MY PERAMBULATION WALK
Paul Rendell recalls a series of walks he did in the 1980s when he completed the perambulation of the old Forest of Dartmoor as determined in 1240.
It was Thursday 2nd August 1984 and what a great time of year to commence the greatest walk on Dartmoor, the perambulation of the Forest of Dartmoor. I got out of bed all ready for the walk and looked outside. It was raining, really raining, yes water coming out of the sky like a tap, so it was back to bed. Later in the day, the weather improved so I collected my gear together and took the bus to Princetown, arriving 6 hours later than planned; it was now 4.55pm and still very dull, typical of Princetown in winter.
I headed north towards North Hessary Tor passing Rendlestone Tor where it started to rain heavily, so on went the waterproofs and I pressed on to Great Mis Tor which was shrouded in mist. I looked in a number of letterboxes en-route and visited the Forest Perambulation letterbox. It was very misty as I made my way down to the River Walkham where a heron arose from the river’s edge and flew off down stream. After crossing the swollen river I pitched my tent for the night and down came the rain again. I cooked my supper on a stove after which the rain stopped and I went for a stroll looking for another letterbox, but had to rush back to the tent because it started raining again.
As I was doing this walk on my own there was no-one to talk to so I switched on my radio and listened to music. There had been heavy rain over night but when I awoke at 5.30am the next morning the rain had stopped, although it was still very misty so I went back to sleep. I awoke again at 8.00am and had a quick breakfast before taking the tent down and setting off. I saw a kestrel hovering over me as I packed guessing it wanting its breakfast too. I walked up the hill and over to Cocks Hill, then on to White Barrow, reaching Lynch Tor at 8.40am. From there to Rattlebrook Foot the going was hard but it did not take long. I crossed the fast flowing River Tavy and walked up the left hand side of Rattlebrook stopping for a few letterboxes en-route, like Curbeam (at 10.10am) and Bleak House, where the heavens opened up again. I kept telling myself it was summer and, in fact, in June of that year, large parts of Dartmoor had been on fire due to the lack of rain. It had been a very dry few months but now the rains had returned.
Carrying on to Steng-a-Tor, I was almost there when it happened again. Yes, you guessed it, water fell from the sky! I decided to run to Kitty Tor with a full pack on my back and took shelter inside one of the army huts; the rain stopped about an hour later. From Kitty Tor I went down the hillside looking for a lone tree, a clue to a letterbox. It took 20 minutes to find the right tree after which I easily found the letterbox. Next I crossed the West Ockment River and went along Lints Tor Brook to look for another letterbox called Link Tor Brook – Jude the Obscure. Then it was a big climb to High Willhays but luckily for me the wind blew me up the hill. I had to stop 26 times to ‘look at the view.’ I found the King of Dartmoor letterbox on the highest point of Dartmoor and stopped for a quick snack as it was 12.30pm. Then I visited the Yes Tor letterbox and noticed as I signed in that it was two years since I had last visited the spot. Yes Tor was like a rubbish tip with litter, tins and bottles everywhere, so I renamed it “Litter Tor,” the most untidy tor on the moors. Just as I was about to leave I noticed black clouds coming from Princetown, so I nipped into the army hut and stayed there for ¾ hour until the shower passed. I then ran over to West Mill Tor before it rained again!
I began thinking of a route off the moors as I was very wet, even my “dry” gear was wet, but then the sun came out so I thought “let’s carry on” and headed to Cullever Steps (about 3.00pm). I was going to climb Irishman’s wall and then on to Cosdon Hill but the clouds were very black and it rained heavily again, so I decided it was time to come off the moor and went to Watchet Hill and down into the village of Belstone. The fun had gone from the walk so I looked in the village for somewhere to stay over night. Would anyone want a drowned rat for the night? I found a B and B but it was full and The Tors pub was also full so I stood under a tree near the stocks dripping wet and wondering what to do next. A lady from a nearby house came out and shouted across the road “Are you alright?” I ran over and told her I was looking for a B & B and she said I could sleep in her barn if I wanted to. I was not going to say no to that was I? So I spent Friday night there and had a meal in the pub. The next day I got a lift to Okehampton and a bus back to Plymouth. I was glad to be home again as it rained heavily on Friday night and many places in Belstone and Okehampton were flooded. My major trek had failed because of the rain and flooded rivers!
The second part of my perambulation started a few days later on Thursday 9th August 1984. I took the 82 bus from Plymouth to the Warren House Inn and started walking at 11.20am. I followed the dry leat towards the edge of Soussons plantation then down the hill to the Walla Brook, the boundary of the old Forest of Dartmoor. I passed through 6ft (2m) high bracken and could not see where I was going, hoping I was not walking in circles. By Runnage Farm I saw a clapper bridge over the Walla Brook and six beehives nearby. It was 11.50am as I crossed the road and carried on down the Walla Brook. I saw a flock of lapwings in the sky down past Wild Goose and carried on along the farm track to the public footpath to Sherwell. The path went through a farmyard and across fields and it looked like the farmer disliked the path going through his land as there were official papers and a map of the route he wanted to be used posted on the gate. I had to climb under a barbed-wire fence which had been laid across the path!
By now the weather was hot and I wished I had packed my shorts, like I did on the first leg of the walk when it had rained. I went up to the Yartor letterbox (1.00pm) and down to Dartmeet, over the road bridge and across the West Dart river by just walking through it as it was very hot and sticky, then up the river to Otter Pool and O Brook foot. There I looked for a letterbox called Welcome Rest. When I signed in the visitors’ book, a chap who had been nearby with his girlfriend came over and asked what I was doing. He was French and spoke half English and half French and I knew a little French from my school days. I told him about the perambulation and that this was one of my checkpoints and also a bit about letterboxes.
I continued beside the O Brook past Saddle Bridge and on to the Hen Roost mining area. As I went through some very high bracken, a rabbit passed me doing the 100 metres in 0.6 seconds, it must have got a gold medal for that! The time was now 3.00pm and I decided to have a rest at Okebroke Forest Perambulation letterbox where I saw a fox just sitting outside its den. I was down wind of it so it did not sense me and I took some photographs of it but was too far away for them to come out well. After a few moments the fox went inside its den and a few minutes later it came out again and started sunbathing. Then out came another two foxes and they watched me for a while before returning inside.
I went on up Ryder’s Hill and arrived at 4.15pm, then down to Western Wella Brook Head and over to Huntingdon Warren Farm where I had planned to camp over-night in one of the fields. There was a family already camping there and, as it was only 5.10pm and a bit early for me to camp, I went on to Huntingdon Cross, crossed the River Avon and climbed the hill to Eastern Whitebarrow - what a big hill with a full pack on!
Then I walked along the ridge to Western Whitebarrow and on to Crossways. By this time I was starting to slow down and my feet were beginning to ache but I felt that I must carry on. I visited a number of letterboxes including The Outer U Stone, Redlake Brook and Redlake Perambulation. Finally I went down Redlake Brook to the River Erme and Erme Pits where I pitched my tent at about 7.15pm. I then had some food before looking for some more letterboxes and went to bed just after 9.00pm.
The next morning I awoke just before 8.00am, had my breakfast and walked uphill to Broad Rock where I removed one of my own letterboxes which had become wet due to the rain. I then headed down Calveslake Brook, crossed the Plym and went up the right hand side of Evil Combe and on to Eylesbarrow Cairn, where I signed in the letterbox’s visitors book, before following the Plymouth Corporation Water Works boundary stones to Nun’s Cross. Then I made a detour from the main route and went to see the new stamp at the Fox Tor letterbox. Unfortunately it was not there so I wandered over to Fox Tor Farm for the Hikers Paradise letterbox. Then I went down to Sandparks, along the edge of Fox Tor Mire and started on the public path across the mire. I only followed part of the path shown on the map before taking my own route across as the last time I had tried to use the right of way I discovered it did not exist and ended up to my knees in water. Never follow the blue dots, they drive you dotty!
At Whiteworks I had a wonderful sighting of a buzzard on a lone fir tree before heading towards South Hessary Tor and visiting a few letterboxes en-route to Princetown, where I popped into the Plume for a pint as I had just missed to bus to Plymouth. At about 12.30pm I started walking to Devil Bridge, Black Tor Marsh and the bottom of Raddick Hill. I then followed the Devonport Leat to Burrator Dam and the old railway line to Dousland where I caught the bus home, just as it started to rain.
On Friday 31st July 1984 I took a bus to Postbridge and set off walking to Cut Hill on the third stage of my perambulation. This hill had always been a favourite place of mine since my dad took me there when I was aged about 14. I spent nearly four hours looking for letterboxes before making my way down the River Taw to Knack Mine Ford and up the track to Oke Tor, then along the ridge to Belstone Tor arriving at the Taw Marsh letterbox by 7.30pm; this letterbox was established in 1894, the second to be placed on Dartmoor. I then walked up river to Ducky Pool and camped for the night. After supper I went to bed feeling very tried. It was a nice evening with fluffy clouds rolling across the sky from west to east.
Tomorrow became today and it was a magnificent morning with little cloud in the sky and Cosdon Beacon appeared as a wonderful silhouette as the mist lifted. Quietly I ate my breakfast and packed the tent into my rucksack, almost afraid to make too much noise in case I broke the magic of the superb morning. At 6.10am I put the pack on my back and set off up Cosdon Hill visiting a few letterboxes on the way. The views were just great from the top as I went along the ridge to White Moor Stone before reaching Hound Tor, Wild Tor Well, Watern Tor and going down to Hawthorn Clitter. I then crossed the North Teign river and up to Stone Tor, reaching Longstone just as it started to rain very heavily for about 20 minutes. I ran towards Fernworthy Forest for shelter and just as I got inside the rain stopped! I then visited the reservoir as I had heard it was only 16% full, which proved to be correct. It was a lovely sight and I could see the old road and bridges. I carried on across the dried up reservoir and nipped into the toilets in the car park before going on to Heath Stone and crossing Metherall Brook to Bush Down Mine where I put out my Witch Festival letterbox. Looking at my watch I knew the bus would soon be at the Warren House Inn, so I ran to the road near the inn just as the bus came along, jumped on and returned to Plymouth.
I had now finished my version of the Forest of Dartmoor perambulation and I was the 195th person to do so and register with the official body, but now I wanted to walk the whole route in one go. I managed to do this a few times during the following couple of years with my fastest time being 13 hours, but that is another story.
The perambulation walk was devised by Ian Kirkpatrick in 1982 and he officiates over those taking part. Over 1000 have completed the circuit since then.
His website is www.ian.kirkpatrick2.btinternet.co.uk