CIRCULAR WALK FROM WHITEWORKS TO DUCKSPOOL RETURN VIA EYLESBARROW
START POINT GRID REF 613 712

The circular walk from Whiteworks to Duckspool and back via the upper reaches of the Plym Valley is not particularly arduous, with few ascents to bother about. Overall there is only a 100 metre difference between the lowest point of the walk at FoxTor Mire and the highest point at just beyond Eylesbarrow. Although not strenuous, it is nevertheless quite demanding, walking across rough tussocks and often wet and sometimes boggy moorland. In addition, large sections of the walk have little in the way of easy distinguishing features such as Tors to help. It is a good exercise in map reading, navigation and in the use of the compass, for without a compass and a good understanding of mapreading, anyone following this route would be very hard pressed not to get lost on some very featureless moors.

For inexperienced walkers, never attempt this walk in foggy conditions.

This is a clear case of do as I say not as we did since on the 14th June 00 13 walkers ventured out to Whiteworks in the wilds of Southern Dartmoor, at the edge of FoxTor mire, in quite foggy conditions which worsened when out on the more remote sections of the walk to visibility of less than 20 yards.

Dave Pawley was the leader and yes, yours truly bit the bullet and decided to go for it, despite the conditions.

In my defence, in embarking on the walk in these foggy conditions, we did have 5 experienced people checking my navigation at all times plus two GPS's available and one in use to check my approach to a variety of key points en route. I had also reccied the route carefully only 3 days earlier and itemised all the key waymarks and the bearings to take to transit between them. It proved to be a very good job that I had done so as it turned out, since you couldn't see the key points until you were almost upon them.

An outline of the route(s) taken for this 9 to 10 mile moorland walk is shown above. In order to be able to undertake this walk, it must be cross referred to the ordnance survey 1:25000 map of Dartmoor, the outdoor leisure map 28. In addition, of course, the effective use of a good compass is a prime requirement, particularly in the section of the walk from Fox Tor to Great Gnats Head.

You may note that there are two routes offered from Great Gnats Head to Eylesbarrow mine workings. I followed the red route for the recce but on the day, because of a variety of situations which emerged, I cut the walk slighty shorter by transiting from the Gnats Head area to Eylesbarrow via Plym Ford, further up the valley than Plym Steps, shown by blue dots on the map.

There are no large car parks in the Whiteworks area, the most convenient place to park is just before the bridge over the Dartmoor leat, where there is space for seven cars. If this is full try about 300 yards further up the road on the way to Whiteworks where there is a larger car park.

After a briefing on key points of the route to be covered, the nomination of a back marker and of the importance of keeping together and watching where walkers put their feet on this walk to avoid getting wet feet, the group were off at just gone 10.30 AM.

There is a direct route, right through the middle of the huge FoxTor mire, which inspired the Great Grimspound Mire for Conan Doyle. Unless you know it well, or you have a death wish, you are much better advised to skirt around the edge.

You may well notice that many of the photographs show blue sky, not dificult to work out therefore whichwere taken onthe recce and which were taken on the day of the actual walk.

Leaving the car park, just before the bridge, we turned left and followed the side of Devonport leat as it flowed down towards the Nuns Cross.

Following the narrow path by the side of the Leat is easy enough and this skirts the western side of the Mire for about half a mile before it swings right.

There are excellent views of the expanse of the FoxTor mire as it spreads out along a wide flat area just below us. It must be a mile long and a half mile wide in places and there are some interesting tales of animals disappearing into the mire, never to be seen again.

 

There are two major dry stone walls en route, ignore the first and just before the second turn left and follow the path down to the bottom where you have to cross Nuns Cross Brook.

There is a stile just before the brook which you can cross, although it is easier to stay on the left side of the wall, pick your way across the brook and then walk up over the next hill and take the next stile over the dry stone wall.

 

Whichever stile you cross and I recommend the second, you now make your way uphill on a bearing of 090 degrees heading for some granite boulders on the skyline. At the top you will have reached Little Fox Tor. There are some good views back across FoxTor mire.

Continue on a bearing of 090 degrees towards the next landmark, that of Fox Tor, a quarter of a mile further on.

En route you pass over the T Gert stream but it shouldn't cause a problem, and apart from the descent into the gert and up out again, the terrain between Little Fox Tor and Fox Tor is relatively level, if slightly tussocky in places.

From Fox Tor there are fine views again across the mire and to the Eastern side of the mire. The views soon disappear from this point on and you are well advised to have your compass to hand for the next two to three miles of the walk.

To the east of Fox Tor lies Swincombe Head and if you head off in that direction, good luck, you'll need it.

You should head due south from Fox Tor.

Unfortunately you have to navigate your way around Fox Tor Gert first, which means you have to aim just west of south until you reach the head of the gert. At the head of the gert turn slightly south east to regain your southerly direction and you should soon see a slight depression in the otherwise featureless terrain running due south.

This depression marks the start of Black Lane.

 

There is a small narrow track on the left hand side and a few hundred yards up this path you should be able to see a largish marker post.

In this area of Dartmoor your landmark is this post. Head for it and when you reach it, continue up this path and along Black Lane.

Keep to the path and don't veer off the recommended route. About three quarters of a mile further on you will find a second post but it is not visible until you are further along the brook.

Keep to the left of this narrow indentation and after a few hundred yards you will see two peat banks, only relatively small but these are also a significant landmark.

Just as you approach them follow the path which takes you to the right hand side of Black Lane and remain on this side for the remainder of your walk up the Lane.

Do not stay on the left hand side as the area is very wet as BlackLane Brook starts and there are no real crossing points further on.

You should soon see a second marker post on the left hand side of Black Lane. Keep on the right hand side until you reach the point along the lane across the brook from the marker post.

At this point you need to swing right onto a bearing of about 245 degrees as you walk up out of this slight valley. As you rise up out you should be able to see a line of tinners stones heaped a couple of hundred yards further on.

Head for the nearest ones, be warned it is very wet underfoot in this area.

You may have to make your way slightly to your right as you approach the stones but there are crossing points over the stream. When you reach the stones turn right and head towards another large depression to the west. This depression and mire is all that is now left of Duckspool.

Although it is now a mire, it once was, as the name indicates, a pool in which many waterfowl were found. The pool itself was drained at least a hundred years ago.

En route you may pass a well restored example of an old tinners stone hut, without roof of course but the entrance and the fireplace are very easy to see.

Follow the path and swing on a bearing of about 220 degrees, keeping to the left hand side of the Duckspool mire.

You should see a large boulder ahead of you and a well used track towards it. This boulder marks the site of the memorial to William Crossing who wrote many excellent books about Dartmoor. To this day Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor remains a best selling reference book.

In addition to the memorial and just in front of it is perhaps the most famous letterbox on the whole of Dartmoor. The post box and contents have just been replaced by a new shiny stainless steel one in time for the new millenium. Open it, write your comments in the book and stamp your map with the franking stamp contained in the box.

After a break to enjoy the letterbox and memorial and in our case our lunch, continue on the same bearing of 220 degrees to the head of the Duckspool mire and swing around and up from this flat hole in the ground.

A real landmark follows, if you can see it, that of Great Gnats Head. Walk on a bearing of about 2750 degrees across some very wet terrain avoiding the pools and the soft peat. In the distance on the skyline you may detect a small cone of small stones. Head for this as it happens to be the location of Great Gnats Head.

There are splendid views from this local high point, right across to Bodmin Moor and down to Plymouth and the sea beyond.

On the recce it was superb, but on the day of the walk the mist was really swirling around in the wind and visibility at times was less than 20 yards.

We enjoyed this section of the walk so much that we retraced our steps all the way back to Duckspool. Why, now that's another story and not one I'm recounting here, but it was nothing to do with leaving my walking stick by the memorial stone.

To continue on, you have to cross the narrow river Plym, it gets considerably wider as it makes its way towards the sea. There are two easy crossing points, Plym Ford and about a half a mile further down the valley Plym Steps.

On the recce I decided to use the Plym Steps crossing and that route is shown in red dots on the route map.

On the foggy day, due to the earlier diversionary activities I took the slightly shorter, blue dotted, route down via the Abbots Way path to Plym Ford and then along to Eylesbarrow, following clearly defined paths both down to the Ford and from the Ford up to Eylesbarrow.

I have described the route I meant to do on the day since that offers more interest to the walker than the truncated fog bound section we eventually took.

With a clear day looking down the valley you can pick out the scar of the China Clay works, head off on a bearing of 240 degrees towards the Clay Works and this easy descent takes you directly down to the Plym valley and the crossing point.

En route you will cross the Abbots Way path and further down you will see Calveslake Tor and to the left, Little Gnats Head. Aim for the larger Calveslake Tor with its overhanging flat rock. On the other side of the valley lies the larger Higher Hartor Tor.

Continue on the same heading and you will see the narrow River Plym tumbling along in the valley below.

It is well worth descending down into the valley and walking alongside the river since there are some easy crossing points, using boulders rather than fording the river and maybe getting wet feet in the process at Plym Steps.

I found an easy crossing point two or three hundred yards further up the valley and made my way down to Plym Steps on the right hand side of the valley.

Plym Steps is immediately obvious at the end of the Langcombe Valley,or should I rename it temporarily as Landricombe Valley, sorry Dave.

There are well defined paths leading up out of the valley at this point and follow the path up and out of the valley floor on a bearing of 295 degrees.

As the track swings up and away it is worth turning more left and paralleling the river as it runs along down the valley.

By following the contours you will gradually head down towards Drizzle Combe and you should see some big vertical granite stones and a line of smaller stones before them.

You can walk down to inspect the stones but on the recce we swung right at this point and made our way across to a pile of stones which was once a burial cairn.

This is the most southerly point on this walk. swung round right and followed the contours as we did so.

We began to climb as we contoured and crossed a narrow stream just after a pool and headed up to intersect a major path which links Gutter Tor car park to Eylesbarrow mine workings, a half a mile to our north east.

This of course is the point where the recce route and the route on the day rejoined.

Although a little uphill stretch to the highest point of the walk, the path makes it and easy section. At Eylesbarrow there is masses of evidence of the mine workings in the area and some of the vertical mine are not protected and quite dangerous.

The track we followed went right through the mine workings and swings north as it heads across to Princetown. Compared with the non existent tracks across the wilder moors this track seemed like a motorway.

 

On the recce it felt like one with the numbers using it for walking and cycling. Not so on the Wednesday walk however as the only person we saw was a walker with two dogs who had lost his way in the fog and had missed his turning to Burrator by over a mile.

We continued along this clear track for about 1.5 miles until we saw a farmhouse to our right, called Nuns Cross Farm. This, now derelict farm, was our next aiming point and we swung off the main track and made our way down to the farm.

Passing the farm on our left we made our way down towards the point where the Devonport Leat goes underground.

The leat follows a man made tunnel to take it under the Nuns Cross Farm area and to emerge again a few hundred yards further south west on the other side of the track we had been walking along before turning off and down to the farm.

We were soon back on the side of the leat again only a couple of hundred yards from where we had left it over 4 hours earlier.

This flat and final section of the walk took us back passed the wall where we had turned down to Nuns Cross Brook and a few hundred yards further along we passed a kistvaen with a surrounding stone circle just below us and to our right, at a point where there is a large boulder on the opposite side of the leat.

On both the recce and the walk on the day, we stopped to look at the kistvaen before continuing on.

After just about a half a mile of leat side walking we were once again back at the bridge and the car park. We had walked just under 10 miles and had enhanced our map reading and compass skills.

Not only that but within a few minutes all 13 of us were once again congregating in the car park and contemplating what lessons we had learned from this walk in the fog.

Some would argue that don't walk on Dartmoor in the fog is the only safe solution.

Personally I would argue that. Fog can suddenly come down on Dartmoor at any time and to have experience of walking in the fog in controlled conditions with a small group containing some of the most experienced Dartmoor walkers in the area is perhaps the best way to learn how to best handle these conditions.

We did most of the right things. We had plenty of technology to assist us but there is always more. A problem in fog is difficulty in communication, as we found out, visual and oral between the leader and the back marker. At under 80 two way hand held short range 3 km radios are available these days which do not require a radio operating licence and would make the oral communication links much more effective. Cheap to buy and equally cheap to operate, the benefits of direct immediate communication between leader and back marker are obvious. As we found out sound, as well as vision, does not penetrate fog particularly well.

We were soon driving off with care in the fog, back towards Princetown and thence back to Plymouth. Typically, as we descended from the higher moors down to Yelverton the fog disappeared and the visibility was back to miles rather than a few yards.