The last walk of 2021 was a short walk with two friends and their dogs up to Bellever Tor to see the views, a impeccable plan if it weren’t for the fact that it was so foggy on the day that we couldn’t even see the bottom of the tor from the top. Still, we had a good walk and a good chat and at one point the conversation came round to an old chestnut: what’s your favourite place on the moor?
Of course, it comes down to context. For a short walk with friends or family, it’s hard to beat Hameldown. Sunrise? Got to be Rippon Tor. Sunset? Leather Tor or Sheepstor, with Burrator reflecting the sky in its waters. And we all love the ancient woods at Wistmans Wood, the castle crag of Great Mis Tor and the sheer majesty of Great Links Tor on a sunny afternoon. A favourite is hard, nay impossible, to pick without knowing the time of year, who I’m with and even what mood I’m in.
I use a similar argument when people ask what my favourite beer is. Maybe I’m just indecisive.
But I do tend to gravitate towards the wilder, more remote places. As much as I enjoy a short walk and a pint, I crave solitude and quiet and that sense of being as far away from it all as it’s possible to be. You need a little skill and knowledge to navigate the mires and peat passes of the north moor, and perhaps only a certain type of person enjoys great boggy trudges through a featureless and foggy wilderness. The boys aren’t quite big enough to get to Fur Tor or Hangingstone Hill yet, but we get out in all conditions and with every challenge they get a little hardier.
So for our first family walk of 2022 we headed to one of the gateway tors to the high moor, Sittaford Tor. We started at Fernworthy Reservoir and took the old Teignhead Road through the forest towards the open moor. Fernworthy is perhaps the best of the ‘new’ coniferous Dartmoor forests; certainly the most extensive and with numerous easily-accessible archaeological sites. We stopped for a look at Fernworthy Circle before taking a turn off the main route and coming on to the open moor just to the west of Tom’s Hill.
Towards the top of the hill, we started to climb into some low cloud, which gave the forest a spooky, ethereal atmosphere. There was little birdsong and the colours were dominated by a rich velvety green, with shades of black and white and grey interspersed. It was still, eerie and quite beautiful.
As we approached the open moor, the atmosphere changed. The temperature dropped about five degrees without the tree cover, the wind started up and the cloud briefly turned to a fine mizzle before blowing over. At the gate to the moor, Sittaford Tor appeared out the the mist in the distance, and after a quick stop for a snack we were striding together across the moor.
After a few hundred metres we arrived at our first stop, the twin stone circles of Grey Wethers. These are the highest stone circles on the moor and have been constructed to almost identical diameters. They were built in the Bronze Age, probably with slabs from Sittaford Tor, and are still the most impressive feature in an area rich with ancient remains. By about 1850 most of them had fallen down, and Victorian archaeologists surveyed then re-erected them (though apparently not as well as the original builders did, as many of the stones have packing stones at their bases to keep them in place!) It’s impossible to walk past without taking a moment to wonder why they were put in those positions and what the circles were used for. We will probably never know.
From Grey Wethers it’s a short walk uphill to Sittaford Tor. The wind predictably strengthened as we climbed and by the summit it was pretty chilly. It’s perhaps not the most photogenic tor in and of itself, but the views are fantastic. Bellever Tor and Buckland Beacon to the south and Cosden Hill to the north were easy to pick out. We took a few quick photos, rushed down some snacks and hot chocolate in the lee, and headed down towards Teignhead Farm. A couple of kilometres to the west is the source of the river Teign – the East Dart rises not much further on – and on the way down we crossed a small ford over one of its tributaries.
Teignhead Farm is on the opposite side of the North Teign from the forest, and you get a really good view of it from the forest gate. Back in the day, when I was training for my ML, I passed through here many times for navigation practice and even wild camped in the ruins a couple of times (even though you’re not really supposed to – check the map before going). It’s quite a nice gateway to places like Hangingstone Hill and Watern Tor and it’s such a nice spot it really is irresistible to wild campers.
Perhaps another time. For us, the day was getting close to an end; the sky was getting ever gloomier, small feet were getting sore and I’d run out of Jaffa Cakes. One final rise and we were nearly finished, with just the long slow descent to the reservoir and car park to go.
I still don’t know what my favourite place in the moor is, but this area is definitely on the list.