A walk on Belstone Common

Yesterday the weather was fabulous so I decided to go for walk on Belstone Common and take some photographs. I have decided to write it up in some detail and provide a map as the walk makes an ideal introduction to high Dartmoor walking. My route is around 7km long – it does go up and down a bit but it isn’t that strenuous or that boggy. As ever my advice is to wear walking boots, proper clothing and take a compass and map. Pick a clear dry day with a good forecast and you should be fine. If you do get lost just head north and you should end up funnelled back to Belstone.

Belstone Walk
It is a circular route starting from the car park just outside Belstone which is situated on the north side of the moor between Sticklepath and Okehampton on the old A30 which now seems to be called the B3260. Walk into the village and past the old red telephone box (which now contains a defibrillator and not a phone) and walk up the hill past the Water Treatment Works onto the moor. Walk along the enclosure wall on your right and when that kinks to the west keep going for a couple of hundred yards looking for a small track / path going to the left. You should then see the first stop on the walk – the Nine Maidens stone circle.

Nine Maidens
The Nine Maidens with Rowtor, West Mill Tor and Yes Tor on the skyline in the haze.

It is in fact a cairn circle – at the centre there would have been a burial chamber known on Dartmoor as a kistaven. This is therefore a burial spot – earth would have been piled over the circle to cover the burial chamber. The kistaven has long been pillaged and all the remains now is the stone circle. Myths and legends abound around the Nine Maidens (marked on the OS Map as the Nine Stones). A very detailed account of these can be found on the excellent Legendary Dartmoor site – see here. In summary nine maidens were dancing on the Sabbath and as a result were turned to stone, unfortunately there are 17 stones in the circle …. so it is sometimes called the 17 brothers who came to a similar fate as the maidens. There are also tales of witches and the moon. Take your pick.

Hawthorn and Belstone TorJust on from the Nine Maidens you can see the first bit of Belstone Tor along with a rather lonely hawthorn which hopefully in a few weeks time will make an excellent perch for a cuckoo surveying the ground for meadow pipits

Belstone Tor 1
Belstone Tor is rather confusing as it is made up of at least three summits which could each in their own right be called a Tor. They all run along the ridge running south. On the second ‘tor’ looking back to the first

Belstone Tor 2
Another of the Belstone Tor outcrops – beautifully jointed.

Feather and Tare
Belstone Tor is littered with granite boulders along its flanks and in the past attracted the attention of granite masons – here is a rock which has been split by a process  known as feather and tare. It was then never removed (reason unknown)

The Logan Stone

Moving further south you reach a dilapidated wall known as Irishman’s Wall – in the middle of the picture is a solitary granite outcrop which is a logan stone i.e. the top bit ‘rocks’ on the lower piece (see here for more details of how they were formed).

Irishman's Wall
Another view of Irishman’s Wall – this wall was indeed built by Irish workers who were trying to enclose the land and therefore steal it from the local Commoners – full story here. The Commoners were having none of it and pushed sections of it down. The project was then abandoned.

Higher Tor
On from the logan stone and the Wall you quickly reach Higher Tor

Higher Tor 2
Again fabulous jointing

Herdwick Sheep

Belstone Common is currently home to a flock of Herdwick sheep – the sheep of the Lake District recently made very famous by James Rebanks in his excellent book ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ – definitely worth a read – see here.

Irishman's Wall 2
You then walk down off the ridge towards Cullever Steps – look back up the hill and you can see Irishman’s Wall again.

Scary Tor
Finally head over to Scary Tor near the Steps before picking up the obvious track which will take you back to Belstone.

After you have done the walk why not drop into The Tors public house for a pint!


A very cold night and day

As part of our 10 Tors training, The National Trust Wild Tribe and Torquay Boys Grammar School teams, camped near Foggintor on Saturday night and then spent Sunday walking across the moor back to Okehampton camp.

It was so cold putting up tents on Saturday at dusk …. everyone was in their tents and sleeping bags by 8pm. It was one of those night when it seemed that you were awake all night – sleep seemed a luxury which was just out of reach. I was warm most of the night but when the wind got up and battered the tent you could feel a cold breath of air fill the tent and pivot the temperature towards the uncomfortable. I think everyone had similar experiences but fortunately nothing worse.

The first team had left camp by 6.30am and all were on their way by 7. We left camp at dawn in the shadow of the derelict mining building

BreakfastNext stop was Fox Tor Cafe for breakfast – a perk of the job if you are check pointing teams. From here we dropped off two of the team at Holming Beam to shadow various teams along their route.

Tavy CleaveNear Lane end – where we met a couple of teams – out of the wind with a glorious view over to Ger Tor and Tavy Cleave

We then made a detour back to Holming Beam to collect one of our 55ers who had fallen waist deep into a bog – it wasn’t a day for ‘bog falling’ as the wind chill on the high moor kept the temperature close to or below zero all day. Emergency plans worked perfectly – tents were erected, hot drinkers were made and our two ‘shadowers’ brought the now warmed up 55er back from Rough Tor.

Yes Tor
We now had a bit of time on our hands to we climbed Sourton Tor and got incredible views across to High Willhays, Yes Tor and West Mill Tor (note the peri-glacial ‘Thufur’ bumps in the foreground – I have written about these before – see here)

Check pointingThen out to Oke Tor from Rowtor (minibuses left at Okehampton Camp!!) – Pete, Mark and Tony scanning the horizon, checking texts and phoning teams – I just take the pictures ….

East MillThe sun beaming through the clouds over East Mill Tor (in the fore ground) with High Willhays in the distance

Winter TorAfter completing our  appointments with our teams we headed back to Rowtor – the sunlight catching the hillside above Cullever Steps – with Winter Tor on the right, Higher Tor in the middle and the start of Belstone Tor on the left.


Back at Rowtor the sun was getting ready to set – we weren’t quite done yet as two teams were still ‘practicing’ their navigation skills …. best done in February rather than May but it meant they were a bit late back – all part of the fun and no harm done.

Well done to all the teams, leaders and helpers – it was a challenging couple of days thanks to the weather but that to be honest is all part of the 10 Tors’ tale. Wonder what weather we will get the next time we are out?