Of mines & men
PUBLISHED: 15:16 03 July 2014
There's a superb West Dartmoor challenge to be had in this walk around Tavy Cleave, as SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE discovers
Dartmoor, considered one of England’s last great wildernesses, has, over centuries, been radically shaped in places by human hand; incursions that can now be almost imperceptible unless you know what to look for.
This glorious walk of thirst-quenching views explores an area of moor which, in times past, has been well-populated and busy with industry. Bronze Age hut circles over 3,000 years old are evidence of very early settlement and, more recently, the nearby villages of Mary and Peter Tavy were part of a thriving mining area.
The Reddaford Leat, encountered on this walk, was constructed at the beginning of the 19th century to serve the local mines producing copper, tin, lead, silver – and even arsenic. This leat runs from Tavy Cleave to Wheal Jewell Reservoir. Today the hand of nature has softened the man-made features and the moor is again a wild and beautiful place; the haunt of birds, including the fairly rare ring ouzel and soaring skylarks, who mock our earth-bound feet. Tors beckon – answer their call…
At the car park look up to the north-east where you can see the rocky outcrop of Ger Tor, ¾ mile away as the crow flies; this is your first port of call. From the north-east corner of the car park there is a path heading towards this tor; seek it out and follow it (at certain times of year the path may be indistinct). Ahead of you a gate can be seen, aim for this as it leads on to a bridge crossing the mine leat. Look out for roaming Dartmoor ponies, often with foals afoot during spring and summer.
Beyond the leat continue uphill towards Ger Tor. At times the path diminishes, but the tor, with its mast, doesn’t, so keep it in your sights as you keep heading north-east. This stretch can be damp underfoot but becomes increasingly rocky as you approach the tor, watch your step and take care of your ankles. As you continue to climb you’ll see Tavy Cleave down to your right.
Once you achieve Ger Tor (grid ref: SX546830) you’re over 430 metres above sea level. Get your breath back. This is an area worth exploring; you may find the little stone hut hidden amongst the granite – handy in wet weather. Looking north-north-east from Ger Tor you’ll see Hare Tor with another mast, your next destination another ¾ mile away.
From the north side of Ger Tor you’ll see a path heading north-north-east (21°) towards Hare Tor. Take this direction, again the path varies between clear and indistinct. The descent from Ger Tor is reasonably comfortable walking over tussocky ground and the ascent up Hare Tor, at 531 metres, is not as rough underfoot as the earlier climb up Ger Tor. Once you’re on Hare Tor (grid ref: SX550842) ascend right to the mast as the 360º panorama is unbeatable. Relish it. Ger Tor looks a mere boy.
From the east side of Hare Tor you can make out a path heading just slightly south of east (101°), although, as before, how distinct it is depends on the time of year and the state of the vegetation. Take this line, which becomes soggy underfoot, to a meeting of small waterways at Deadlake Foot (grid ref: SX561840), just under ¾ mile of rough descent from Hare Tor.
Before you reach Deadlake Foot you may notice the dampness of Dead Lake to your left. At Deadlake Foot you find a stream ahead of you, a combination of Rattle Brook and Green Tor Water which have joined together further north. Turn right here in a generally southerly direction keeping the water to your left (and out of your boots, if you’re lucky). Watch your step, sitting down in it is not a comfortable option.
In about 300m you reach another stream ahead (grid ref: SX560838) turn right to commence your travels through Tavy Cleave with the River Tavy now to your left. This is a stunning area to navigate with its accompanying music of waterfalls. Glance back and around you, it’s good in all directions; it was along this stretch that we saw ring ouzels and on warm, sunny days you are also very likely to find basking lizards.
However, such treats notwithstanding, this is where the terrain becomes tricky. Please be careful and watch where you put your feet, there is much scrambling beside the river. After this stretch the path becomes clear again and there are inviting places to picnic beside the water, particularly alongside the Devil’s Kitchen waterfall. It really is worth the effort of the difficult bit.
After almost one mile through Tavy Cleave you’ll see a stone structure on the bank ahead of you; the place where the mine leat leaves the River Tavy. Head for this small building and continue beyond it along the clear path beside the leat, keeping the leat on your right with the Tavy now away to your left.
You are initially heading south-west before eventually veering west, still beside the leat. Eventually the stone walls of Nattor Farm come into view over on your left. You reach a gate with a bridge over the leat. Continue ahead, soon crossing a stile and still following the leat.
About 100m further on you’ll see a little metal ‘bridge’ which crosses the ditch on your left. Cross this and head towards the buildings of Nattor Farm, picking up a track and bearing right to walk beside the wall on your left. Follow this track back to your car and a well-earned flask of something. If you’ve timed your trip to fit with The Elephant’s Nest opening hours you will be well-rewarded!
Simone Stanbrook-Byrne and James Clancy have produced a collection of West Country guides including: Circular Walks in East Devon, Circular Walks in North Devon, Circular Walks in Central Devon, Favourite Walks in Devon, A Dozen Dramatic Walks in Devon, Town Walks in Devon. culmvalleypublishing.co.uk/01884 849085