Tor bagging above a legal 200!

28 December 2021

This was the second Tuesday in a row that I had persuaded my daughter to come out for a walk during her Christmas stay in Devon. At least it justified the fact that she had carried her walking boots from London. The plans weren’t helped by what appeared to be a constantly changing weather forecast.

I had prepared a relatively undemanding walk to visit three tors between Steps Bridge and Moretonhampstead but made a later decision to add a small diversion to Pepperdon Down to bag Pepperdon Rocks as well.

It wasn’t raining as we set out from the car park at Steps Bridge, immediately climbing a steep and muddy path following a stream, initially through woods, to Burnicombe. We spotted a few squirrels scurrying up trees as we approached them. After a short stretch of road walking, we had a further sharp ascent to Heltor Rock, an excellent vantage point with clear views to the north and east. We opted not to climb to the top of the rocks, even though there would undoubtedly have been an even better view. We were joined at the rocks by a couple with a dog who had walked a different route from Steps Bridge. They told us that being from Longdown they know the area well especially since the pandemic while we are all spending more time locally. I explained that I had started tor bagging during Covid times and in fact this was my two hundredth official tor (201 but one had inadvertently been on private land without permission of the landowner). As we chatted, a partial rainbow appeared – the first of many that we would see as we walked.

Heltor Rock

Having “celebrated” my double century, we slipped and slid down the hill, meeting another person on the path making the ascent. I had initially thought of completing my two hundred tors on a remote part of the moor – I’ve still got Little Kneeset on the “to do” list as I looked in the wrong place for it on the day I also went to Cranmere Pool Letter Box and the mist came down. However I think that would have been several steps too far for my daughter to agree to join me.

View towards Blackingstone Rock

We made good progress along the lane and soon spotted Blackingstone Rock. Within thirty minutes of leaving Heltor Rock, I had ascended the steep steps on to the very exposed bare rock summit. This is an excellent view point but very exposed to gusts. I crawled cautiously back to the steps and descended backwards. My daughter had waited at the bottom. Another couple arrived – clearly not local as they asked whether we knew the name of the rocks.

Safely back on the lane, we missed the planned turn point next to Didworthy Cottage – it looked more like a track than a lane. Fortunately when we realised, it was only a few yards to retrace our steps. As we turned right round the next corner a couple of horses and riders emerged from a track on the left. The lane seemed much more suited to walkers and horse riders than to cars as it was narrow and muddy with grass up the middle.

We soon turned off the lane and on to bracken covered Pepperdon Down. There were numerous “paths” through the bracken. My Satmap came into its own as we twisted and turned along the maze of “paths” to arrive at Pepperdon Rocks, an area of granite outcrops more scattered than our previous two tors. We saw a whole rainbow as well as views of Moretonhampstead from a vantage point near the rocks.

We descended to the road, realising that following a path was easier than taking a shorter route through the bracken. This brought us out on a further narrow track-like lane further south than we needed to be. We headed north up the lane which was flooded. In my gaiters, I was happy to paddle through the flood but my daughter took a drier although more precarious route along the high verge.

The flooded lane

The lane was sheltered so our thoughts turned to finding a spot out of the wind for lunch. Unfortunately a small rocky outcrop (Little Pepperdon but not a separate tor on the LDWA list) near the road that looked promising with plenty of “stone seats” was deemed too exposed. Eventually we sat in a sheltered field corner with views towards Pepperdon Rocks North (also not on the LDWA list).

We didn’t stop long as we needed to keep mobile to stay warm – or put on some more layers of clothing. We walked up to the main B3212 and opted to walk a “dog-leg”, crossing the road and walking via Doccombe Cross to reduce the distance walked on the B road. A short walk on this relatively busy road was unavoidable though in order to reach the path up to Hingston Rocks.

Stile and path to Hingston Rock

There’s a prominent finger post sign to Hingston Rock at the road side and a stile without a cross piece. We struggled over the stile which had a long drop on the field side and then crossed a stream, swollen by the recent rain. After climbing up to a further stile, the route of the path wasn’t obvious. We were certainly on the path some of the way as we passed a couple of public footpath arrow discs. However my Satmap track shows that we did stray off during our ascent over rough ground. My daughter wasn’t very impressed that it was yet more ascent only to have to return back to the high stile, which she was already worried about re-climbing. I think it was worthwhile, partly because it meant I had bagged a further tor but also for the fine views over nearby Moretonhampstead. We also saw yet another rainbow.

Hingston Rocks

We descended but not by the same route. I spotted what appeared to be a footpath to the east of where we ascended. However there were many animal paths too and we strayed too far to the east. In the end we still emerged near the second stile we had crossed on the ascent. As we approached the high stile, we spotted a gap in the fence and hedge immediately to the south west side of it. We easily squeezed through this which was much easier than climbing over the stile. Perhaps that’s why the stile hasn’t been repaired as there’s actually no need to use it.

We retraced our steps a short way up the B road and turned off on a very minor lane passing a bed and breakfast before making our way along an obvious bridle path on to Mardon Down.

Stone Circle and a rainbow on grassy Mardon Down

Although this was where we had the heaviest rain shower of the day and we were climbing up hill, the clear track on well drained springy turf was much more to my daughter’s liking and the type of terrain she had hoped for all day. She was wearing a fairly heavy Goretex waterproof jacket which she had kept on all day. I was still only wearing my favourite Rab hoody wind top but rightly decided it would only be a short shower and there was no need to open my rucksack to don my waterproofs. We saw yet another rainbow! We also passed a stone circle before turning north east at the hill summit, crowned by cairns (Giant’s Grave).

Headless Cross

We descended to the road at Headless Cross, where there were numerous cars parked and a plethora of dog walkers. The terrain over the moor continued to be easy going and grassy with excellent views over the Teign Valley and beyond.

View from Mardon Down

We reached a track and descended through woods, noting an un-named rocky outcrop near the path. The descent continued through fields before we reached a ford (tributary stream to the River Teign). It proved to be a bit deep for my daughter – I should have loaned her a spare pair of gaiters as well as the waterproof jacket. However she managed with only minor water ingress over the top of one boot – and I did pass my walking poles to her to reduce the risk of her falling.

Ford across a normally small stream

We followed the road for a short way passing the turning to the prominently signposted Stewart Clinic, which my daughter pointed out as a potentially less tiring way to keep healthy than going for a long walk. Just as well she wasn’t really tempted as according to Google the clinic is permanently closed.

Soon we reached a point where there was a permissive path to the left and a bridle path to the right of the road. The up to date 1:25,000 ordnance Survey map on my Satmap showed that our end point at Steps Bridge would be accessible whichever choice we made. I had planned to descend to the River Teign taking the permissive path and we decided to do this, although Steps Bridge wasn’t signed on that route. It was a pleasant descent through the woods. We reached the river and looked for the continuation of the permissive path that was marked on the map. Unfortunately all we could find were notices informing us that there was no access to Steps Bridge. My daughter was remarkably forgiving about the fact that this meant we had to climb back up through the woods to the road. She agreed with me that there is a permissive path marked on the map. We did reward ourselves by stopping for a drink and snack just before we reached the road.

We had better luck following the bridle path on the other side and it wasn’t long before we arrived at Steps Bridge, where there were many more cars than when we had parked in the morning. The weather had been acceptable – a few showers but I had managed to leave my waterproofs in my rucksack all day. It had been a pleasant and interesting walk over new ground for both of us on a day when the higher parts of the moor would have probably had more rain and would certainly have been much more cold and windy.

My current tor total stands at 204 (203 legal).

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