I didn’t manage to go backpacking on Dartmoor last year. So I thought I’d put that right with the first trip of this year. The biggest issue with walking any distance on Dartmoor is coordinating it with the Army firing schedules on the North Moor. I spotted that the week before Easter, there was no firing scheduled, so a plan was hatched for a four day walk from Belstone to Two Bridges and back.
I invited Alan Sloman along for a bit of company, so on the Tuesday before Good Friday, we rolled into Belstone.
One for Alan Rayner!
The path to Taw Marsh
We spotted a group of around ten walkers near the ford across the River Taw. I was slightly concerned about how deep the ford might be, but it was quite low. However, I did put some gaiters on just in case.
Camp by Small Brook
There are lots of places to camp at Taw Marsh. There are some good spots by the ford, but we decided to explore a bit further. We walked a little way up Small Brook and found an excellent spot on the bluff.
Looking to Steeperton Tor
It was a pretty cold night and we woke up to frost. The sky was clear, so hopes were for a good day. However, the clouds soon started to build and the sun disappeared. We enjoyed a fairly leisurely start as we only about 15km to cover.
Walking up Small Brook
Great Hound Tor
At Great Hound Tor we sat down to enjoy the views. As we lightened our packs by eating some of the contents of excessively large food bags, the weather began to brighten. Next stop was the impressive rocks on Wild Tor
By now, there were some decent patches of blue sky. From Wild Tor we headed to Hangingstone Tor. Although Hangingstone Hill has possibly the ugliest Army observation post in Dartmoor, the views are wonderful.
View north from Hangingstone Hill
Alan wanted lunch on Whitehorse Hill, but there’s no shelter, so I persuaded him that Quintin’s Man was a better spot. Having been this way before, we avoided the boggy peat channels by staying to the eastern side of the hill. We passed the peat pass and gained the path to Quintin’s Man, where we had lunch in the lee of the stone shelter.
After lunch we followed the path and wall to Sittaford Tor. This is a pretty easy stroll. So far we had been surprised at how dry it had been underfoot. Even the streams in Little Varracombe were easy to cross.
Little Varracombe from Sittaford Tor
Although the cloud seemed to be building again, we still had extensive views from Sittaford Tor. From there we headed north-east to Teignhead Farm. Along the way we bumped into another walker racing down from the tor who asked us if we had seen a walking pole that he had lost at the top. Unfortunately not.
After crossing the river, we dropped our packs and headed to the ruined farm for a look around. It’s sad to see the desolation of what once must have been quite a substantial farmstead. Even now, the gate posts and walls show the effort that must have been taken to build it. The wood lot at the rear has suffered badly from fallen trees as well. Although it’s a great place to camp, we had decided that the beehive hut on the East Dart was a better place for us.
The Grey Wethers
After retrieving our packs we climbed up to the Grey Wethers stone circle (actually two circles). On the way down we met a lady with the most gorgeous collie, Kes. Her husband was thinking of doing the Cape Wrath Trail, so Alan gave her a few tips about the route. She told us that the bottom of the valley was quite boggy but there was a good path on the eastern flank.
Dropping down to the East Dart River
Just below the beehive hut, there’s a lovely shelf above a tributary stream. I’ve camped there a couple of times before. It’s an almost perfect pitch. We were just in time, as a small party of hikers rounded the corner and looked disappointed that we had nabbed the best pitch. There are other places to pitch but they walked on. Feeling a bit guilty, I caught up with them and told them about an excellent place to camp by Fernworthy Forest.
Camp near the beehive hut
By now, we could feel the weather starting to change. The wind had picked up and the clouds had thickened. We knew the forecast was poor for the next day. We hoped that the rain would hold off until we had packed.