POSTBRIDGE TO FERNWORTHY VIA GREY WETHERS

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One of the first Wednesday walks in the new millenium was from Postbridge to Fernworthy Reservoir on Wednesday 19th Jan 2000 . It was led by John Skinner, a very experienced Dartmoor walker and walks leader and was graded as a strenuous walk, at times, of 12 miles. There were 13 walkers in all.

Why strenuous in places, read on and find out.

Postbridge to Fernworthy Map
Using this outline together with the OS 1:25000 map of Dartmoor and the description below you should be able to get a good overview of the routes taken.

There were two hard climbs one very steep climb from the East Dart up to Sittaford Tor and the equally demanding although less steep climb up to the top of Assycombe Hill which gave the walk its strenuous in places grading.

The trip to the car park was in some mist on the high moors and heavy showers but the rain stopped and the skies cleared by the time the walks started.

There was little wind, and a temperature between 10 and 13 degrees and good visibility.

The photograph above of the Wednesday group was taken at the end of Fernworthy reservoir and includes all but those who got slightly behind as we made our way around this remote but accessible by car South West Water Reservoir.

At 10 AM John gave his customary briefing and we were off.

We left the car park onto the main road, turned left and followed the road through Postbridge and over the bridge which has a pronounced hump in it and the surface shows the scars of many long wheel based vehicles which have grounded going over the bridge.

There is another bridge just down stream of the road bridge, a magnificent old clapper bridge, still in good order and one of the largest clappers on Dartmoor.

 

Having crossed over the East Dart River we turned left and followed a track for three hundred yards before turning left and making our way down to the river.

This whole section, keeping to the edge of the open area, was very muddy indeed.

It was interesting to note that whilst we were ploughing around the edge, following the approved route, other walkers were cutting diagonally across the field across relatively dry ground to the gate in the corner down by the river.

However we weren't walking across open acces land at that point and John was quite right to stick to the public right of way route We eventually reached the gate in the far corner and turned right . After passing the gate we were soon walking close to the east Dart on the eastern bank of the river. Very unusual on Dartmoor down near the river we passed by a small bamboo plantation, bamboos up on Dartmoor, climatic changes are here, obviously.

We followed the path of the river upstream for a mile and then gradually moved further away from the marshy ground close to the river slightly higher up the side of the valley.

The area was very boggy in places and the path had several deviations to avoid the wetter areas.

It really was a case of finding a path through the marshy ground rather than following any distinct path.

Having made our way through the first boggy areas we made our way through a gate in a dry stone wall and continued on roughly parallel to the East Dart. Ahead of us we could see a brook running down to the East Dart which the group all crossed with their customary ease. The area around the brook was obviously some form of old open cast mining area and there was plenty of evidence of the mining in the vicinity.

On the uphill side of the brook was an old, now collapsed, beehive style mining hut, just about visible in the picture on the right.

It is quite impressive close up but we weren't going to it on this walk.

So far the uphill section had been relatively easy going , despite the wetness of the ground and the mud.

With the next section that certainly changed from easy to very hard. The river swung left and its direction upstream changed from North to west.

We took a path following the curve of the river, climbed over a stile over a wall and then immediately turned almost due north up a very steep and rough hillside.

The uphill section led us up out of the valley, very steeply for a half a mile, following a dry stone wall on our right.

This section certainly tested the legs and the lungs of the group and we naturally became quite spread out as the leader and a couple of others demonstrated that some were fitter than others!

The zig zag technique for steep uphill sections was applied by many.

After the half a mile of very steep walking, the climb settled down to a more moderate one but continued for a further mile uphill, all the time getting ever closer to the Tor which marked the local high point.

We were heading up to Sittaford Tor shown on the OS map as 538 metres high.

We had just climbed from 400 metres, an ascent of getting on for 500 feet in 'old money'. It doesn't sound much but believe me the first sort section accounted for most of the height gain.

Climbing is good for the soul I am told! It was certainly one way of working off the millenium celebrations.

A quick stop at the top of Sittaford Tor to allow us to enjoy the views and to regroup after the climb, which had really strung us out and we were off again, over a stile and now descending on a bearing of about 75 degrees.

As we descended down to the valley below we passed The Grey Wethers on our right about two hundred yards away. This is the name given to two old stone circles.

We were too far away to really see what they were like but there would be another walk which would pass right through them.

There are many such individual circles on Dartmoor, we kept to the right of the dry stone wall until we came to a gate .

Once through the gate we headed diagonally across and John's intention was to add in a little there and back spur to visit Teignhead farm and to take lunch by the derelict farm.

We turned down into the valley below and could see a small river ahead that we had to cross.

Long ago the local farmer must have had the same problem and we could see an old stone bridge over the Teign to make the crossing easy, a really nice wide bridge in fact as we found out as we got closer.

We swung left, made our way down and across the old wide clapper bridge and followed the track up to the farm.

Once across this substantial clapper bridge, it was only a short walk along a clearly defined track until we reached the ruins of the derelict Teignhead Farm set amongst the small copse.

It never ceases to amaze me that farmers would live out here in the wilds of the moors with no obvious farm track back to civilisation. I also wondered when the area stopped being farmed and indeed why it had stopped.

 

We settled down for our short lunch break enjoying the weak rays of the winter sun just by the entrance to the farm.

After 15 minutes we made our way back across the bridge and retraced our steps back to the gate leading into the Fernworthy Forest and the reservoir beyond.

Once through the gate we followed a well defined track which took us into Fernworthy Forest.

 

 

I was surprised at how large this forest plantation was.

The map shows it is a fairly large area but it is not until you walk through it that you really realise just how large the forest actually is.

We followed the track up over a hill and then down again for at least a mile with pine trees everywhere. In a small clearing there was yet another small stone circle to our left but much less conspicuous than the Grey Wethers circle we had seen from a distance.

The forest is at least two miles from north to south and we were crossing it at its narrowest east west point.

As we dropped down, we had our first glimpse of the Fernworthy Reservoir below us.

We came to a road, not far above the reservoir and we had a choice of walking left or right.

Down by the road, John opted for the northerly loop around.

We turned left through a gate welcoming walkers but not horses and cyclists and made our way along the northern side of the reservoir towards the dam at the eastern end following a well defined track around, well defined in parts anyway.

On such a still day, the tranquility of the area was splendid.

The lake is about a mile long but only two or three hundred yards wide at its widest point.

There were excellent views across the reservoir and down to the dam in one direction and it made a very attractive sight in the winter sun.

The group got well spread out as some stopped to take in the views whilst others pressed on.

We were soon at the dam at the eastern end where we waited for a few minutes for the 13 of us to regroup.

We made our way down to the bottom of the dam up the other side on out of the forest and we had the return to Postbridge across open moorland.

Although we had done a good deal of uphill walking in reaching Fernworthy, it certainly wasn't all downhill from here in getting back to Postbridge.

We left the plantation, turned due south and were faced with a 2 mile uphill moderate climb across rough moorland to the top of Assycombe Hill at just under 500 metres. The rough moorland and the long uphill section again tested our fitness and we stopped at the high point for a well earned afternoon tea break to recover from our exertions.

The final downhill section was ahead of us, about two and a half miles away on a bearing of 210 degrees was Postbridge.

We made our way down and through some boggy areas until we reached a farm.

Turning right through the farm and left at the bottom of the lane, we soon saw the road bridge at Postbridge ahead of us.

As predicted by John, we were back at Postbridge before 4PM, just under 6 hrs after leaving it.

We had indeed covered just under 12 miles and had enjoyed an excellent days walking across some quite rough moorland in places.

With the variation of moorland, forest and reservoir the views were varied and spectacular in places.

Thanks were given to John for his efforts and we were on our way back to Plymouth to reflect on the day.

One of the lessons of the day was to try to avoid the very very steep climb up from the East Dart to Sittaford Tor in future, there had to be easier ways up than the straight line approach taken by John, and there was, as I was to subsequently find out.