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Stat’s House Stroll

Stat's House Stroll

For once the ‘Men from the Met’ were forecasting some fine weather, hot sunny day plus a stiff easterly breeze equals an ideal Dartmoor Day. Mind you it didn’t seem so ideal at 4.00am when the alarm clock tolled it’s deafening call to awake, even the dog looked aghast. So by 6.45am Rhys and myself pulled into the amazingly empty car park at the end of Fernworthy Reservoir, and were greeted by the fresh aroma of dewy bluebells scenting the air. The purpose of today’s walk was to head up to Winney’s Down to see what effect the ‘Mires Project’  has made on the landscape and of course to get some photographs along the way.

The only problem with walking out from Fernworthy is that you are immediately greeted by an ascent of 400ft in about a mile, no problem you well may say? Unfortunately these days I am somewhat akin to a vintage traction engine insomuch as it takes a while to get ‘steam up’ but luckily once I have I chug along quite nicely. In that light I was not sorry to get to the ‘Fernworthy Stone Circle‘. Although I have been here several times I have never got a decent photograph, usually because every visit has been at the crack of dawn and the sun has been at an awkward low angle – today was no different. It was sad to see that a couple of dedications had been left inside the circle to the young lad from Caldicot, Joel Andrews, who died in the forest about a year ago. A stark reminder that Dartmoor can be an unforgiving place when it wants to be, as many grieving families will testify.

Incidentally, the hill  is ‘Froggymead Hill’ which as place-names go is pretty evocative, presumably it’s name derives from a one-time ‘mead’ (Old English mæd being a meadow or pasture) in which frogs were often found? Halfway up the hill are sections of felled woods and it was here that we met the “stiff easterly breeze” that was promised, it was just like walking into a wind tunnel, oops there goes me hair-do.

Eventually we arrived at ‘Langridge Gate’ or as the Ordnance Survey prefers to call it – Long Ridge, very posh indeed. From here the moor yawns wide open as the vast expanse of its uplands spreads across the horizon. It was here that we met a rather disgruntled Chaffinch who by its vexed chirping was none to happy that his breakfast has been so rudely interrupted. From here it was just a steady trek across to the enigmatic double stone circles known as the ‘Grey Wethers’ ( see – HERE and HERE). These circles are hard to photograph as they are so big (that is unless you know how to take a panoramic shot – which I don’t) and can be best shot from further up towards Sittaford Tor. However, photographic image aside there was certainly a very scenic mental image to be taken as one’s eyes look towards the south.

Stat's House Stroll

Teignhead Farm

Stat's House Stroll

Chaffinch

Stat's House Stroll

The Grey Weathers

Stat's House Stroll

The Grey Weathers

Having spent a while snapping and clicking the Grey Weathers we then walked or rather I should say got blown up to Sittaford Tor. Now as tors go this is not what you could call spectacular thanks to the ‘spaghetti-like’ tangle of newtake walls and stiles that intersect here. Probably before the hand of man went to work it looked perfectly natural within the landscape but not so today. This particular location could cause a headache for the new Dartmoor Authority’s stiles policy whereby it is recommended that all ladder stiles are replaced by gates to allow for easy access for all. It had been suggested that this policy was aimed at letting obese people get around the moor easier, as you can see from the photo below – there is no problem 🙂

However, having slated off the tor there can be no argument of the magnificent views it affords in all directions, from the inhabited to the uninhabited. Just one little point here, in theory the correct name of the tor is ‘Siddaford’ not as the OS map states – Sittaford. Eric Hemery (famous topographical Dartmoor writer) suggested the the name ‘Siddaford’ derives from local dialect for ‘South Ford’ of which one lies below the tor, hmmm? Perched on top of the tor is a huge granite block that has a splendid array of lichens decorating it. This at one time was a ‘logan stone‘ could have been made to rock with only the gentlest of pressure. However sometime in the early 1900s someone or something dislodged it from its pivotal point and now you would need a JCB to make it rock.

Stat's House Stroll

View from Sittaford

Stat's House Stroll

Siddaford Tor

Stat's House Stroll

Gate Needed

Stat's House Stroll

Sittaford Ex-Logan

Having fully examined Sittaford Tor we then moved over to Stat’s House, albeit by a slightly deviated route via the head of Maish Hill Book, well it was a long time since I was here last. Despite the week of hot, dry weather the blanket bog was amazingly moist to say the least, maybe the ‘Mires Project’ is working? I must admit I do love the childish act of bouncing up and down on the quaking mat of vegetation, it’s like springing around on a giant jelly. I do however remember a friend doing this and then breaking through the vegetation mat and ending up waist high in stinking bog mud. I will never forget how their facial expression rapidly turned from one of childish glee to that of utter shock and embarrassment 🙂 Anyway, we then wobbled across to Stat’s House where we found a small herd of Dartmoor ponies contentedly grazing, a couple had their newly born foals at hoof. Through my work I frequently come across fanatical horse owners who are constantly raving about everything equine but I wonder how many have actually seen a herd of wild ponies in their natural setting. By this I don’t mean the Dartmoor ponies that you find scavenging around the roadsides but a herd out on the remote open moors, truly a magnificent sight to behold.

Having spent a while trying to get some decent shots of the ponies we moved back to Stat’s House which is the ruins of a small peat-cutter’s shelter. It was rumoured that at one time this used to be a cache for illicit alcohol, sadly today there was none. Not far away from the hut are the remnants of a one time ‘peat pass‘ consisting today of a single pass marker and the old sunken track.

Stat's House Stroll

Winney’s Down Mire

Stat's House Stroll

Wild Dartmoor Ponies

Stat's House Stroll

Peat Pass Marker

Stat's House Stroll

Stat’s House

The main purpose of this visit was to see what this ‘Mires Project’ was all about, I had read about there being various blocks or dams placed across the gullies which were built in 2011. Well, we scanned the area, stomped and splashed around, cursed and sworn but could find no trace of anything. Could it be that such a good job had been done that the dams were now invisible or was it we were in the wrong place? Judging by the amount of water held in the vegetation I would assume the project is having the desired effect?

Having given up on a lost cause we made our way back to Sittaford Tor, this time on a lower course than when we went out. On reaching the Maish Hill Brook (something else not marked on the OS maps) were a nice bog is forming we chose the narrowest point to cross it. At first it looked rather precarious and was an open invitation to get stugged but Rhys decided he would give it a go and by ‘tussock hopping’ managed to navigate across. There is an old saying on Dartmoor; “where ponies go man may follow” which means if they can cross a bog so can you, maybe this should be amended to “where ponies and Rhys go…”. No sooner had we successfully breached the bog dry footed due to lack of attention I promptly stood in a ‘mini bog’ and one foot went down to my knee in the keckky – how embarrassing and boy did it honk, which reminds me that my boots are still in the car, Ooops it’s going stink. Having squelched up to Sittaford it was time to head back and so we made for the Langridge Gate. On our way down the northern flank of Sittaford Tor I was busy looking at the Grey Wethers when I noticed Rhys stood stock still. “Is that a Red Kite?” he asked, sure enough directly ahead was the unmistakable red, forked tale hovering in the sky. There was a mad scramble for the cameras followed by some manic clicking of shutters, this was one picture I did not want to miss. I had only ever seen one other Red Kite on Dartmoor and that was about fifteen years ago and that sighting was no where near as close as this one. If you Google ‘Red Kite Dartmoor’ you will find a few records of Dartmoor sightings but it is clear that they are few and far between. The bird treated us to a good couple of minutes of it’s aerial capabilities as it soared and hovered before disappearing over the Grey Wethers – the highlight of the day! It is instances like this which typifies Dartmoor, no matter what the weather, where you are or when you visit there will always be some gem or another to fondly post in your memory album.

Rhys wanted to have a look at Teignhead farm and it’s clapper bridge so he wandered off down there whilst I headed back to Langridge Gate to wait for him. It was obvious that some people were using the old ruined farmstead as a campsite as there was a huge tent with people enjoying their radio. Again, another Google search for Teignhead Farm will return numerous websites extolling the virtues of the farm as a campsite. Now it is thought that this farm was built sometime in the late eighteenth century making it at least two hundred years old. In that case I would suggest as an important part of Dartmoor’s heritage it should become a listed building (I can find no record of it being so?) in which case any camping would be prohibited. Oddly enough there are the remains of a small tinners blowing house nearby which are scheduled?

So by then it was about 12.45am and time to head back for the 120 mile trip home and a nostalgic look at the little cottage where I used to live just a mere three and a half miles away 🙁 The beauty of an early ‘moor start’ is that we saw very few people however on the way back there was a veritable procession of walkers tramping up Froggymead Hill. Before leaving we did take a few moments to view the stunning ‘blue carpet’ that lay besides the reservoir bank. Again this was another little gem to post in one’s memory album.

Stat's House Stroll

Red Kite

Stat's House Stroll

Teignhead Clapper

Stat's House Stroll

The ‘Blue Carpet’

Stat's House Stroll

My Old Abode

All in all a fantastic day with the Dartmoor weather on its best behaviour for once, and we returned home with some nice photographs, great recollections and a half decent sun tan/wind burn good enough to equal anything you would get from hotter climates.

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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