Dartmoor: Climbing Ryder’s Hill
Ryder’s Hill (1694 feet) is southern Dartmoor’s highest summit, plateau-like and undramatic, but a fine viewpoint on a clear day. I hadn’t been up there for about five years, so we decided to make the very gentle ascent from Combestone Tor this past Sunday.
Combestone was hidden in mist as we approached, but within seconds the sun broke through and the clouds retreated giving us a hot day with clear views over miles of moorland. We went up by the heads of the two long Dry Lake gullies, with the mounds and scratches of early tin workers, then on to the actual bounds of Dartmoor Forest, first perambulated by twelve knights of Henry III in 1240. It is not a difficult climb, though the vegetation can be wet and rough in places. During the course of the day, we could see much of Dartmoor and the air almost vibrated with the sounds of skylarks.
Ryder’s summit is really just a level patch of the greater hill, not a summit in the traditional sense. But the views are exceptional, on a very good day not just the Moor, but the Bodmin hills and sections of the coast from the Lizard to Portland.
A squelchy descent brought us to Aune Head, the great mire that is the source of the River Avon, one of the loneliest places in southern England. There is here the ruins of a medieval tinner’s hut – there were probably more people about in his time than now. Then over to the slopes of Ter Hill, above the bowl of the Swincombe, an area of wild country saved from a reservoir by the indomitable Sylvia Sayer, in the days when her Dartmoor Preservation Association was a more forceful campaigning organisation, less bothered by the opinions of the Dartmoor Establishment, as, sadly, it is today.
We returned by the valley of the Wo Brook, or O Brook, one of Dartmoor’s most delightful spots – a gem in this granite setting. A place to linger and reflect. Even on a hot Sunday in June we saw only a handful of people. A good walk over very rough ground, very wet after three weeks of rain, but delightful in the summer sunshine.