Take a cold, overcast January Sunday, get up early, set off for the moor and drive straight into dense mist – not the most encouraging of starts. Add to this a recent canine addition who it transpires suffers from car sickness as soon as the key is put in the ignition and the fun begins. The idea is to walk out to Tavy Cleeve from the car park below Watervale, which, judging by the stomach heaving smell of dog vomit wafting from behind will be a welcomed sight – if you can see it through the mist.
This will be an interesting day because today is the first time ‘Zeb’ (the recent canine addition) has been on the moor. Perhaps I should illuminate a little on ‘Zeb’, he was a stray dog that since birth had spent his days wandering the streets and at the estimated age of 10 months he decided he wanted a proper home. The very first time I set eyes on him he had literally walked through the front door, cocked his leg and peed on the Javanese coffee tree stump table, make yourself at home why not? I have been told that because of his sad background he will have some ‘issues’, well fine, I think he has demonstrated most of them apart from his ‘moor etiquette’, that was yet to come.
At the very same time as the dog vomit was being mopped up the first signs of the morning sun began to poke through the thick misty mantle of the moor. The dog had settled down and so things were boding well for an eagerly awaited ‘trundle’. I was unsure of Zeb’s aquatic abilities and so decided to walk through the Willsworthy Ranges and pick up the leat that runs around the Natsworthy enclosures. It did not take long to have said talents ably demonstrated, on being introduced to the leat the first thing the dog does is, whilst standing on the bank, to shove his head and shoulders under the water to have a look around – fine, but can he swim? That question I still cannot answer because that is all he did for the rest of the walk.
As the mist began to dissolve Dartmoor began to come to life with strings of pony-trekkers and other walkers appearing from all directions. By the time we had reached the old ruins of the Reddaford medieval farmstead it was hard to work out whether this was Piccadilly Circus or Dartmoor. There were people everywhere, most of them heading up the cleave. The deserted farmstead was said to have been the setting for Eden Phillpotts’ book, ‘The Whirlwind’ in which he called it ‘Ruddyford Farm’. The setting was ideal for a cup of coffee, during which Zeb met his first Dartmoor bog, at least he hasn’t an ‘issue’ about getting caked in stinking mud. The old farm was abandoned because the military were building the firing range and it is noted that by 1910 the place was in ruins. Which probably was as well because a target railway was constructed just above the farm and in those days the accuracy of the field guns was none too hot. But what a lovely setting the farm must have been with wide views down to the lowlands below.
It was interesting to then walk through the old military features of the range which include the old target rails, winding house, and observation bunker. It did not take long to walk up over Nat tor which again was bustling with people, all of which the dog wanted to play with and even a gravy coated biscuit would not persuade him otherwise. On the other side of the tor I luckily managed to spot a flock of sheep and to get the lead on before the dog did. Again, being a lot of collie was this going to be an ‘issue’. As can be seen from the photograph below the sheep clearly thought it was an issue as they took off in formation across the moor.
The ancient Bronze Age settlement that perches on the hillside had some modern-day residents in the form of a brace of Red Grouse which on hearing our approach shot out of the cover and went noisily ‘chucking’ across the moor. This was a nice sight as it has been a few years since I last saw any grouse, I just wish they flew a little slower in order to get a photograph. From the hillside there is a fair view down the cleave but I am afraid on such a day it does not inspire one to get out the paint brushes as numerous artists have done – but that is the nature of Tavy Cleave.
There is also a good view up the cleave with Fur tor standing sentinel on the far horizon. From the high vantage point the sound of the river Tavy cascading down along its moorland course is in a strange way rather urgent. It seems as if the waters are in a hurry to be somewhere else and nothing is going to impede their journey.
As this was only going to be a trundle as opposed to a tramp it was nearing home time but as with any Dartmoor walk – just a bit further. In this case it wasn’t much further, just down to Dead Lake to lighten the food burden of the rucksack. The Dead Lake is a small stream that joins the Rattlebrook just as it drops into the Tavy. It is a place where the old tinners were busy, with spoil heaps strewn down the old stream works like small rockeries. When visiting such places it always begs the question, what must it have been like to work in such remote places? The miners were exposed to whatever weather the moor decided to throw at them with very little provision of shelter. It would have been cold, hard graft to wrestle the precious ore from the clutches of the moor. At this point my moorland musings were interrupted by the sight of Zeb racing off towards Hare tor in pursuit of a couple with two retrievers. Now, the thing that really annoys me about dogs is when they reach a certain distance which they deem to be able to pretend to be out of earshot. This dog has not quite got this down to a fine art because he will stop, look, and then defiantly take off whereas dogs proficient in the art will just innocently take off. Time to re-pack the rucksack and head off in the direction the dog was last seen, which happened to be a bushy tail disappearing over the ridge towards Hare tor. Luckily just over the crest of the hill said dog had found an old sheep’s skull to divert his attentions and was soon back on the lead.
Retracing our steps we contoured back around to Ger tor and then headed off towards Reddaford. This time however the route took us slightly higher that the outward journey and past a strange feature sited above the old farmstead. I had never seen it before and later research has shed little light on the structure. As can be seen from the photograph below it was a small circular enclosure with what appears to be no entrance. Hemery states that it is known as the ‘Roundhouse’ and belonged to the old farm. Whether this was used as a rabbit-proof vegetable plot I know not but if anybody can shed any light on the matter I will be most grateful.
Once reaching the Willsworthy ranges it was back to the typical Dartmoor Sunday afternoon with numerous people out for a stroll. No matter where you go on the moor there seems to be three zones, the first is within about half a mile from the carpark and it will contain lots of people, usually day-trippers. The second zone is about a mile from the carpark and here you will generally find locals walking their dogs. The third zone is usually about two miles form the carpark and it will be very quite with the odd walker, at one time you could expect to meet hardly a soul here but I think those days have gone.
Probably the hardest task of the day was to get Zeb back into the car, I think he remembered the morning’s ride and preferred to keep his lunch in his stomach. As it happens he was that tired he was fast asleep within minutes, dreaming and twitching about his first day on the moors.