If I am honest, this walk was the thing I was most looking forward to during our time away over Easter – the chance to go walking on Dartmoor and to climb a new mountain, and one in the Trail Top 100, no less. It may not be the tallest mountain in the world at 414m but it certainly looks very impressive, which I noticed the moment I parked up in the Swallerton Gate car park.
The next thing I noticed was the Hound of the Basket Meals mobile refreshments van, and I am so glad it was there so I could get a photo. The day was warmer than the previous day when I had ventured out into Haytor Rocks country, so I was wearing my baselayer and Vapour-Rise Lite Alpine jacket from Rab. I swear by them in any weather, and if it was to suddenly rain I had my Mountain Equipment Fitzroy jacket which defies all weather. I also had my map, compass and Gortex bivi bag, just in case, and would be working from the Dartmoor edition of the Crimson Short Walks guidebook. It had this listed as a 3.5 mile walk, but I already knew I was going to go off track at least once.
I came out of the car park, which is free, by the way, and turned right up the road towards Manaton, and kept on that road when a lane split off to the right. I could see Honeybag Tor and Chinkwell Tor off to my left as the sunny weather afforded a very clear view, although I could see the clouds were coming in. I carried straight on, past much evidence of forestry work, and very soon came to Jay’s Grave, on the edge of beechwoods and at the junction of a bridlepath.
This is the grave of Kitty Jay, the daughter of a tenant farmer who was betrayed by the son of a local landowner. She hanged herself and eventually her bones were reburied in this simple grave. It is said that you will always find flowers on her grave, and today there were daffodils. I could see Easdon Tor ahead of me, and turned right up the bridlepath. It was a short walk to the top of the hill and I suddenly had stunning views of Dartmoor’s tors. I could certainly see Haytor Down from my walk the day before, but the thing which immediately caught my eye was Bowerman’s Nose on Hayne Down. I had already decided I wanted to make a detour from my route to see it, and as it now looked so close I knew it would be silly not to. I was still walking straight ahead across fields, avoiding cows in the first couple, and was now heading downhill, aiming for the bottom left hand corner to join up with a lane which had one of the brilliant Dartmoor National Park signs urging Moor Care.
I turned left through Moyles Gate, thankful that Chris was not guarding it today, then turned right up a grassy path and decided against following the guidebook instructions which told me to ignore a path that leads left towards Bowerman’s Nose. That was precisely where I was heading right now. I was walking uphill as I pushed off to the left, going from 354m up to 390m, but it was not a hard climb at all, and I could see that the 40 foot high natural feature was not far off. Local legend tells the story of an 11th-century hunter, Bowerman, who disturbed a coven of witches and was encased in stone for his trouble, and here he was now before me, with excellent views stretching out behind him.
I did not retrace my steps, but instead push up and to the right, finding the path again at the saddle between two rocky outcrops. I passed over the top and followed the path downhill through bracken, enjoying another splendid view of both the 15th-century Manaton church and Hunter’s Tor. The path is very obvious and at times becomes a trench, before it finally comes to a wooded area where some stone slabs become steps, then leads onto a tarmac drive which leads to a crossroads at Haynes Cross. It had dropped me a long way down.
I turned right along a lane and it was a very pleasant walk past fields and farmland. The lane undulated before dropping down again to go past Great Houndtor Farm, where lambs were playing in the fields seemingly far below the top of Hound Tor.
I could see my goal now and it did seem some way off. The guidebook did warn of a steep climb up to a cattle grid at the edge of Houndtor Down and it was not wrong. Having said that, it was also not very hard, which was pleasing and should not have been a surprise to me given the fitness work I have been putting in recently. I was not at the top yet, though. I turned left along a narrow bridlepath which leads to Haytor Down (and which gives me an idea for a combined walk the next time I am down here), and that gradually moved uphill, keeping Hound Tor on my right and Greator Rocks straight ahead.
At a crossroads in the bridlepath I turned left to go down to explore the ruins of a medieval settlement from the Bronze Age, and I was not alone as a herd of cows had also decided to come down at the same time.
I had encountered only a handful of people since I had set off from the car park at Swallerton Gate – a small group of youngsters having a picnic in the fields near Jay’s Grave, a father and son at Bowerman’s Nose, a couple with their dog coming up the path as I descended into Hayne – and now, as I walked up towards Hound Tor from the medieval settlement, I could see only three people up at the top, which was very different to the crowds which I had seen when I first arrived at the car park. I was pleased with that, because I do enjoy the solitude my walks bring me. I made it to the top and began my scramble up the rocks themselves, which was a lot easier than the climb the day before up Haytor Rocks in the driving wind. The views from the top were spectacular, and I was glad of such a clear day.
I clambered back down off the rocks and from there it was a straight walk down to get back to my car, happy that I had climbed a new mountain in March, and equally happy that I had done it the way I had, rather than just walking up from the car park. One more delight on my way driving off Dartmoor was seeing some of the wild ponies running free. This is definitely a place I want to come back to explore some more, and you can see my photos from this walk here.