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Dartmoor - Around Great Mis Tor
by houdi » Tue Mar 01, 2011 10:10 pm
Date walked: 26/02/2011
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It rained heavily Friday night and most of Saturday morning. The Met Office had predicted a sunny afternoon and that’s how it turned out (surely they couldn’t have been right for once?). I arrived at the car-park across from Cox Tor at 12.30 looking forward to a decent afternoon’s hiking, possibly on a very soggy Dartmoor. I discovered straight away that the old saying ‘it’s a warm wind the west wind’ didn’t apply to Dartmoor. It was indeed a west wind but decidedly chilly on the exposed summits. Nice and warm in the sheltered valleys though.
Cox Tor spot height is 442m but the car-park is at 324m so it’s a climb of a little less than four hundred feet from the road. Still, Not a bad warm-up and good practice for Great Mis Tor later. Cox Tor is unusual in that it has no layered granite stacks and is a jumble of shattered rocks with no defining shape. It does have a trig point which is quite strange considering three of the other tors around here are all higher and none of them have a trig point. One thing Cox Tor does have is extensive views all the way south to the coast where Plymouth Sound is visible and also the Tamar bridge. Looking west gives a fine view of the lone Brent Tor, topped by its church, with Cornwall beyond.
There is a good path down into the valley and up on to the Staple Tors ridge. Several routes can be followed and I decided to miss out Middle Staple Tor for the time being and head up onto the high point of the ridge which is Great Staple Tor. This particular tor has rocks aplenty and also three fine rock stacks which are more like slim granite towers. Apart from the impossible (and out of bounds) Vixen Tor, Great Staple Tor is the most difficult one on Dartmoor to bag the summit, which happens to be the central tower next to the main path cutting a route straight through the middle of the tor. Usually the stacks on Dartmoor are buzzing with people (mostly kids) clambering on and around them. Not Great Staple Tor. I have been here several times without seeing anyone on these stacks and definitely not the summit stack. And I discovered why two years ago when I climbed up onto the top to gain the summit (455m) only to find I couldn’t get back down. There is really only one sensible way up and that’s from the back or north side. The summit is two flattish rocks balanced precariously on top of one another and a notched step takes you up onto the top of these. Unfortunately, when I tried to lower myself down from the summit I found I couldn’t reach the notched step. My legs weren’t long enough. I had a mild panic attack then. Twenty minutes and umpteen attempts later I was still stuck up there. It was that step into the unknown. I lay belly down on the summit rock and lowered myself backwards, but it was no good. I kept getting to the point where I would slip off the rock and I couldn’t quite reach the step. I knew it was there but it was the thought of toppling thirty feet on to a pile of jagged granite that was putting me off. There was a family nearby, having lunch in the sunshine below the stack opposite. I couldn’t bring myself to ask them for help. It was too embarrassing – me, who’d laughed at Curved Ridge, jogged across the Aonach Eagach, and fairly leapt over the Corrag Buidhe and Am Fasarinen pinnacles was now stuck on a lowly Dartmoor tor. I’d never live it down. It was do or die. I took one final look to make sure I knew exactly where the step was and went for it. There was one heart-stopping split second between letting go of the summit rock and my foot connecting with the step, before I could breath a humungus sigh of relief. The moral of this story is, if your inside leg measurement is 32 inches or less, do not attempt to summit Great Staple Tor solo. Make sure you have someone to ‘spot’ for you on the descent. Needless to say, I did not try to do the summit this time. It was far too windy anyway. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
I have to add here that summiting Great Staple Tor goes way beyond the realms of scrambling. It’s bouldering, which is really free climbing. I’ve watched people bouldering on Dartmoor. They wear those sticky climbing slippers and they swing and hang upside down like monkeys. It’s not quite so easy in walking boots, I can assure you.
It’s a gentle stroll across to the final hill on this ridge, Roos Tor. Only a metre lower than Great Staple it holds one of the army firing range flagpoles. I’m not a great admirer of the MOD. Dartmoor’s wild natural beauty has been spoilt by the erection of flagpoles and storage huts on many of the remotest hills and tors. It just isn’t right.
This is the end of the ridge walk proper. The path now continues out into the wild bleak moorland over spongy tufted grass which lost its greenery eons ago and never regained it. It’s like walking across a huge carpet of wet straw. It goes on and on into the distance, not created by the tramping of feet but flattened by farmers’ Quad vehicles rounding up their wandering livestock. Oddly enough this path ends at a stone circle close to the main route across Peter Tavey Great Common. I wasn’t going anywhere near there today. My goal was Great Mis Tor on the other side of the River Walkham. This particular tor is easily approached from the road near Princetown where it’s a fairly routine plod of a mile or so on a slight incline. From the north and west it’s a different story. Great Mis Tor shows its bulky girth from these directions. It’s a giant of a hill and well worthy of the prefix ‘Great’.
It’s a climb of 550ft from the bottom of the valley to the 538m summit of Great Mis Tor, which corresponds favourably to a decent re-ascent between munros. Unfortunately, I was foiled by the swollen river. Normally, it’s little more than a stream tumbling over many rocks which allows it to be crossed virtually anywhere, but I forgot about the heavy rain overnight. It was a seething black, peaty torrent and an insurmountable barrier under these conditions. Not to worry. The sun was shining and it was nice and warm here in the valley. I carried on walking for a while, stopped for a bite to eat and then returned back along the valley following the river. It was then I noticed a leat climbing out of the River Walkham. I say ‘climb’ as it’s another one of those leat optical illusions where it looks as if it’s flowing uphill. I wasn’t aware this particular water course existed, but after subsequently researching it on the web I learned it is the Grimstone & Sortridge Leat, an 11.3km working leat which provides water for 27 local families and also farms around the Pew Tor area.
I left the leat and rejoined the ridge at Middle Staple Tor before returning to the car park to discover the obligatory ice cream van had taken up residence there. It’s a sign the Devon winter is almost over. No doubt the Grockels will be arriving soon. Incidentally, the daffodils have been and gone down here which gives an indication of how much further towards Spring we are than anywhere else in the country.
There is a military road running from the B3357 near Merrivale Quarry to within a couple of hundred yards of Great Mis Tor, but I drove to the small car-park at the entrance to Yellowmeade Farrm and took the more gentle grass route to the tor. In terms of rock area it has to be the biggest tor on Dartmoor. Very impressive with countless scrambling and bouldering opportunities. No trig point here but there is an army flagpole (surprise, surprise) and a storage hut hidden away in the rocks on the north east side. The views south are uninterrupted all the way to the coast. The River Tamar is best seen from here as it snakes its way along the Tamar valley. North, the high moors stretch out all the way to Yes Tor near Oakhampton, and the Bearsdon Tors are within touching distance. It’s a great spot to sit down and simply enjoy the views. And I never thought I’d say that about anywhere on Dartmoor!
by ChrisW » Wed Mar 02, 2011 3:17 pm
by houdi » Wed Mar 02, 2011 9:28 pm
by ChrisW » Wed Mar 02, 2011 9:58 pm
mine too!As for flying my flag, it would have to be the Jolly Roger judging by my DVD collection
Do you not get much interest in the reports from Dartmoor? I would have thought a lot of people would like to see a different perspective whenever possible
by houdi » Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:25 pm
by ChrisW » Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:38 pm
by houdi » Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:47 pm
by skuk007 » Thu Mar 03, 2011 5:53 pm
by houdi » Thu Mar 03, 2011 6:46 pm
I fully agree with you skuk007. I've done quite a bit of the south-west coastpath and much prefer it to Dartmoor. And I've been to the Brecons more times than I care to remember. Must have covered the Central Brecons from every possible angle.
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