POSTBRIDGE CP SHEEPSFOLD, STANNON TOR, GREY WETHERS AND WINNEY'S DOWN
START POINT GRID REF: 648789 DISTANCE: 8.5 miles

As I had agreed to lead a walk on the moors to the north of Postbridge for our group on 15th january 2006, I thought it might be a good idea to recce a walk in the area before the day of the planned walk. In reality the walk I reccied with three others on January 2nd was rather different to the walk that I ended up leading on Sunday January 15th, not least in the weather conditions. The recce was on a cold crisp and sunny winters day and the actual walk with Plymouth Ramblers ended up on a mild, wet and windy Sunday with deteriorating visibility as the day progressed. What both had in common were that both walks started at Postbridge car park and visited Hartland Tor, Grey Wethers, Sittaford Tor and the East Dart Waterfall. Apart from those spots however the routes taken were very different and so were the numbers taking part. Four were on the recce and sixteen walkers arrived at Postbridge for the walk two weeks later.

Routes for both walks are shown on the map below but only the recce ( shown in red on the map ) on 2nd January is described here.

Please remember that the outlines shown above are only rough views of the two walks. The outline of the routes should be used in conjunction with a 1:25000 scale map such as the OS leisure map no 28 of Dartmoor to gain a fuller appreciation of the route. There are plenty of bogs in this area of Dartmoor, so beware!!

The four of us set off from Postbridge CP at about 10 AM in bright sunshine, we walked to the main road and turned left along the road to cross the main bridge at Postbridge and then turned left again onto the track which leads up to the east side of the East Dart.

The area just to the north east of Postbridge leading to Hartyland is now open access under CROW and it is no longer necessary to follow the muddy right of way around the edge of the field.

Once we reached the Hartyland field area we kept close to the side of the East Dart and then out onto the moor.

The first climb of the day was up to Hartland Tor and after this point the recce diverged from the planned walk. The planned walk was due north from Hartland Tor for two miles, directly upto Grey Wethers stone circles. On the recce I was keen to visit the impressive Scotch Sheepsfold and Stannon Tor sitting high to the east overlooking the Sheepsfold.

Accordingly we made our way upto the highest point of Hartland Tor and enjoyed views across to Roundy Park and Archerton to the west.

From Hartland Tor we headed north and then north west across to cross a brook and then east up to the Sheepsfold.

The enclosing walls are enormous, approaching 10 feet high in some places and are strengthened with granite posts all the way . It seemed to me that these are far too big to have been designed simply as a sheepsfold.

Eric Hemery in High Dartmoor explains how it was originally built as a starch factory, using potatoes grown on the slopes of Stannon Tor to the east.

The enterprise never really got off the ground as Dartmoor is not an ideal environment for potato growing. So some twenty years later it was used as a sheepsfold and continued to be so used until the 1980s or maybe it is still so used today.

Why is it called the Scotch Sheepsfold, it seems that it was two ambitious Scots who embarked on the enterprise to have a starch factory in the area.

This was one of many disparate industrial enterprises started on Dartmoor, almost all of which were doomed to failure.

From the Sheepsfold we had a stiff climb up to Stannon Tor and morning coffee.

I had a particular reason for visiting Stannon Tor, I am attempting to photograph every recorded tor on Dartmoor, about three hundred of them and Stannon is one of the fifty or so that I need to visit and photograph to complete the set.

From Stannon Tor we headed off north towards Grey Wethers. As we made our way through tussocks, no tracks to speak of here, I noticed a small rock outcrop on the south western flank of White Ridge near a corner of Fernworthy plantation.

Since the rock outcrop could be a Tor, albeit one unnamed on the OS map, and many remain unnamed incidentally, I decided to visit the outcrop and photograph it. Henceforth it is known as White Ridge Rocks and is classified as a Tor on my Tors database. It is certainly larger than some tors named on the OS map so there is no reason why it should not be classified as one.

From White Ridge Rocks we made out way across tussocky ground heading just to the east of the head waters of the infant South Teign River just before it drops away through the valley to flow in through Fernworthy Plantation to fill Fernworthy reservoir.

We made our way across with relative ease, although further to the west the head waters area are particularly boggy.

A few hundred metres to the north west we arrived at the well known renovated and impressive Grey Wethers, a strange name for two bronze age stone circles standing side by side. There are several reasons given as to why the stone circles got the name. One plausible story is that from a long distance away the stones in the circles could be mistaken for sheep grazing and a wether is the name of a castrated sheep and there are sheep which look grey from a distance.

Leaving Grey Wethers, which incidentally was like a meeting place for ramblers both on the recce and on the day of the scheduled walk with three groups arriving there together from various directions on both days. I guess several paths converge at this local landmark so it is natural that walkers should make their way to it.

From the double stone circle, we made our way uphill for 600 metres heading west along a reasonably well defined track for the climb up to Sittaford Tor, fairly inconspicuous when approached from the east but offering a tremendous 360 degree vista from this local high point at 540 metres height.

It is a great place to sit with a decent map and to try to recognise the dozens and dozens of tors, valleys and hills all around of Northern Dartmoor.

At this point the route of the recce diverted again from the planned walk. On Sunday 15th jan I led the group across to visit Statt's House which was 1000 metres on a bearing of 240 degrees.

It was a route I knew but I didn't know if it was possible to walk across Winney's Down directly to the Waterfall on the East Dart.

There was only one way to find out and that was to walk across the Down on the recce. As it was the first time that I had ever attempted this track, I had no idea how boggy it might be. We would certainly be crossing the head waters of Winney's Down Brook so the spirit of adventure kicked in.

There seemed to be a relatively new track heading across the Down, I certainly don't recall seeing it the last time I was there. It was a little over a mile across heading just west of south to get to the waterfall and the going, whilst wet and boggy in places, was quite passable. It was quite damp in the area of the head waters but certainly no worse than close to the head waters of the South Teign.

It could prove a useful shortcut on a route back to Postbridge, particularly if the East Dart was crossable just above the waterfall which it frequently is. I headed slightly west of south to keep to slightly higher ground and found yet another rocky outcrop that I hadn't recorded before. There was only one name to give to this so Winney's Down Rocks now appears on my database of Tors and outcrops.

From these rocks, it was an easy and relatively dry descent down to the East Dart waterfall.

We crossed over the old Vitifer and Birch tor mine leat with its take off point a few hundred metres further up the East Dart and were soon gazing down on the waterfall. Although I didn't recall overmuch rain falling over Christmas and leading upto the New year there was certainly plenty of water roaring down over the waterfall and quite impressive it looked too. But there was just one problem, it didn't look as if it could be crossed with safety so I ditched the idea and decided to keep to the same side of the East Dart for the return to Postbridge.

Unbelievably, just two weeks later on the planned Plymouth Group walk via Statt's House and Sandy Hole Pass, even on such a wet day, we found that with care we could cross the East Dart here, there certainly was far less water tumbling over the waterfall than at the New Year, so the routes differed completely after Sittaford for the two walks, as the walk outlines show.

Leaving the waterfall on the recce, we continued along tracks to the North of the East Dart cutting the corner of the river and heading for a hopeful crossing point over Winney's Down Brook. This was easily achieved and we enjoyed good views down and over the East Dart.

A little further downstream we looked down on a small island in the East Dart just before it swung south to head down towards Postbridge and beyond down to Dartmeet where the Double Dart starts.

Since we were returning around to walk back down to Hartland Tor we had Ladehill Brook Ford to negotiate as the river swung south. Luckily this was not too deep and so no wet feet here.

 

We then took the opportunity of going upstream slightly along the brook to visit one of the better preserved Beehive Huts on Dartmoor and clearly marked on the OS map.

The roof of the hut is missing, there is just one beehive hut on Dartmoor where the turf roof is still in place. Despite the absence of one on this hut, the reason for the name beehive hut is obvious.

Leaving the beehive hut we headed south and gained height and so made our way back along tracks directly to Hartland Tor once again, but this time keeping to the lower side of the Tor.

 

From the Tor I could just about pick out a kistvaen which I knew to be situated close to Roundy Park across the other side of the East Dart, It is a large kistvaen and was renovated a hundred years ago and so is a fine example of a cist complete with capstone.

On the 15th January having crossed the river at the East Dart we walked right down by Roundypark and for the first time in my life I was able to legally visit the site of the kistvaen.

Why legally?? In late August 2005 the area was classified as Open Access land under CROW, before that date the Roundy Park area was not Access Land and was therefore officially out of bounds to walkers.

 

From the tor it was simply a case of retracing our steps back down to pass near the impressive Hartyland House, across new open access land, over the clapper across the Stannon Brook and so back to the road bridge at Postbridge with the impressive old clapper bridge just downstream. A few metres further we were back into the DNP maintained car park with its good facilities and information centre and it was absolutely heaving with cars. It was of course a sunny day and it was the New Year Bank Holiday too, albeit on Monday 2nd January.

On the Sunday of the planned walk just two weeks later we were one of a handful of cars and school mini buses there ( for 10 Tors training) to populate this large car park. The conditions were rather different too, On the new year bank holiday it was bright and sunny and crisp, whilst two weeks later there was rather more typical Dartmoor weather of rain, strongish winds and low cloud to mar the views.

I rarely mix two walks in one description but it is worth doing so here since it shows that recces need not always slavishly follow a predicted route. Dartmoor is such a wonderful area and providing proper pre planning is done it is possible to test walking areas, albeit with a degree of common sense and careful map reading thrown in.