It was the day before Christmas Eve. Suddenly, the idea of walking sounded good… Nothing unusual about that, surely?
But when one has another hiker staying over the idea of a walk soon turns into a discussion about a yomp and then delusions of grandeur set in. “Heck, let’s nip out and up Ten Tors on Dartmoor”. We checked the weather and there was a window of around five hours before the rain was due to set in. The OS maps were checked, and sure enough we found at least Ten Tors in the vicinity of Haytor (well, you can’t visit Devon and expect not to be dragged up Dartmoor’s biggest ‘Tor’ attraction at least once!).
A bit ambitious, perhaps, to do Ten Tors in a single morning… so nothing was set in stone. Daysacks were packed and discussion continued over the customary full English breakfast.
Now, before I go any further, I should perhaps mention that the Ten Tors I will speak of are ‘nowt’ to do with the legendary Ten Tors Annual Event managed by the Commander 1st Artillery Brigade and Headquarters South West (1 Arty Bde & HQ SW), who is the Ten Tors Director. Information on that event can be found on this link; The Official Ten Tors Website.
We – that is, Jennifer Lyon and I – created our own little event spanning just a single day, rather than two, and covering Eleven Tors. The only ‘entry’ requirement for this one-off hiking extravaganza was that each willing participant had previously scaled at least one of the UK’s largest three peaks! With rules agreed over a cup of hot filtered coffee, we vouched for each other and duly entered ourselves into said challenge. An hour or so later we arrived at the start/finish line i.e. The Saddle Tor car park.
Ermmm, is it just the two of us that have noticed there tends to be a car park about 50 meters below Dartmoor’s most popular Tors? We’re all for access to the majority etc, but it makes for rather dull walking in comparison to the rather more challenging peaks of the Lake District. Suddenly the prospect of climbing Ten Tors seemed rather more achievable, even with the first peak more or less ‘thrown in’. I can always rely on Jenny for a solution (sorry, sir, I left my SMEAC responsibilities behind me years ago!) so we adapted the plan and decided to go for eleven… You know, on the basis that there’s no such thing as a free lunch and all! “But, hey, won’t we encounter grockles (tourists to my USA friends!) on this trek?” The conversation stalled for a moment… “Heck, ok, let’s go off-piste!”
Ready, Steady… Ermmm Tor! Okay, already at the top of Saddle Tor and the first victory photograph (above pic: Haytor from Saddle Tor). Saddle Tor stands at some 428 meters. The car park at some 375-400 meters. But, I did say we were to get a freebie!
So, we headed off to what may well be the most visited Tor on Dartmoor: Haytor (457 meters). It certainly has some of the best views of the area and we climbed to the top, assisting a grockle damsel over some of the rocks before we reached the peak… and so having done our good deed for the day, and with Tor 2 conquered, we pulled out the OS map and figured out where we might actually go next. Well, actually, Jen did the figuring whilst I sat back, stoked my pipe and took in the views. 23rd December and it felt like Spring (for the time being anyway!).
Tor 3 – Holwell Tor stands at 402 meters. At this point we began to lose the crowds and headed out to what one would consider open countryside. The top of Holwell offers a superb panorama of its surrounding Tors, and as we feasted our eyes on the view we were, *ahem*, Jenny was already planning how to hop from one summit to the next (pictured above). We opted for the nearest, and two questions sprang to mind: one, how do we get down all these rocks? and two, once down, what’s the best route across the valley? Probably not the one we chose, as we realised a few minutes later when we were ankle-deep in marshy water…!
On a positive note, it was quite fun and the earth beneath our feet made like a waterlogged trampoline. Slightly more worrying at the time was the feeling that if the metaphorical trampoline canvas were to rip, we might suddenly have found ourselves floundering neck-deep in water. As it happened, this was just the warm-up before we reached a flooded brook! We had a half-hearted search for the footbridge, but without success, as we were working against the clock. With time and weather due to let us down within hours, and muddy wet feet weighing us down, there was only one thing for it… In for a Penny, in for a Pound…
Thankfully we didn’t sink too deep whilst traversing the brook; it was only around knee height, just enough to ensure our clothes and shoes were heavy and wet enough to make the walk uphill through bracken and barbed wire fences that bit more challenging! We were on our way to Greator Rocks (Tor 4 at 371 meters) when the drizzly rain started. One thing I do know about Dartmoor is that when the weather closes in, it can get pretty miserable fairly quickly. We didn’t hang around for the views, as Hound Tor (Tor 5 at 414 meters) was not too much further up. It was our lunch stop and potentially the halfway point. We found out it’s another popular destination Tor for the grockles, and it’s not hard to understand why. Great views on a clear day… It was not that clear whilst we were there but one could still make out the outlines of the Tors in the middle and far distance. It was worth the climb over slippery rocks to get to the top before seeking shelter for lunch…
We discovered a sheltered area… a cave to some, perhaps, but more a cluster of huge rock slabs forced together, probably during the ice age. Now they provided us with a roof and walls, and kept us free from the worst of the wind and rain. Perched on makeshift stone chairs we then settled in to enjoy some delicious sandwiches! I remain unsure whether squished sandwiches really do taste good, or it is just that they always seem to emerge from a daysack when food is most yearned for? Perhaps the mind switches off the eyes’ desire for the aesthetic and allows smell and taste to rule the day! They were good, anyway, and washed down with more hot coffee while we pored over the OS map spread across a very handy stone table, which also happened to be the chair!
Gazing at the dreary conditions we wondered, do we go back now? For a moment I did think it was time to make a beeline back to the car – by now several kilometers away – but as luck should have it, as we reappeared from our little prehistoric dining room the weather uncharacteristically changed, and we agreed that our Ten Tor objective was back on the menu… a pleasing dessert!
Our route took us back down and along the road for a short while, via the grockle car park where people had taken shelter in their cars. Most had packed up and left for the day, but a few remained determined to get up that one Tor… in order to justify their upcoming festive feasts perhaps?
With tummies full and thirsts quenched we continued towards a morale-boosting cluster of Tors: 6, 7 and 8! Honeybag Tor (445 meters), Chinkwell Tor (455 meters) and Bell Tor (400 meters) sit close together in a line, like ducks in a shooting gallery. The bad weather had eased off, so we decided to contour across the three and start at the far end, giving our limbs time to warm up, our clothes time to dry out a little, and providing more opportunities to soak up the far-reaching views. From Honeybag Tor we would essentially be heading (via a further five Tors) back towards the car.
Perhaps it was festive spirit, perhaps the warmth of that extended walk to the furthest point of the day… Either way (and do I look bothered which?!) I was rewarded, whilst taking a selfie from the top of Chinkwell (Tor 7) with a big old kiss! *Yayyy*. (Ties note to big toe for future reference – at the point of no return, look war-torn and weatherbeaten for best results!).
From Bell Tor (Tor 8) we headed off to Top Tor (Tor 9 – 432 meters). One may be forgiven for thinking that its name is derived from being the highest Tor in the surrounding area; not so! Many Tors on Dartmoor do not actually have names, and despite digging around I have been unable to discover the reason behind Top Tor’s name. I did come across a blog suggesting Top Tor is also referenced as SX 736763… If anybody can assist with how the names of Dartmoor’s Tors were established, please feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post! Anyway, I digress…
Is it of any surprise that on the homeward leg of our hike we began to feel a little time pressure? A murky and quite dramatic cloud appeared, literally drawing a line between good weather and bad, and we wondered if we would complete our own challenge before darkness set in! Cold horizontal rain caught us off-guard in an area of open ground just after we had bagged Top Tor and were on our way to Tor 10… but within seconds a rainbow appeared, and for a moment I thought I saw reindeer… The editor in Jennifer Lyon surfaced right on cue as she remarked;
“Close – but I think it’s just the rain – dear!”
It was of course a herd of the Dartmoor’s famed wild ponies that I had seen through the mist and rain… *Doh!*
The excitement was starting to hit home now… Pil Tor, the tenth of the day at (400 meters), was in sight. There wasn’t much the weather could do at this stage to make us bypass our remaining Tors rather than climbing them. For a moment, I felt a hint of the thought process that must kick in so often when people tackle huge, once-in-a-lifetime challenges. I felt that if ever Jen and I were climbing companions on a ‘killer’ mountain such as Everest, we may become two of the many to allow our hearts to rule our minds… I understood how the goal can seem so important that you might ignore safety considerations in order to achieve it. Not making Tor number 10 (which just a few hours earlier seemed a highly ambitious ask) would have been overwhelmingly disappointing, even though this was no competition or ‘official’ challenge but just one we’d set ourselves that morning! But we did reach it and were delighted at doing so. From yet another area of cover provided by these ancient stones, we celebrated with the last of the coffee, a couple of biscuits and…
…what achievement could be celebrated without stoking that pipe with a cool blend of Borkum Riff tobacco mixed with Cherry Cavendish… (Sorry Jen, it had to be done!).
WAIT! No sooner did we think it was all over, when from the mist emerged a mighty fine sight. Yes, we know it was time for a victorious retreat to the car, but this ‘bonus hill’ was kind of on the way! Tor 11, Rippon Tor, stands at 473 meters… We looked at each other and without a word of confirmation being required, we both knew which route we’d be taking back to the car: via the trig point at the top of Rippon! Eight fingers, two thumbs and a tongue later (it’s the only way she could signal number 11 on her own!) and we were there!
…and that was that! From a standing start at breakfast in Dawlish, we dreamt up a walk, a hike, a slog or yomp and a challenge that would make us wet, cold and a little hungry for sugar. We covered 19.6 km over 3 hours 20 minutes moving time (approx. 5 hours including stops for lunch and map reading). According to my STRAVA app we had burned around 2,000 calories each, and I knew exactly where and how we would replenish those stocks. Even though we’d been well prepared and are quite used to hitting adverse weather conditions, it was a relief to get to the car and pull on some dry shoes and socks. After that, we headed straight to the famed House of Marbles in Bovey Tracey, where we deftly avoided proper nutrition and headed straight for the pudding counter! I wonder if we can make a Tor out of that pile of sugar…. that would take the day’s total to twelve, ha ha!
After that, we headed straight to the famed House of Marbles in Bovey Tracey, where we deftly avoided proper nutrition and headed straight for the pudding counter! I wonder if we can make a Tor out of that pile of sugar…. that would take the day’s total to twelve, ha ha!
A great day was had by the both of us… Happy Christmas to one and all!
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…
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