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Wandering the upper reaches of the Avon

Holne moor

Once again the forecast for the day was good and so I headed to Holne moor on the south east edge of Dartmoor.  Leaving the car it was clear that the weather was not as good as the last walk on Dartmoor (see here) just four days earlier.  As it was Good Friday I decided to make a fairly early start and head to an area of the moors where it was less like that there would be many people.  I headed broadly west and at times along the ancient track known as Sandy Way aiming for Aune Head.

Aune (Avon) head

I can understand people who see love of moorland areas as rather strange and looking at the above picture people may think they have a point. I love it though. This is the start of the river Avon and is known as Aune Head.  The darker line running across the picture indicates the wettest part of the bog which feeds the stream to start with.  In the past and in dry years I have attempted to cross the bog however to date I’ve never been able to do so although I have got frustratingly close at times.  Dartmoor bogs of this sort are not to be taken lightly; while getting very wet is the likely outcome of walking into such places animals die every year from getting stuck in such bogs.

Tinners hut on the River Avon

Wandering down this upper stretch of the Avon has always been a favourite walking area of mine and I very rarely see anyone in the section of the river – today was no exception. There are a number of old tinners remains all along the valley indeed the first part of the actual stream as it comes out of the bog has walled banks courtesy of the tinners who wanted to direct the river. A little way down on the right bank there is an appreciable working which gets little attention. The cutting (from surface mining) is quite noticeable as is the building shown above. This is a tinners hut which was probably used both for storage of tools as well as shelter at times.

Walking on down the stream I arrived at Fishlake.  There is a much larger tinners hut here as can be seen above.  In the image on the right you can see an alcove in the wall of the hut – this may well have been a fireplace.  Certainly this hut was residential rather than simply for storage.  The hut is actually just upstream of the confluence between Fishlake stream and the Avon and on the right hand bank.  The area does tend to be fairly wet and there are times when getting to the hut without very wet boots is unusual however on this trip I walked the area quite easily.

 

Heading south from the tinners hut I walked down the right bank of the Avon to Broad Falls.  The left hand image is taken at Broad Falls looking upstream while the right hand image is taken from the top of the “fall” looking south down the river.  The fall is not really a waterfall unless the river is running very high however the river drops quite significantly at this point which probably explains the name.  At this point maybe around halfway around the walk I’d not seen anyone else despite it being a fine bank holiday.

Redlake china clay spoil heap

Walking east from Broad Falls towards Heap of Sinners (a barrow) I looked back west and took the above image.  The mound in the centre is at Redlake and is the spoil heap of an early china clay works.  While it is easy to identify it always comes as a surprise when you spot it in the distance and it is visible from a number of places on the south moors.  Lines of tinners workings can be seen on the left side of the picture.  Looked on as a largely wild Dartmoor has actually been used by man for many years and this walk has a number of examples of the remains left by man in this remote area.  I headed north towards Eylesbarrow and then back to the car seeing quite a few people out enjoying the day.  I was grateful for the tranquillity I’d enjoyed for most of the walk as I always am.

Figure of eight walk in April sunshine

Looking over Fox Tor mire

After the weather of the last 6 months or so a spell of fine weather just before Easter (2014) made getting out for a walk a must.  As it was forecast to be fine all day we decided to head into the centre of the moors and we parked close to Fox Tor mire (of Hound of the Baskervilles fame).  Getting out of the car we realised that, while it was very sunny, that didn’t mean it would be all that warm however we set off wearing just thermal tops and were warm enough as soon as we got going.  The picture above was taken shortly after we set off and looks over Nuns Cross farm (the building in the foreground) and east over Fox Tor mire.  Fox Tor itself is just in shot of the far right.

As we headed up to Eylesbarrow to drop into the valley of the upper Plym it was good to see a number of lambs enjoying the sunshine. The ones above caught our eye one being black and the other white. The other picture looks down the valley of the upper Plym. The tor on the right hand bank is Higher Harter Tor while the tor on the upper left is Hen Tor. We headed along the ancient track and over the Plym at Plym ford.

 

Erme Pits

We walked over the col that leads into Erme Pits so named for the quite deep working left by tin workers.  The river Erme also starts just above the workings.  The photograph above shows part of the workings which are both extensive and impressive close up.  It is remarkable what was achieved simply and literally by man power.  From here we walked along one of the old workings until we reach Ducks Pool stream which flows south to join the Erme nearby.  By now it was significantly warmer and we were sheltered from the little wind there was.

Ducks Pool is a fairly remote spot on the south moor and although it does get visitors they are infrequent other than in the summer months and even then it is quite a quiet area of the moor.  We stopped for a break and were joined briefly by one resident who can be seen above.  It was a Common Lizard out making the most of the sunshine however he was fairly wary and getting anything like a good shot of it proved difficult.  Ducks Pool is probably a depression made by and used by tinners.  There was still a little water to be seen as one of the above pictures show however given the rain we have had over the winter I was quite surprised how quickly the moor was drying out.  There is also evidence of the old tin miners occupation of the area in the shape of the old tinners hut which can be seen above too.

Looking west from Great Gnats Head

Realising that we had been moving rather faster than we thought despite not having been out that often we abandoned plans to head further north to Fox Tor and then back to the car beside Fox Tor mire in favour of turning the walk into a figure of eight one by heading west back over the Plym and then towards the southern edge of Eylesbarrow.  The above shot looks approximately west from Great Gnats Head over the upper part of the river Plym and Eylesbarrow.  We walked from here to roughly a mid point of the photograph. where I took the following shot.

The track south from Eylesbarrow

The shot looks down the old mine track from Eylesbarrow down the western edge of the valley of the Plym towards Sheepstor. Twenty or thirty years ago it would have been fairly rare to see many folk along this track however it is used far more now and is actually a cycle route though after the winter weather a little rough in places at present. We contoured around Eylesbarrow on its western side until we got back to Nuns Cross farm and then the car. A great walk in lovely weather and hopefully there will be more to come.

Back on Dartmoor after a winter of very bad weather

Misty morning

The weather this winter has really not been good for walking as it’s been the wettest for many years. The walking I have done has been nothing like as interesting as I would have hoped for.  A spell of reasonable weather was forecast so we decided to get out and make the most of it. In practice it was very misty when we set off so our hopes were not high. However it was dry which was a great improvement on the past couple of months. As we got to the spot we planned to park it got noticeably brighter so we had our fingers crossed.

Almost as soon as we set off the sun started to break through although the mistiness stayed with us for most of the walk.  We parked close to Grimspound but headed west to walk south down Challacombe.  We passed evidence of tin mining and the old farm buildings at the base of Challacombe have a number of old features.

Heading back up the western side of Challacombe you get a good view of the forestry at Soussons. Quite a large area has been recently cleared as can be seen above. Equally the work was still under way to some degree. Odd trees are left for the benefit of the bird population. Fairly quickly you get back into evidence of tin workings with leats and remains of old buildings clear to see.

Walking on up the valley into open moorland there are a lot more old tinners buildings and workings. The whole Birch Tor area has been intensively worked over centuries.   I’ve blogged this area a time or two before (just use the search box to see others) however this time it was the effects of the gales that caught my attention. Both the trees photographed above show the signs of damage. The monochrome one (made a change! ) had been severely cut back to remove damaged branches and left an intriguing shape. The other tree shows a simple break but the sunlight on it was good.

South west from Birch Tor

We wandered on up the stream through deep workings and were surprised how dry it was. I’ve walked the area many times and at various times of the year and,  given the weather there has been,  I thought it would have been far wetter under foot. Realising just how unfit we were we got to the top of Birch Tor and were happy to sit there enjoying the sunshine and the view while eating some lunch. The walk made me realise just how much I’d missed the moors – fingers crossed for the opportunity to get out again soon.

PS – 1st blog done on a tablet so excuse any errors :)

Along the railway line at Dawlish

By this time of year I would normally expect to be posting on here about walks on Dartmoor in wintry conditions.  However with a rare exception this winter has simply been wet and it hasn’t really been worth heading onto the moors just to trudge through water.  The storms that the West Country and indeed most of the country have experienced this year have been truly exceptional.  It is now being stated that this has been the wettest winter since records began.  The flooding in Somerset started over Christmas and persists; the politicians seemed to have felt it wasn’t that important until land nearer them started to flood.  In addition to the rain there have been very high winds coupled at times with storm surges and one of these events destroyed part of the railway line at Dawlish recently.  As I’d been in Lancashire at the time I’d only seen the coverage on television and decided I’d like to take a look for myself.

The railway line at Dawlish

I assumed that access to the beach would be restricted given the level of destruction I’d seen and the work that would obviously be required to repair the railway line.  The view above gives some idea of the work going on however the main area of destruction is just past the station which can be seen almost in the centre of the picture.  Beyond that on the edge of the sea you can just about make out the shipping containers that were placed there and filled with rocks to try and prevent further damage – these containers have already been badly damaged by the sea in further storms.

In practice there is no access from Dawlish to the actual sea at present.  I headed west of the town to take a track that goes over the railway tunnel here in the hope I would be able to walk back to the town however the route is blocked and there are obvious signs of damage of beach huts and the like here.

The railway track from Dawlish Warren

I decided to head for Dawlish Warren, to the east of Dawlish, to see if I could get any access from that end of the beach.  The railway runs on the top of the line of boulders, part of the sea defences, that can be seen above.  However the coast path which runs on the seaward side of the railway line is also shut from this side.  I guess the level of work being carried out might be seen as dangerous to the public at large.  You can just make out an orange crane at work on this end of the line.

 

It was half term and really quite a nice morning (although the rain started in the early part of the afternoon again).  There were quite a few people making the most of the rare fine weather on the beach.  Hopefully better weather will be with us all soon allowing the floods to clear and, if I’m lucky, I’ll get back to some regular walking again.

At Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey

In the Autumn of 2013 I spent a day at Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.  Large historic ruins are not something that I usually enjoy however I really did love the time at Fountains Abbey.  So many old buildings tend to just have relatively small amounts of the foundations of walls however, as can be seen, there really is quite a lot left of this ruin.

The effect of these large remaining windows really appealed to me. I felt a sense in which I preferred them without the glass – the view of clouds etc through them was lovely.  The height of the remaining walls meant that there was still a feeling of a large sacred space.


The structure was impressively both in the large scale and the smaller scale. The colour and texture of some of the remaining stone was stunning and made for a very real sense of history.  The site was in use from around 1130 until it was destroyed by Henry VIII some 400 years later.  The fact that the site has not been unduly degraded since then makes the experience far more enjoyable.

Georgian water gardens at Fountains Abbey

The site is not simply the Abbey but also includes a medieval deer park, Fountains Mill and Hall and a church. In addition there is also The Studley Royal Water Gardens dating from the early 18th century. Walking around these even on a rather dull day was a real treat.
Georgian water gardens at Fountains Abbey

The landscaping is of a very high standard and being well maintained by the National Trust. The vistas of water catch and lead the eye.  The trees were getting a nice level of Autumn colouring at the time adding another dimension to the walk.

Another visitor

There is enough space over the site as a whole for it not to feel too busy though I think that in peak season it would feel a little more crowded. We were not the only people there that day but there was a sense of space enjoyed by all I imagine!

Walking back up through the Water Gardens to the Abbey again there was clever use of the landscape to give glimpses and larger views of the Abbey again.
Fountains Abbey

Walking back and arriving the other side of the Abbey to the one we left from gave other views of the impressive amount of the structure remaining. The combination of all the different attractions here as well as a well designed visitors centre made it a very worthwhile day out to me. I would certainly suggest that anyone in the area with an interest in such things should make the most of it and go – on a good day weatherwise it would be very pleasant to pass a whole day there. I’d like to return myself in another season maybe.

A short walk in wintery weather on eastern Dartmoor

It was far too long since I’d managed to get out on the moors and I needed to give some new boots a bit of action so I decided to make the most of a spare morning. The Haytor area is easy for me to get to so I headed that way. It was very cold but quite bright and clear. There were a few clouds over the main bulk of the moors however generally it looked like a good day. Looking towards Saddle tor

Looking back towards Saddle Tor (the tor in the centre) and Haytor it really looked like a good day for a walk and some photos.  The snow on the ground was enough to make it look interesting too.  However walking along the ridge and looking west towards Widecombe it was clear that there was a snow shower over Hameldon which might catch me in its path.  Given I had full winter gear on I was looking forward to it.  I’d just bought a couple of items of new winter orientated gear in addition to the boots so it might test those out quite nicely.

Snow passing!

By the time I’d got to the end of the ridge and started heading towards Cold East Cross I was in the snow.  As can be seen from the above photo the snow was not all that light and was filling the sky quite well.  Equally it was obvious I was only on the fringe of this shower which I congratulated myself on thinking it allowed some photography without any real exposure – I was a little premature as it turned out.

Some snow on my rucksac

Reaching the road the shower had cleared through and I crossed it and started up towards Rippon. A quick glance at the sky made it clear that I was not going to be on the fringe of the next shower which was close. For most of the walk up Rippon it snowed heavily and there was little visibility. Both my pack and I were well covered with snow on our west side – taking the pack off to get the image shook a fair bit off but my left arm and glove were also well covered.

Once the storm had moved on the sun came out again.  The images above show something of the aftermath.  The storm itself had an impressive cloud structure as it headed away (and the shot is taken looking roughly south).  Equally it had covered the western side of anything around as can be seen around the gate though equally the sun was coming through again quite strongly.  I stopped for a while at the top of Rippon to enjoy the day and the scene.  It is quite rare to get enough snow to be interesting without the roads being compromised as well as some sun to sit in.  Indeed I don’t recall walking in such snow as early in the winter as this before – 19th of November 2013 just for the record.

Cloud over Haytor

For Rippon I started down heading towards Heytor (or Haytor – there are several valid variations). The cloud over Heytor was one of the most striking I’d seen. I do love cloud formation however this one had a look of a genie having been let out of the bottle.  The new winter gear had performed well and who knows what the weather will bring on the moors this winter – I just hope I get enough time to get out and enjoy it!

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