Walking the Dartmoor Borders
A shorter walk on the Dartmoor borderlands, revisiting some of the first areas I got to know over forty years ago. I give the route below, for it is a pleasant ramble – good for an evening walk.
The walk starts from the village of Manaton, once the home of the novelist and playwright John Galsworthy, author of The Forsyte Saga. He lived at Wingstone Farm, having eloped there with his cousin’s ex-wife Ada Nemesis Cooper. Yes, Nemesis! Enough said…
The route climbs over Hayne Down past Bowerman’s Nose to Jay’s Grave – the last resting place of Kitty Jay, who hanged herself two hundred years ago and was buried at the crossroads. Then to Hound Tor and the ruins of the nearby Medieval village, before returning via Leighon.
Our walk was a day of good views. You can certainly see some goodly stretches of Dartmoor from the high points of this walk. The sky was full of larks, foxgloves lined the walls of the Houndtor village, stonecrop covered the flatter boulders. If you do the walk, I hope you enjoy it.
The walk starts at the Manaton village car park, map reference SX750813. The route is some 6 miles and there is 1,040 feet of climb, though this is spread out across the walk. The ramble is mostly on paths, quiet lanes with some open moorland. Watch out for traffic on the lane sections. Suggested Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL28 Dartmoor. As always you do the walk at your own risk!
1. Leave the car park by the lower entrance. Cross at the crossroads, heading down the lane signposted Leighon. Descend to the foot of the hill, passing Mill Farm. After a slight rise take the second gate to your right. After a wooded and rocky entrance, the path heads left across a field. Exit at the stile and gate on the far side. Turn right up a lane which becomes a bridleway as it swings to the left by the entrance to Hayne House. This climbs to a gate leading out on to Hayne Down.
2. The path climbs diagonally up the side of the Down, heading just south of west for a quarter mile, towards a notable group of rocks. This is the lower of Hayne Down’s two summits. Make your way to their western side and you will encounter Bowerman’s Nose, a very distinctive pile of rocks. After visiting this notable Dartmoor landmark, descend westwards to a narrow lane (there are several paths all heading downhill). On reaching the lane, turn left until a gate is reached.
3. Pass through the gate, and take the bridleway to the right a few yards in. This clear path marks the boundary between Cripdon Down and Swine Down, climbing and then gradually descending. Follow for a quarter mile until another lane is reached. Here is Jay’s Grave, never without the flowers which mysteriously appear! Turn left along the lane for half a mile until the next junction (you can follow a path running parallel to the tarmac on the left bank). The crossroads is Swallerton Gate. Thor Heyerdahl wrote much of his book The Kon-Tiki Expedition in the nearby cottage.
4. In front of you is Hound Tor, one of the most spectacular of Dartmoor summits. Climb up to this, passing between the highest sections of the tor, a wonderful viewpoint for much of eastern Dartmoor. On the far (eastern) side of the tor, take the broad track heading downhill into the moorland valley (when the path is blocked by a line of anti-erosion fencing, head right for a few yards and then continue downhill.) This brings you to the ruins of the Hound Tor Medieval Village, a good place for a tea-break. This village was abandoned in the Middle Ages and only rediscovered and excavated in the past century.
5. Continue in the same direction, keeping to the left of the dramatic Greator Rocks. After a slight rise, pass through a gate and the descend down the steep path beyond. A quarter mile brings you down to the Becka Brook, which is crossed here by an old stone bridge, a delightful spot of twisted trees, boulders and thick layers of moss. Cross the bridge and take the path through the trees which winds and twists for a quarter mile until open moorland is reached.
6. At the path junction head left, contouring the lower slopes of the hill. The path runs parallel to the trees and stone walls, running through heather and bracken. After a quarter mile it becomes enclosed. Follow it downhill, passing through two gates. There are good views here back up to Hound Tor and Greator. At the next path junction, head left, down into the hamlet of Leighon. The path becomes a surfaced lane and crosses the Becka Brook again at a lovely old bridge.
7. Ignore the first path to the left (signposted Great Houndtor) but take the second, just past a grey stone cottage. Cross the stile and take the path through the wood. Cross a stile just after a tiny brook is crossed. Ascend the field beyond, keeping parallel to the left hand hedge, past some mighty boulders (note the good view of Black Hill over your right shoulder as you gain height).
8. At the top of the field pass through a gate on to a country lane. Turn right and follow the lane back into Manaton (straight across at the crossroads halfway). As you pass through the hamlet of Southcott, note the House Martin nests lining the eaves of the white cottage. Enjoy the walk!