Fur Tor – A Green Hill Far Away

Pleasure dome - but you've got to get there first!

Pleasure dome – but you’ve got to get there first!

With longer, warmer days ahead – and the prospect of getting out on the Moor for some ‘proper’ walks – I find myself remembering the joy of one such outing last year…

On the first day of September 2013, the forecast was for glorious sunshine and a complementary breeze; perfect walking weather.  So I auspiciously determined that it was the opportune time, before the school holiday ended, to take my son to see the Queen.  Fortified by blanket bog, rugged terrain and a vast meandering moat – comprised of several bridgeless streams and rivers, ‘The Queen of the Moor’ presents a challenge to those that wish to pay their respects.

At the end of a long, dry summer though – I was confident that our visit to Fur Tor on Dartmoor, would be firm going…

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Where the ‘Little People’ roam too…

The important point to remember when planning a Fur Tor visit – is that Her Majesty’s foot soldiers are inactive during the school summer holiday period; it’s a sort of month-long ceasefire – as Fur Tor lies squarely within the Military’s firing range!  Live-firing and inclement weather combine to make Fur Tor periodically out of bounds – so one can’t just wander off there whenever the urge strikes! However, on this occasion, conditions were doubly in our favour.

We set off at an unhurried pace from Lanehead car park at precisely 2pm!  The immediate ascent to the top of Ger Tor provided a good warm-up exercise – and from there we continued with relative vigour along the length of the Cleave edge to where the Rattlebrook and the Tavy meet below.  There we clambered down into the boggy basin, crossed the waters – and then purposefully strode out into the Dartmoor wilderness accompanied only by the clarion call of Corvus corax; The Queen of the Moor’s guardian ravens were seemingly expecting us!

At Tavy Cleave rocks, we’d stopped to view our destination on the far horizon…

From this vantage point, Fur Tor appeared definitely do-able in an afternoon, provided neither one of us lost our footing and made an involuntarily exit into the boulder strewn Cleave below!

Tom at Tavy Cleave Rocks

At the edge.

I’m always reminded of rousing hymns standing at the Cleave edge, probably because the veil between this world and the next seems perceptively thin there, in more ways than one!  ‘How Great Thou Art’ or ‘Jerusalem’ spring to my mind – or my favourite ‘He who Would Valiant Be’.

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Tavy Cleave.

The tumult of the Tavy’s own cacophonous song – as it rushes towards its own inevitability – only enhances the sense of awe.

Sandy Ford - Fur Tor

Amicombe Brook near Sandy Ford.

Fur Tor Dartmoor

Fur-ther away than it looks…

Fur Tor from Pinswell

Bogged down in Pinswell – urgh!

Pinswell Dartmoor

Nearly there…

Nearly There - Fur Tor

Onwards and upwards…

Arrival: Fur Tor - The Queen of the Moor

Arrival at The Queen of the Moor.

There is just something deeply earthy and primordial about Fur Tor.  As you contemplatively sit atop your chosen 360 degree vantage spot, like some meditative Dartmoor pixie – it’s easy to believe there is an otherworldly presence that breathes benevolently beneath the green, domed surface…

With our backs resting against the sun-warmed granite  – it felt like we were directly above the pulse of the Moor.

Afternoon Tea at Fur Tor

Because of Fur Tor’s isolated position – it has relatively few visitors even in fair weather, so there is never a queue to reach the summit and it is somewhere in this noisy, frenetic world where you can experience exquisite quietness, without the need to journey too far. For any person who’s soul craves a wild haven – it’s a restorative place to be.

Having had no need for map and compass on such a God-given day – we found ourselves lost – but only in a state of reverie – and reverence, in the sheer presence of the Queen of the Moor.  As an audience of just two; we had the ‘middle of nowhere’ all to ourselves.

Fur Tor Dartmoor

Hello – pleased to meet you.

If you haven’t already fallen under the spell of Old Dartymoor – then ‘it’ will definitely get you at Fur Tor. Remembering my first walk there, I was guided by an intrepid party from the Dartmoor Preservation Association, on one of their annual pilgrimages – during a Rare Window of Sunshine. It was from an easterly direction starting from and returning to Fernworthy Forest – and it was particularly arduous underfoot I recall.  It was a humid, rather swampy and somewhat fly-infested initiation to the magic of Fur Tor, but the only thing that I was bitten by that day, was a deep resolve to return.

Factually – at 572 metres, Fur Tor isn’t classified as a mountain – it isn’t even the highest tor on Dartmoor – and its summit certainly can’t be described as being up in the clouds, unless the infamous Dartmoor Fog has descended, but for me it stands head and shoulders above all other Dartmoor tors.  After the physical exertion required to reach The Queen of the Moor’s bejewelled crown – a monumental outcrop of glinting granite, that the elements have sculpted into a recognisable face – your arrival will feel like a rush of oxygen-rich air to your senses. While in your head, there’ll be a mini fanfare trumpeting   the moment; it’s totally invigorating – and you’ll feel on top of the world!

Although, a glance at your peaty boots – while eating your sweated rations, will remind you of the trudge back to the real world, return routes are variable in all directions, but where you parked your car will hold sway! Whichever pathless route you choose – it promises to be a bit of a slog – but you’ll carry with you, a lighter rucksack, and a profound sense of well-being.  Tea at Fur Tor

We ambled back, more or less, from whence we came in a westerly direction – where day’s end advanced to meet us…

Pinswell Dartmoor

Sandy Ford Dartmoor

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Fur Tor from above Tavy

Sunset at Ger Tor

Ger Tor…returning home in dimsy light.

Addendum…

Veni, vidi, vici. Tom in 2009 at Devil's Tor (near the Beardown Man) eyeing Fur Tor on the horizon.

Veni, vidi, vici.  Tom in 2009 at Devil’s Tor (near the Beardown Man) with Fur Tor in his sights.

Setting the Scene.

Brentor and beyond.

Brentor and beyond.

When driving West towards Tavistock, along the A386 – on the open stretch above Mary Tavy, there is a portal to another world.  An expansive gateway to a place that is wild and unforgiving in nature, yet dreamy and otherworldly.  A wayfarer’s Eden called, DARTMOOR.

Gold in them hills.  Great Links and Great Nodden.

Gold in them hills.

From this vantage point – I can sometimes see all the way to Bodmin Moor – my birthplace coincidentally – and in the foreground, Brentor hill with the little church of Saint Michael de  Rupe atop.  Behind – and to my left, Dartmoor is laid out in all its greatness – my favourite tors stand like huge granite sentinels, silhouetted against an ever-shifting sky; Great Links, Great Staple and Fur –

Great Links Tor Dartmoor

Great Links Tor –

Great Staple Tor...

Great Staple Tor –

Gateway to the 'Far Tor' - Fur Tor on the horizon

A gateway to the ‘Far Tor’ (Fur Tor).

Sentinals - and shifting sky.

Sentinels – and shifting sky.

Although I don’t always know precisely where I’m going from here – I know I’ve crossed a line.  Most of my start points for walks are roughly an hour away by car from where I live – and the North Moor closer – so Dartmoor is naturally the place I head out to when I want a walk on the wild side.

Dartmoor from Cuppers Piece

Dartmoor.

On my day off, conveniently a Tuesday, I’ll most likely set a bearing directly to Tavistock – the magnetism of the market is too powerful to resist; Tuesday is antiques and collectables day!  After a couple fruitful hours spent in the town, I go up to the moor to eat a bought pasty – and then I set about walking it off!   If the weather is set fair to middling – I revisit familiar ground – perhaps the Staple Tors and across to Roos – or if time is short, a quick stroll along the burbling leat to Windy Post.

The Windy Post.

The Windy Post.

However, if it’s tipping it down – I’m happy to sit it out from the comfort of my car.  Simply drinking in the rain-sodden Dartmoor landscape, coupled with a pasty, can be very sustaining until my next visit – which might be heading out for a proper walk over open moorland.  On these more testing occasions, I wisely don’t go it alone.

I have ventured forth with – The Bean Walking Club, Dartmoor Search & Rescue Team Plymouth, Dartmoor Preservation Association – and neither last nor least, my son -Tom.

Fogbound Beanies.

Fogbound Beanies.

D.S.R.T - Plymouth

D.S.R.T – Plymouth.

D.P.A.

D.P.A.

Tom.

Tom.

An old friend.

An old friend.

Dartmoor automatically demands that my heart beats faster when faced with walking up one of its steep, clitter strewn slopes to the top of a chosen tor – but it is Dartmoor’s visual impact, its elemental beauty, that makes my soul soar effortlessly to boundless heights. It’s easy to lose oneself here – and find eternity in an hour; in real time probably six or seven or eight!

Great Mistor Dartmoor

Elemental. Great Mistor

However, Dartmoor is not just a portal for metaphysical escapism – there is the very real presence of its infamous bogs and mires to keep one earthed.  When crossing wet, spongy ground it is easy to give way to dark thoughts. I envisage glossy brown, sinewy bodies that sleep contortedly beneath my feet – lost souls from an ancient tribe – and the idea of joining them in an eternal sleepover is terrifying but life-affirming; onwards, upwards but not necessarily straight forwards!  Vigilance and a good dose of healthy respect, are prerequisites for a day out on Dartmoor’s open moorland – plus a good prodding stick!

Bog Dartmoor

Testing ground…

Dartmoor bog

Up to the hilt – rather than knees!

My other essential kit item is my Samsung L83T digital camera.  I concede that it is getting on a bit compared to more fancy, up-to-the-minute models – however over a period of years, it has proven robust enough to withstand the rigours of Dartmoor and its penetrative, damp  conditions – and simply it does the job. Consequently,  I have built up an archive of images; snapshots of Dartmoor caught in the click of a button.  No planning, no waiting and no enhancements – just the ephemerality of a thousand or more, magic moments – as they flashed upon my inward eye.

Every blade of grass has its own drop of dew

Finding beauty in a bog.

Whether you love to head out over the open moorland, like I sometimes do –

At Roos Tor - view to Fur Tor and Cut Hill

Heading out.

or you prefer to sit in the comfort of your warm car on the edge, like I sometimes do –

Vixen Tor Dartmoor

Vixon Tor from a lay-by on the B3357.

– I think you’ll agree; there’s definitely something about Dartmoor.

Sheeps Tor Dartmoor.

Sheeps Tor – you can’t miss it. (if you click on the image – you can see ships in Plymouth Bay.