Tuesday, 29 December 2009

How to lose a Tor

No, look, I'm going to change that immediately. Lose just isn't the right word. It invokes some degree of ineptitude, some sense of deficiency; it has no context, no connection, you just can't get close to how misty it was. And yes, that is an excuse. It's a good one. It doesn't matter that Haytor is a huge, huge, lump of granite that sticks out of the ground by perhaps eighty or a hundred foot.

We went here. And that huge, huge lump of granite sticking out in the middle of the screen is Haytor.

Starting off in the Visitors' Centre car park, designated by the capital P in the Streetmap view, we tramped off in the direction of the disused quarry, before briefly stopping to take the following image.

As you can see, this was a black and white world with vague, extremely vague, patches of colour peeking out from beneath the cloud layer. And for anyone in doubt, that fluffly grey layer at the top of the image is the cloud layer. It was resting, quite handily, maybe deliberately, below the height of every major outcrop in the immediate vicinity. For anyone not comprehending that last sentence, every major outcrop was lost to sight.

This makes navigation ... interesting.

But we got to the quarry easily enough.

Like many disused quarries on Dartmoor, this one has long since filled with water and like most on Dartmoor this last week, it had susbsequently frozen. Here then, in a pretty standard reflective construct, is a frozen quarry lake. You'll have to trust me when I assert that this is the same quarry lake you can see on the map.

What you can't discern from the image is the resonating sound, most likely induced by both ice and quarry, when you pitch a stone into the middle of it all. You can, of course, get an idea that many people before us had experienced said sound even if, like us, the intention had been to break the ice. Not many had succeeded.

From the quarry we maintained our general direction, crossed the tramway and made Smallacombe Rocks. A few delinquent minutes of hanging around coincided with me vetoing the idea of continuing down into the valley - we wouldn't want to get lost would we - was most likely my general comment.

In an effort not to get lost, we moved back towards where I thought Haytor should be, but keeping to a level gradient. Soon enough, we made out what we now know was the quarry beneath Holwell Tor, the tramway bisecting the view. When the time seemed right, we took off up the slope, crossed the tramway again, and went up a steep incline, again towards where I thought Haytor should be.

Unfortunately it wasn't there and soon enough, walking inside the cloud layer, we found ourselves in a place that we weren't sure of. There, that's a distinct enough phrase - a place we weren't sure of. Eventually, we made the rocky height north of Saddle Tor. A quick check of the map led to an eastward adjustment in our direction and soon enough, we struck the road, kept to the left of it, and were able to climb the eastern shoulder of Haytor and thence back to the car.

Easy enough really, but there was a time, adrift in the mist, when I was quietly pleased that I'd packed a flask of tea and my new, and still unopened, survival blanket. Ros meanwhile, was rehearsing the phone number to the Dartmoor Rescue Group.

And Clover? You know I'm not entirely sure she realised there was a problem. Not with our route finding anyway. It was the gorse she was worried about.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

A Crackington Day

With the ice melted - yesterday, we had gone to the bother of collecting a bucket full of grit from the new container in the village; a sure sign that the weather would sort itself out - and with a clear drive, we set off today for our intended jaunt to Crackington Haven.

The tide was in, so extensive beach romping wasn't possible, but it was good enough for sandwiches (blue cheese, chicken and salad cream), a flask of tea and a walk along the coast path to Cam Draught.

Whilst on the beach we'd seen a group of youngsters going for a swim in wetsuits. We thought they were brave. But as we' were climbing out of Crackington we looked back to see a family, possibly people from the same group, entering the sea in swiming costumes. I'd go on at this point about relative temperatures between the water and air, but you'd just get bored. We thought they were bloody stupid.

Here's one of me in the AJP overlooking Crackington.

Cam Draught is a deep combe that forms the bottom of a sharp rise up to the cliffs. From its most northerly point, running south,it  forms a sharp shoulder of rising ground beyond which is Cam Beak, a suspicious looking peninsular with a rocky crown. Why suspicious? Well, mostly because it's got a limited approach, a discernable boundary or enclosure and it conforms with the Cam name that is prevalent in the area. It's not Camelot, of course, so don't get any ideas, but it's worth a look around. Not today though, because the weather, perhaps disappointed that it'd done away with the ice and snow, had something else in mind.

That something was an incoming shower which hastened the return journey. At one point - a very fleeting point - I thought we'd beat it, but that hope was dashed pretty quickly. I could clearly see the white-caps raised up on the water approaching and by the time we were descending into Crackington we were being pushed along by stinging sleet. Polite as I am, I stood off from the path to make room for a middle-aged couple going the wrong way with two small dogs in tow.

The woman muttered, as she passed me, " ... I can't think why we're doing this now."

Ten minutes later, as we were sipping the final strains of tea inside the car, we saw them come back, stow the wet dogs in their 4 X 4 and run back to the nearby cafe. We were too wet and cold to laugh for long.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Upbeat Christmas Post

With a three word title including a capitalised word in the middle, you just have to have a capital start to the last word as well. And certainly, if you post a serious, sad post the previous night, it's important to follow it with a bright, upbeat effort the day after.

Today we're off to .... well we haven't really decided yet. It was going to be Crackington Haven, or possibly Trebarwith Strands, maybe Wembury, or even Widemouth, but we've been a bit put off by the black ice we encountered last night on our return from the pub. The whole Close was a like a skating rink. Not pleasant. Well not when you're in your forties, but thirty years back and we'd have launched ourselves and slid most of the way back to the house.

But that's not going to happen today, not on purpose anyway.

So we're going to have lunch at home - blue cheese and salad cream in a ciabatta - probably venture out after lunch and then back in time to cook a chicken roast for tonight.

More later ...

Poised we were ... and following that, we drove off, parked the car just below Sharpitor, prised on our ice grip thingies and walked down to The Cascades. Now, do you want arty, detailed descriptions of what we saw? Or do you want the piccies?

Alright then ...

At the top we have the first picture on this blog of a leat - the Devonport Leat no less - swinging across the along the gradient towards the Cascades.

Next, here's a duplicate of the Cascades - basically the Devonport Leat descending the hillside - and the associated competition is to spot Clover, here in her natural habitat, camouflaged amongst the snow and rocks.

Following that, there's a close view of the weird ice deposits that seem to have collected around the grass tufts by the leat. I reckon they were created by water spray from the leat deposited on the tufts.

And lastly, and doctored slightly, this is the sun sinking below Sharpitor.

So that was out Christmas day. At least those parts when we didn't consume much. Now it's time to settle down for a chicken roast, attached trimmings, a glass of Weisse Beer and later, maybe Doctor Who.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The seemingly obligatory Christmas post

We don't do Christmas.

Well, lets amend that immediately, because for the most part, even if you don't do the usual Christmassy things - decorations, presents and alike - Christmas does you. It won't let you go even if you've loosened the grip on your side.

Some examples. We haven't done presents for many years, not since my Mother died and that was back in 1995, fourteen and a half years ago if you want to calculate it to something close but not too specific. We do cards mostly because it would be unkind not to send greetings to those who have in some way greeted you. Thats Christmas 'doing you' - at least until I find an expression that suits the notion better.

On a less practical basis, it's difficult to escape the season in any place, especially with so much of life revolving around the bloody TV. Not that you'd do without it - The TV and Christmas together. No, you can't escape it at all, but the point, or at least one point since there seem so many, is that the season is a time to be kind and good and caring and all those good things as if the rest of the year is not a time to be all those things.

Here's a different angle. Recently our friend was involved in a car accident. Nobody was hurt beyond superficial bruising even though the cars involved were written off, but our friend, despite the brave face, was shaken up considerably. Now in those circumstances, you do what you can don't you. And we did. As it happened, our other friend did so much more, but you don't need details, and I wouldn't be popular if I gave them. The point is that we did the Christmassy things - the caring, sharing, giving kind of stuff - not because it was Christmas but because it was exactly the right thing to do.

When my Mum was alive we did do Christmas. I remember vividly the last one before she went. We'd found at a local antique centre a set of pottery a few pieces of which my Mum had received as a wedding present from her mother - Denby Wheatsheaf. The intention then was that she'd recieve the full set bit by bit, but before that could happen my Mum's Mum passed away. We decided on a different approach and bought up everything that was available at the antique centre. We gave it to my Mum in one big box. It was Christmas of course and we were doing the stuff you do during the season, but she was so pleased with what we'd done. I hope I'll always remember that morning sitting on the floor surrounded by wrapping paper. That and the look on her face. Just the look on her face.

This year we bought people presents. They didn't start out as Christmas presents, they just sort of ended up wrapped in brightly coloured paper because it was that time of year. Done again, but we're not unhappy about it because it's good having friends who go out of their way to help out.

Enough of that. Here's a Christmas song.

It is for me.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

South Hessary

With the coldness partially dissipated, both inside and outside, we went on an excursion up to Princetown and thence on the track to South Hessary Tor. It wasn't a day for adventures - not for most of us anyway - instead it was a ramble with accompanying scenery. Cloudscapes really, as you can see ...

That was the view south towards Sharpitor, not that you can discern much. Ahead, floating ominously above the girls, was another cloud system of which you can see one part.

And finally, by way of a late introduction, here's Rachel and Paul surrounded by various dogs.

Jack and Clover you'll already know. The smooth-haired spotty dog - technically called a German Pointer, also known as Stinky - is actually named Daisy. And in front, not eating or rolling in anything, is Abby, a black Labrador.

We made it a short way past South Hessary Tor at which point Rachel, suffering from a heavy cold, pleaded sanity and a return to the Land Rover. Paul, however, veteran of Kilimanjaro, the Drogo Ten and two consecutive walks to Yelverton, decided to go on, cutting south of Nun's Cross before disappearing somewhere near Eylesbarrow Tor. He might even have seen the Tin Mine (disused).

We have since heard that Paul returned home, Daisy in tow, some two hours after he faded into the distance.

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Boiler Man Cometh

After a two-day wait and the emergence of clothing articles that hadn't seen the use since ... oh probably student days - I'm thinking of thermal long johns - the Boiler Man arrived today. A few minutes later he started cursing.

It seems a two day respite and associated freeze had induced a water leak in the boiler, but of course that was wholly unrelated to the original problem. So we'll need a visit from a plummer tomorrow to fix the leak. In the meantime Boiler Man, in the absence of a sound or sensible diagnosis, changed almost every electrical component he could find, dredged up a few more unused curses until, two hours later, he declared the problem fixed. What that problem was he couldn't say.

Needless to say, our confidence in the Boiler Man has waned.

And outside there's a thick layer of cloud and no sun to speak of. People, I'm sure, will be relieved to know that there'll be no Solstice adventures on this 21st December.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Does typing fast warm up cold digits?

Now we're back on the relative thing so bear that in mind.

It's cold on Dartmoor. Certainly below freezing, possibly a few degrees below. Yesterday it snowed and last night we had further wintry stuff, the combination freezing into an icy mass on the roads and pavements. We live in a subsidiary valley that slopes down towards the Walkham and, as a consequence, all roads in and out are on an incline - down to get in, up to get out. So getting to the shops - there's none in the village - is difficult, sometimes impossible.

Fortunately, we've got enough tins in; lunch is soup accompanied by bread filched from a friend. Tonight we should have the right ingredients for a roast and if we think about it a tiny bit, we've probably got enough stuff around the kitchen to last for a week or more. Not that it'll come to that, but when your boiler packs up and you've got no heating you start thinking in extremes.

As I said at the top of the post, this is a relative thing; we've got a house, we've got an electric heater, we've got plenty of clothes and we're only talking about a couple of degrees below freezing

To answer the question, no, typing fast does not warm up digits.

It just makes your paragraphs smaller.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Not a Winter Alignment

Proof if proof were needed, here we were as the sun set over the ridge above Down Tor Stone Row. Look carefully and you'll see that the shadows of the stones are at a distinct angle.

So everyone will be grateful that I'll be shutting up about Down Tor Stone Row for the time being. For around three months I suspect - until the Spring Equinox is looming.

One thing the photo doesn't show was just how cold it was today. Even Jack was cold so we made him wear a furry hat thing when he got back. As you can see, he was very pleased with the ridicule that resulted.

But hey, it's better than a mullet.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Moving Sunsets

Now if you're bored already, you'll be even more bored by the end of this one.

Back on Down Tor Stone Row of course and I mentioned last time a possible discussion point as to whether it would be the sun setting on the near ridge above the row or whether it would be the sun setting on the far horizon that mattered.

First though, why does it matter, or, more importantly, why did it matter some two and a half to three thousand years ago. Obviously, the clue's in the time period. No time pieces then. Not in the same sense. But people had to know when the time was right to do certain stuff, whether that was sowing crops, getting livestock in or anything else that was to any degree time-sensitive.

Although they couldn't have know precisely why - and I certainly couldn't explain why succinctly - they came to realise that the sun did not set at the same time or the same place as the year passed. At some point then, the inevitable clever sod worked out that the time and the place where the sun set moved back and forth through the year, setting earlier and further south in the Winter, and later and further north in the Summer. At two points in the year, the progress south or north was halted and reversed. So, to measure the course of the year, you needed to measure the position of the setting sun.

With all that in mind, here's what Google Maps has on Down Tor Stone Row. What's important here is the alignment of the stone row in combination with the bank that runs east and perpendicular to the row alignment. Now if, as the current theory goes, the setting sun on the Winter Solstice lines up with the row, that is the alignment at the most southerly point in the year, then why does the bank run on in a southerly direction.

We found out why today. Accompanied by Clover and Clover's Mum who wants to be known by her real name - Ros - we arrived at the row just as the sun was sinking below the line of the bank as seen from the eastern end of the stone row. And we found, partly in disappointment, partly in intrigue, that the point where it hit the ridge was in fact a good ten to twenty degrees south of the row alignment.

What does this mean?

Well firstly it means that the row wasn't aligned with the Winter Solstice. It might mean that it was aligned with sunset on the Summer Solstice, though I suspect that it might actually line up with the Spring and Autumn equinox. If that's the case, then the row is pretty cool, to use a modern idiom, or bloody clever, to give its proper assignation.

If the weather allows it, we should be able to get to a more accurate position this weekend and I'll also be able to give you proof in the form of a photo.

Now, back to the beginning of this piece for a moment. The question was whether it was the sun moving behind the close ridge - where the bank is - or whether it was the sun setting behind the far horizon that mattered. It was very clear today that, for the row in question, it was the closer ridge that was rel event. And in turn, this gives a good indication that the row was important for what it revealed about the seasons rather than for any ritual or ceremonial use. This is not to say that in later years, Solstice measurement did not attain a ritual or celebratory position in the calendar, but it does suggest strongly that the row was not explicitly religious or ritualistic in design.

For the ninety-eight percent of readers who just like the piccies, here's Ros, Clover and Jack from the other day.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Eylesbarrow Aborted

It's not Everest I can assure you, but this was the second time an intended walk to Eylesbarrow Tin Mine (disused) has been called off mid-tramp. Given that I was accompanied only by Clover, the decision was down to me and me alone.

And the reason was that we started off at Norsworthy with the aim of testing a route that went along Deanscombe before crossing the Narrator and ascending the combe to turn roughly south towards the scout hut. Once there, I'd intended walking east along the main track to Eylesbarrow and then back via Combeshead Tor. However, given that it took half an hour to get to the Scout Hut and I only had another hour to spare, I decided to give the Tin Mine another miss.

Instead, Clover and I marched back along the road to Sheepstor before taking the right turn after the Church, skirting round Sheepstor itself and walking alongside the reservoir. A sensible enough decision given that the road afforded a better medium for walking fast, but not too sensible as it turn out since it took the remaining hour to get back to Norsworthy.

In place of anything substantive, here's Clover looking rather suspicious:

And here's the view from the vicinity of the Scout Hut looking back towards the descent into Deanscomb:

Needless to say the walk through the combe and out of it was a moist experience; the white misty stuff above the land was indeed white misty stuff which is manifested as rain when you're inside it. Thankfully there was no wind to speak of so the Andy Pandy Jacket (APJ) served its purpose.

If only I'd been wearing gaiters!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Down Tor Stone Row

A different day, a different route and, perhaps most importantly, a different interpretation.

With Clover, Jack and Clover's Mum accompanying, we skirted Down Tor - rather than moving along the combe further down the slope - and climbed up to the Stone Row so as to see it emerge over the ridge. Not surprisingly, we missed the true line by a good thirty metres, but that was as much to do with the line of the path running over the ridge as it was to do with my guesstimate.

A quick traverse along the slope then and we were standing along the line of the row looking along and past it to where, according to reports, the sun would rise on a Summer Solstice. Here's that view:

A few interesting items here. Firstly you can see a distinct kink in the row. Did this have a function? Is it due to drift in the soil? Or was it because the stones were put back wrong? Who knows? Well if you look closer at the image you'll see a nice couple examining the associated cist who might well.

It seems firstly that the row is not on an alignment with sunrise on the Summer Solstice, but rather with sunset on the Winter Solstice - meaning that the view in the image is actually the wrong perspective entirely. Secondly, that the row was used to measure the seasons in conjunction with a bank that sits on the ridge line above the row. Also involved, in my reckoning, is a cairn that was sited exactly in the line with the row and from where you get a view along the line, over the bank and on to the far horizon. The question then becomes whether it is the position of the setting sun as it sits on the banked ridge close to the row or on the far horizon. Streetmap gives you a good idea of the layout.

Now it so happens that the Winter Solstice falls in just about a week's time. Another post and a better photo perhaps? Maybe we'll get a full turnout.

And to finish, a view back from where we came from, Down Tor sloping up to the right and the Winter sun shining from behind, turning the late bracken golden.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Eylesbarrow Foreshortened

A new place. Or more accurately a place to get to from a new launching pad.

Accompanied by Clover, Jack and appropriate Mums, we drove to the Scout Hut beyond Sheepstor from where the intention was to walk along the track up to Eylesbarrow Tin Mine (disused). Unfortunately, due to the recovering health of one particpant, we weren't able to complete the walk.

So the Tin Mine (disused) will have to wait a while longer. For now, here's a view of Sheepstor, on the left, and Peak Hill on the right, all below a colouring, dusky sky.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Trebarwith Strand

Twas the day after the Birthday.

To be more accurate it was also the day after Clover's Mum's birthday. Coincidence? Yes, but an old one.

And because it was the day after and because the day before was misty, windy and rainy, time was spent on an expedition across the Tamar border and into North Cornwall. The itinery: lunch at the Cobweb in Boscastle, followed by a romp on Trebarwith Strand.

At least that was the intention.

Also present was Jack and Jack's Mum; Jack because he's got a mullet and Jack's Mum because she's Jack's Mum. Clover was there by default.

The Cobweb Inn for those who don't know - which I'm guessing will be a rather high percentage of the internet population - resides in what appears to be an old stone-built warehouse or dockside building. Three stories tall, it's square built of dark stone, matching exactly to the surrounding cliffs; and likely there's a good reason for that.

Inside it's busy. Not just busy with people, but busy with stuff. Nik Naks generally, but also old wooden furniture including a couple of dramatic arm chairs, nice old photos of locals, impliments, the inevitable water jugs ... stuff. Which is great when the conversation dries up, though yesterday wasn't one of those occasions.

They also serve a good selection of real ales which, as anybody with a passing knowledge of British mores will know, is a must. Food is your standard pub fayre though with a greater selection of specials and most likely a notch or two up in quality. I had a steak and onion baguette. Jack's Mum had a bacon and stilton baguette - the rich blue cheese melted over the top of the bacon - and Clover's Mum had the inevitable tuna mayo sandwich (on brown).

Usually, lunch at the Cobweb would be preceded or followed by a trip down to the harbour wall, but since we were pressed for time, that particular regularity was cancelled as will any description of what that entails. From Boscastle then it was post-haste to Trebarwith Strand ...

Now, it's important to remember that research had been carried out. High Tide (and there's an article or two!) was in at around 10 in the morning and we were on location around 2.30 in the afternoon. It should have been past mid-way and approaching a low tide situation. But no, such was the ferocity of the sea (for any Hawaiians reading this you need a sense of the relative), such was the anger of the sea, that the waves were still encroaching on the rocky gully that serves as the approach to the beach. Of that beach, there was no sign.

Not convinced ...

I'm not sure that's exactly proof, but it'll do.

We did, out of politeness to Trebarwith, take the dogs up onto the heights for a while, but it wasn't quite the same as beach romping, so it was back in the car and a twenty minute drive, through Boscastle and on to Crackington Haven where the same troop was once filmed by the local BBC weather unit.

No, seriously. We were on the evening news for ... oooh about eight seconds.

Fame is a difficult beast at the best of times.

Birthdays on Dartmoor

It's hardly the place to be seen. Unless you need to be seen, which is always a possibility. Alternatively, if you're out hunting or you're on the army range, you might wish not to be seen. Yesterday it was misty, so the ability to be seen was paramount, but unless someone was looking it was unlikely that you'd be seen in any case.

Dartmoor can be confusing. A bit like my writing.

The intention was to walk from Norsworthy Bridge to Cuckoo Rock climb up to Combshead Tor, skirt the ridge beyond towards Down Tor Stone Row, before returning back to Norsworthy on the sheltered side of Downs Tor. All of which would have been easily achieved if it weren't for the driving rain and the fact that my new all-weather jacket - The Andy Pandy Jacket - didn't quite match up to its description. The all-weather part of the description.

But it kept me warm, which was one thing at least..

Keeping me company on my Birthday were Clover and Jack, both without Mums, one of which was working at home and the other who was back at work after an enforced lay-off. Neither dog was particularly put off by the conditions and there were no complaints about their coats.

Apart from walking on Dartmoor, the purpose was to root around Down Tor Stone Row in preparation for an article. I'll save any snippets for that of course and besides, we never got to the stone row; the weather and the lack of proper water-proofing leading to a decision at Cuckoo Rock to head straight for the sheltered side of Downs Tor.

As often happens in these situations, it's only on the return journey that the wind and rain start to make their presence really felt. The sheltered side of Downs Tor wasn't all that sheltered and every so often we were hit by a vicious side wind that drove the rain exactly where, if you'd believe the hype, the Andy Pandy Jacket shouldn't have let it.

The worst spot was the valley between Combshead Tor and Downs Tor, the topography acting as a funnel. Added to that, the mist had closed in enough to blank out any view of the surrounding hills. It's at this point when a good sense of direction and, perhaps more importantly, an awareness of the gradients are required. Fortunate then that Clover and Jack were around!

Coming down from Combshead Tor ...

You need to know that a Tor is, technically, the outcrop that crowns a hill. It does not denote the hill itself. Some hills on Dartmoor have their own names but are crowned by Tors of a different name. Combshead Tor is not one of those.

The descent - more of a slanting walk from Cuckoo Rock, bypassing the Tor itself - led to an inverted S-shaped route part way along the valley between the Tors, a short climb over a shoulder of Down Tor and then what a climber might call a traverse, but what your everyday walker would call a path across a slope.

Fortunately, the only noteworthy instance was Clover's discovery of what were more than likely the bones of a cow. That's a guess of course, on the basis that there are no elephants, bison, wildebeest or elk living on the moor. But then it could have been a horse or more likely a pony - a Dartmoor Pony, to capitalise the possibility.

They certainly weren't sheep bones, for which reason Clover thought them quite exciting. Jack wasn't that impressed but by then his mullet was in a state of disrepair.

From there it was but a short ten minute stretch back to Norsworthy.

Down Tor Stone Row won't be going anywhere soon and with everyone else working or absent from the country, character introductions will have to wait a while longer.