The walk is scheduled for August 2003 when all ranges are closed for the month. To visit it at any other time it is important to check that there is no firing on the Willsworthy Range or the Merrivale Range since you cross into both of them as you make your way up to Fur Tor. You can find this information from links from our web site to Dartmoor Ranges firing times.
Since it was a couple of years since I walked up to Fur Tor and indeed through Tavy Cleave I decided to recce it on 13th July. It turned out to be by far the hottest day of the year with temperatures of 25 degrees C or more, although there was a cooling breeze. For once I reccied it with Joy alone, not the usual group of six to eight souls.
The route should be studied in conjunction with a suitable OS map of Dartmoor. The ever faithful 1:25000 outdoor leisure map no 28 of Dartmoor is the one that most walkers use.
If you are intending to walk it then you'll also need a good compass and a GPS would also be a useful bit of electronics to take along. If the mist comes down then knowing where you are on this walk is essential.
We left Plymouth early and were ready for the start out of Lane End car park at 9.10 AM.
Suprisingly, there was another couple there before us ready to have a stroll with their dog up into Tavy Cleave.
How do we get up to Tavy Cleave one of them asks??
Just head up towards the big tor high above you (Ger Tor) until you come to a leat then turn right and follow it round into Tavy Cleave, you can't miss it.
They started off and a few minutes later we head north west to a bridge over the leat which we duly cross and turn right.
It was a recce though and we do learn from our mistakes.
I could have cut the corner and walked direct across to another bridge over the leat.
The outline shows the route which cuts the corner and follows a broad track up out of the car park by the side of a dry stone wall.
The second mistake and one which I soon regretted. Go up to the leat but don't cross over it.
Turn right just before the bridge and head into the majestic Cleave with the leat on your left hand side.
True there are paths on either side but the one above the leat soon becomes decidedly difficult and scree like to clamber across. The other two soon found out to their cost that they too were on the wrong side and so did I.
Whichever side you end up on and we know the best one now, just follow the leat around as it swings from west around Nat Tor to due north and enters this majestic Dartmoor Cleave through which the Tavy descends, sometimes in flood but in midsummer after a good dry spell there was little water in it to bother us.
As we made our way into the Cleave, high above us and ahead we could see Ger Tor. Being on the wrong side we were soon scrambling across the lower sections of the scree field which tumbles down from Get Tor right into the Cleave.
I jumped across the leat to the better side but Joy didn't fancy an early bath so stayed on the rough side right up to near the leat take off point from the Tavy.
She really had some difficult track to find, let alone follow on the way to the take off.
My plan was to cross over the Tavy via large flat rocks just downstream of the leat take off point and in midsummer this is usually possible.
The alternative is to stay on the Ger Tor side of the Cleave and continue right up through to the far end of the Cleave. Since it is a over half a mile shorter to cross over the river early and head for Fur Tor that was my planned option.
The crossing was very easy to accomplish and once on the Standon Hill side "all" we had to do was to climb up out of the Cleave to the moors above it.
Tavy Cleave is in fact a very steep sided valley and we were faced with a 450 feet climb up from the river up to the flat section of Standon Down.
We headed across and up and after 10 minutes of serious heavy breathing we were able to contour round towards the next hurdle, a steep sided gert running right down to the Cleave about 200 feet below us.
The views looking up the Cleave are simply majestic, and on such a perfect summers day, something to really savour.
No bracken up here, just short grass grazed well by the many cattle, pony and sheep we passed by.
We were soon by the gert and there was an easy track leading down to it, across a brook and then up the other side and out of the gert and then upwards again for the 250 feet to the flatter moors and then due east for a couple of miles to the breathtaking Fur Tor.
Breathtaking in more ways than one as we were to find out in less than an hour.
Heading east we eventually made it to near the top and our first views of the target Tor. It looked a long way distant and between our point and there were a couple of river crossings and a whole lot of tussocks and cotton grass indicated that it could be very damp in places.
The tussocks were, as usual, a serious hazard to walking at anything more than a slow pace but we made steady progress across the tussocks interspersed with potentially wet areas.
Before long we had a short but steepish descent to cross over a brook shown on the map as Western Red Lake, not a lake I'm pleased to report and very easy to get across.
A quick stop for morning sustenance and we were on our way again, up and out of the valley to an area named 'The Meads' on the map.
Western Redlake has range marker poles to indicate that we were moving out of Willsworthy and into Merrivale ranges. The area was a mix of large tussocks and cotton grass in equal measure.
Progress was slow but steady across the half mile expanse of grasses ( no bracken here I'm pleased to report ) If there is something I really dislike on Dartmoor it is the steady penetration of bracken swamping everything in its way.
Ahead of us the map showed that we had another river to cross, in fact the River Tavy, fed by Fur Tor Brook and Eastern Redlake.
We made our way to cross the river just downstream of where the two brooks flow into it. Once again, absolutely no problem in crossing the river over the large stones there in abundance and I've done that easily enough when there was plenty of water flowing.
Fur Tor and the last lap to get there. We crossed the Tavy at an altitude of 1430 feet. Fur Tor is at 1850 feet and uphill it was all the way, growing progressively steeper as we neared the summit of the Tor, under a mile away from the river.
Initially there were plenty of tussocks then cattle, sheep and ponies further up the hill to negotiate.
It was again potentially boggy in places but in midsummer, no problem.
We were soon scrambling up the small rocks and then progressively larger rocks that surround Fur Tor. Breath taking it most certainly was but at the top the Tor afforded breathtaking views for miles around.
Fur Tor is a collection of huge lumps of granite which from a distance gives it the magnificent shape it has.
The fables surrounding Fur Tor and the pixies who live there are legendary.
Joy climbed to the top of one of the smaller granite outcrops but we decided not to tackle the largest one. What an idyllic place to have a lunchbreak though. The temperature was still high up at 1800 feet plus........
The breeze and there was a good one had kept us from over heating and was most refreshing.
It is a different matter though in mid winter up here!!!, although on new years day there is a regular pilgrimage to Fur Tor by walkers to toast in the New Year from the top of this very remote Tor.
Some hardy souls have even been known to camp up there, much to the pixies pleasure.
All we had to do now was to make our way back around the southern side of Standon Hill and then to the car park at Lane End.
This could take getting on for three hours depending on conditions underfoot so we had a fair time to go.
My recollections of the route back were of incredibly tussocky underfoot conditions and plenty of bog as well until we were due east of the cairn atop Standon Hill. It would be hard going.
The descent from Fur Tor was a whole lot easier than going up, even for someone with dodgy knees, like me!!
After the initial steep section, going was fast and easy as we followed cattle tracks on a bearing of 250 degrees down to a third crossing of the river Tavy, and even easier than the other two crossings as we were only a mile from Tavy head.
Once over the river we had a steep but short climb up and then hard going for a while across very tussocky moorland.
Luckily there were a line of range marker posts not shown on my map but the tracks made by vehicles certainly eased the going across the tussocks.
After a short period of difficult tussock walk, salvation was at hand.
The map showed bog ahead but there was a 10ft wide broad flattened track leading uphill directly in the direction I needed to take.
Instead of a mile or more of hard going we had soft flattened moorland for very easy walking uphill across the section I had been worried about.
It seems like the Army made the track when carrying soldiers right across the moor from Okehampton to the Merrivale Ranges or vice versa. If it was a planned track, I'm pleased they haven't laid a stony surface but simply flattened tussocks, a much better solution to their needs in my view, and also of use to walkers in this area.
I found out three weeks later from reading press reports and watching Spotlight that the track was the result of a night exercise on 10th July 03 when 18 rubber caterpiller track light personnel transporter vehicles crossed between the ranges all following the same line .
The furore in the press from the DPA is not unexpected. The Army have definitely made a mistake in inadvertently making this track and the Anti Army on Dartmoor lobbyists will use it to reinforce their views.
Using the track across this difficult terrain, we made good progress up and towards the top of the hill until we intersected the old moorland track, I knew was there, which would lead us down to the east of Standon hill.
From the intersection with the moorland track I knew the rest of the walk was across less demanding terrain. We turned first west then south for a mile as we descended down and off the high moors, following the old track right down to link with the Lych Way route.
Off to the east above us we could see Lynch Tor, not to be visited today and Standon Hill to the west of us.
As we descended, we could see the fields panning out towards us with an area enclosed by a stone wall with a very distinctive large ring of trees in the middle of it.
I recalled seeing the draft CROW map which suggested the area around the circular copse might become open access land with a little luck.
I've always wanted to walk to the copse. In a year I might just be able to realise that wish.
Until then I had to keep to the outside of the dry stone enclosure wall and make my way to the far corner where the route we were walking met the Lych Way, which runs across the moor from Bellever near Postbridge to Lydford.
We turned right and headed west along the track which took us through a gate with MOD building ( I think ) just beyond the gate.
Ahead of us, a few hundred yards along we could see BaggaTor and we followed the track along by the Tor and on down until we reached a tiny car park and a road leading up to it.
I'm told that this is the nearest road / car park to Fur Tor, at a rough guess it is 2.5 to 3 miles back to Fur Tor.
The Lych Way is a public footpath leading right across the moor and the line of it is clearly signed in this area.
We headed down following the signs and through a gate and down a very very rough stony track, which does no good to ankles, knees or hips, or back come to that.
Luckily it was a short although steep descent and soon we were out through a gate with Brousentor Farm off to the left and an easy to follow concrete track to walk on.
The descent continued and soon we saw a sign directing us off into a field which would take us down to cross first Baggator Brook and then the river Tavy again for the fourth and last time on the walk.
It is not difficult to go wrong at this point as the track seems to lead you into a bog but it is passable and the track then descends through trees with Baggator Brook fenced off and immediately to your right.
The track leads you down by Coffin Wood, across a narrow bracken enclosed track then through a gate to the brook. You are faced with a choice. Signposts indicate a route over a bridge and then up to another bridge over the Tavy about 1/4 mile upstream as an alternative to a stepping stone route across both rivers.
The true line of the Lych Way however is across the set of stepping stones over Baggator Brook and a few yards on across another set of stepping stones across the Tavy.
About four years ago one of the central stepping stones across the Tavy was washed away so it couldn't be used. THE MISSING STEPPING STONE IS BACK, so the route is useable again, at least when the Tavy isn't in flood.
We crossed over both sets of stepping stones and then across a couple of stiles. From this point there is a track running up to a point along a rough lane running down from Higher Wilsworthy Farm. Since the route has been unusable for a few years, the footpath in this area is seriously overgrown and you may have to divert into nearby fields from time to time.
We managed it, with only a couple of minor diversions, across four or five stiles in various states of disrepair for the third of a mile uphill to the track down from the Farm ( Higher Wilsworthy ).
There is a gate just before the farm and then we emerged out onto the road we had driven up six hours earlier to reach the aptly named Lane End.
The last five hundred yards were along the tarmaced road before going across a cattle grid and into the car park.
We had completed the recce and learnt a few lessons en route which will be put into good effect when I lead the walk for the group in early August.
The main problem will be if there is seriously heavy rain before the walk, in which case the first of the crossings of the Tavy will be out of the question. The alternative will be to follow Tavy Cleave all the way up to where the Rattlebrook flows into the Tavy and where crossing can be accomplished at most river levels. From there, hopefully across the Tavy uphill for a hundred yards and skirt round with the Tavy to the north of us crossing first the Western Redlake and then the Tavy again and so up to Fur Tor.
Although this diversion adds about a half mile to the walk, two bonuses, firstly we see all of Tavy Cleave, albeit along some difficult walking terrain and secondly we avoid the hard 400 feet climb up to Standon Down from the leat take off point.
Only time will tell which route I take on the day.
Variations on the route we took on the actual day of the walk (3rd Aug 03).
The weather in the couple of weeks leading up to the walk had been more than indifferent. There had been lots of rain, inches of it in fact. The rain continued on and off right up to midday on Friday 1st August and I anticipated very wet underfoot conditions and difficulty with any crossings over the Tavy.
On the Saturday a high pressure drifted in across the UK and the temperature began to rise. On the Sunday, very little wind indeed, and temperatures climbing up into the high twenties on the moor, just what I didn't want for a strenuous walk, which I knew this one would be.
It was hotter than it had been on the recce without the cooling breeze.
I thought there would be lots of river flowing down the Tavy so I adopted plan B, not to cross over the Tavy at the leat take off but to continue up through Tavy Cleave on the left bank of the river until reaching the Rattlebrook then to cross the Rattlebrook and the Tavy just beyond over large rocks I had used before when crossing to the other bank.
After crossing the Tavy I determined to climb up 100 ft above the river, or thereabouts and then to follow the contours thereby avoiding the difficult terrain close to the river, crossing the Western Redlake Brook nearer the Tavy than on the recce and so on around The Meads and over the Tavy keeping closer to the main river than I had done on the recce.
The only other difference to the route covered on the recce, was at the start when instead of heading from Lane End up in the direction of Ger Tor until reaching the leat, to take the track from Lane End which cut the corner and took us directly up to the leat just before it swung round into the lower part of Tavy Cleave.
The route variations to the one on the recce are shown as a dotted red line on the map outline.
So how did the variations work out on the day?
Cutting the corner was a big improvement and it was a less steep route up to the leat.
When we reached the leat take off it was obvious that the river wasn't running as high as I had thought it might be and that the flat rocks appeared crossable.
Nevertheless I decided to adopt plan B the Cleave route and go up through the Cleave by the river.
Even at 11 AM it was hot in Tavy Cleave with the very steep sides of the Cleave funnelling the heat down onto us.
I soon remembered just how difficult the track on the left side of the river actually was,boggy, yes certainly after all the rain but easy enough to get around.
Some of the clitter there was a different proposition and we had to scramble over and around large rocks from time to time.
The views close to the river were quite superb and well worth the effort involved.
It is well known that further up the Cleave there are lovely quiet areas of the rivers, natural pools and on the opposite bank there were families enjoying the hot summer day, bathing in these pools.
A little further up, we stopped by rocks and enjoyed a pleasant 10 minutes break for morning coffee before the final section of scree hopping to reach the Rattlebrook.
When we got there I made my way up the river for a hundred metres or so until I found a point where the boulders were big enough and closer enough together to make crossing the river an easy matter ( all a matter of opinion, I know ). This was the first of three crossings in quick succession involving boulder hopping.
I made my way down the other side of the Rattlebrook back to the Tavy where there is a small narrow island in the middle. I knew I could get across to the island and from there to the other bank of the Tavy, where I needed to be.
I have a feeling that some of the ladies were not overly happy with the second and third crossing points but with assistance everyone managed to get across both without falling in (just).
From the far bank everything went as planned skirting the rest of the Cleave at a higher level.
Before long we could see Fur Tor in the distance, about 1.75 miles away to the east.
After the scrambling up through the Cleave lower down, the higher reaches further above the river was very easy.
I anticipated reaching the top of Fur Tor by about 1.15 PM for a late lunch, but it was getting hotter by the minute.
Over the Western Redlake brook and around "The Meads", we were soon ready for yet another crossing of the Tavy a few hundred yards upstream of where Amicombe Brook flows into it.
We found some easy to cross boulders and were soon across theTavy for the third time.
One mile to go to the top of Fur Tor, and I was back on the route we had taken on the recce.
As we made our way up the lower sections of the climb we crossed the track made recently by MOD vehicles and which I had been asked by Devon Access Officer to have a look at.
"Another track to walk along" was my view and one which would soon revert to the tussocky state it was before the Army exercise resulted in the inadvertent forming of the track, unless of course more vehicles use it. The Army caterpiller tracked vehicles had flattened the tussocks and the long grass and perhaps from a distance the track looked worse than it really was close up.
Even over the three weeks between the recce and the actual walk, the grass was beginning to recover and new grass was growing up through the flattened grasses.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt the Army had made an error of judgement in driving over the area in the first place, one which they will be unwise to repeat.
I turned my ankle just beyond the track on the tussocks and although not badly twisted, I decided I wouldn't risk going up to Fur Tor but would arrange to meet the rest by the Tavy further upstream for boulder crossing number four of the river Tavy.
I made my way across the contours to meet the Tavy and crossed it easily. I made my way up to a rock on a high point to rest and recover and watch the others go up to Fur Tor. To my surprise, when they reached the steeper section towards the top of the climb most of them stopped and sat down.
As I found out later the heat had been getting to them, as well as to me, and they had decided that they were close enough to the top for their needs. Two stalwarts were not so easily dissuaded and continued to the summit of Fur Tor. Well done to them, the views from the top are superb.
I saw a walker coming down towards me early from the group, perhaps to see how I was. As he approached I realised that he wasn't one of the ten of us who had started the walk but that it was Mike, from Dartmoor Rescue who had gone out by himself early to do a different outward route and intended to surprise us by meeting us at the top.
So we had started with 10 walkers and at Fur Tor the 10 had become 11. I had mentioned the magical properties of Fur Tor, we had magically got another in the group!!!
Eventually all 11 of us met across theTavy and we returned back along the identical route to the one I had reccied. How many crossings had we made across the Tavy, amazingly five of them and all using boulders. I should add though that the last one were properly situated stepping stones and was the line of the Lych Way.
A pity we all didn't make the top of Fur Tor, yes it was, but we are just not used to walking on Dartmoor in that kind of heat with no cooling breeze. There will always be another opportunity I'm sure.