A Dartmoor walk: moor and mystery
PUBLISHED: 15:57 09 November 2015 | UPDATED: 15:57 09 November 2015
This month Simone Stanbrook-Byrne steps out on a walk with a melancholic beginning and a mysterious undertone
Dartmoor is one of the most alluring areas of the West Country. Its vast airy spaces call us back time after time. That sense of embarking on a walk with a modicum of risk attaching, whether from weather, wilderness or army firing ranges, lends compulsion and a sense of achievement. Its mysteries, antiquity and legend add extra spice.
Just outside Peter Tavy is a small monument to George Stephens. So many hundreds of years has it been there no one is certain of his name – he could have been John. And the reason he took his own life is also lost in the mists of Dartmoor time, although unrequited love and the loss of his girl seem consistent threads. But poor Stephens died at a time when suicides were condemned to eternal confusion. Forbidden to rest in consecrated ground, they were buried at a crossing of ways, the belief being that their lost souls wouldn’t know which way to go should they be inclined to seek out former haunts. At just such a spot is Stephens’ sad little memorial. Remember him as you enjoy the walk.
1. From the car park turn left up the lane to reach a bridlepath fingerpost within 100m. From this go left up the rough path, towards Stephens’ Grave and White Tor. The clear track begins to level out, away to your left is a stone wall, to the right a big view over moorland, tamed in the valley by the homesteads of Lower and Higher Godsworthy Farms. The track narrows between walls then opens up again – keep going, heading roughly west. Way ahead you may spot red flags on White Tor, warnings that the army is in training. Fear not, this walk stays away from them.
Eventually, almost 1.5km after leaving the lane, the track arrives at a rather indistinct crossing of ways to the right of which are the obvious stones marking George Stephens’ Grave (grid ref SX536781)
2. At Stephens’ Grave turn right, striking out in a south-south-east direction across the moor. This is a bridleway but it can be indistinct. As points of reference: ahead to your left two craggy tors rise and further to the left the thin spike of a transmitter; ahead to the right is a less-craggy tor. Stay on this line and as the track swings right keep ahead until you arrive at the boundary wall of Wedlake Farm. This is about 500m from Stephens’ Grave, depending on your angle of approach. At the wall turn left and follow it to its corner, the enclosed fields of Wedlake to your right. At the corner of the wall turn right around it, heading downhill to reach a convergence of small streams within 200m of the corner (grid ref SX538775). A pretty area.
3. Negotiate the streams to reach the fingerpost and bridlepath gate on their far side. Go through the gate, admiring the typical Dartmoor granite gateposts, and enter a field. Follow the left fence for 25m, where another fingerpost directs you obliquely right across the field towards a gate in the far boundary. You are heading towards the rounded heights of Cox Tor as you cross the field, the environs of Wedlake to your right and, towards the end of the field, a good view of Brent Tor far to the right, with the Church of St. Michael at its summit.
4. At the far side of the field go through the gate (grid ref SX538772) and head obliquely right across the moor (a fingerpost directs). This is a roughly south-westerly direction with a stone wall over to your right, aiming for the outside edge of a wall corner about 350m away from the gate. At the wall corner follow the track in a westerly direction with the wall to your right. In 250m the wall turns right at another corner, grid ref SX534769 but a few metres before you reach this corner take the worn path going very slightly left uphill. You are now walking away from the wall but still ahead and due west (there are various tracks here). The buildings of Higher and Lower Godsworthy Farms are obliquely right below you as you climb and after about 30 paces you will see ahead of you another stone wall and a surfaced farm drive just over 400m away. Head for this.
5. When you reach the surfaced track with its yellow grit box, a reminder of Dartmoor’s harsh winters, join the track and walk ahead, wall to your right. Way ahead, in the very far distance, Kit Hill and Caradon Hill in Cornwall may be seen. In 200m a fingerpost on the right points through a metal gate (make sure you get the gate with the finger), towards “Peter Tavy via the Combe, 1 mile”. Go through the gate and walk down the field, wall on the right, to reach a lone standing stone within 300m (grid ref SX526771. With this stone to your right shoulder and rising craggy ground to your left, walk ahead on the grassy track to reach a three-way fingerpost within 100m.
6. From the fingerpost follow the bridlepath to Peter Tavy, passing through a gap in the gorse and stone boundary then walking down the field with the stone wall to your right, generally following the line of this right-hand wall as it meanders in and out, don’t be tempted to go obliquely left across the field or through the wall, but follow it to the bottom corner. Here you find two gates – one metal and one wooden, the latter having a blue bridlepath marker. Go through the wooden gate (grid ref SX523773) and follow the broad track beyond, between walls, until it opens into the access land of Great Combe Tor. Turn left at the end of the wall, the tor to your right, and head downhill towards Peter Tavy’s church tower. Follow the line of the left-hand wall on the trodden path as it descends. The path drops to meet a crossing path at grid ref SX519775, a stone-surrounded pool (in which you are forbidden to swim) is opposite here. Turn left along the crossing path, beneath trees. The path opens up beneath an unexpected telegraph pole, pass it on your left and keep heading downhill. In another 50m cross a footbridge over Colly Brook and go left, sampling a well-placed bench.
7. Enjoy a brief stretch beside the brook until the path rises to a four-way fingerpost. From here take the option going right on the footpath towards “the road near Lower Godsworthy”. The path climbs to a bridleway gate. Go through and continue ahead, passing the end of a tumbledown boundary on the right in 50m, then crossing the field towards a gate 150m away on the far side of the field. Here you’ll find a fingerpost. Beyond the gate follow the trodden path through the bracken to reach the lane in 60m. Turn left, away from the farm gates, heading downhill for just over 150m to reach the parking area.
Directions to start: Peter Tavy is in the western part of Dartmoor, accessed off the A386. Drive through the village, passing the church on your left. Within 100m take the next narrow turning right and follow this past a farmhouse, Boulters Tor, on the right in about 500m. In another 400m look for the parking area on your left, a notice board is near its entrance
Start point: Car parking area shown on OS map at grid ref: SX522779. Nearby Postcode: PL19 9NX
Parking: Old quarry set aside for parking
Public transport: Extremely minimal bus service, see travelinesw.com
Terrain: Moorland tracks, woodland paths, minimal lanes. The route crosses open moorland so clear conditions are essential, concentration necessary for route-finding (!) and a GPS/compass useful. The route does not encroach on firing ranges
Distance: Just under 4 miles/6km
Dog friendliness: Good
Exertion: Moderate – sometimes rough and wet underfoot with uphill stretches
Map: OS Explorer OL28, Dartmoor 1:25 000
Refreshments: None en route but The Peter Tavy Inn, PL19 9PN (01822 810348) welcomes dogs and walkers
Look out for
Dartmoor Ponies, Stephens’ Grave, Views to Cornwall and Skylarks, wheatears – and listen for the ‘chink’ of stonechats.