people there and we decided to keep our distance.
The boys started to get cold as quickly as you’d expect, so we fleeced them up, plied them with Easter eggs and hot chocolate and got moving again. We climbed the hill behind us and were quickly in the shelter of the conifers that grow around the top of Batsworthy. It was interesting to see that the first row of trees absorbed all the impact of the wind: they swayed and shook but the trees behind them barely moved. We barely felt a breeze, expect at a couple of spots where the trees had fallen and the wind blew through. It was a sign of what was to come.
We came to the corner of the woods and took a brief diversion to check out a couple of stone rows to the south, then swung east once more for Kestor. This is a great lump of rock that is really distinctive in the landscape for its trapezoid shape and commands amazing views in pretty much all directions. It also has a short but challenging face with a couple of interesting climbs on it. We approached from the leeward side and climbed up onto the top into a strong, cold and exhilarating wind. I felt and amazing sense of exultation faced with the landscape in front of me and the extreme sensory assault of the wind threatening to freeze me to the rock. It was an astonishing few moments.
One of my favourite features of Kes Tor is the rock basins, or ‘pans’, that form in many of the rock surfaces. These are circular hollows formed initially by the freeze-thaw action of water exploiting weaknesses in the rock; once a depression is formed, more water can collect in the impermeable bowl and small pieces of stone can be blown around in it to increase its size further. there are several dotted all over Kestor, the largest being perhaps 50cm wide and almost as deep.
We didn’t linger long. It was, at last, much too cold for us to be out and we quickly made our way down the hill back to the car. At last, our thirst for Dartmoor is sated. We have fresh air and wildness running through our veins once more, and perhaps all we need now is to be able to have a quick pint at the end of our walk. Maybe in a couple of weeks’ time…