Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Skirting Foxtor Mires

Admiring Foxtor Mires isn't difficult.  They are reputedly the worst mires on the moor - so deep, in fact, that they can swallow a man wearing a top hat and sat on a horse.  

Luckily, Son the Younger and I hadn't brought any horses with us, or posh headwear.  Furthermore, we were planning to circumnavigate the inspiration for Conan Doyle's Great Grimpen Mire rather than traverse it.  We would be fine.

Having parked on the road to Whiteworks, we started out walk, the first stretch of which took us alongside Devonport Leat, at least until it disappears into a tunnel under Nun's - or Syward's - Cross.  Here is a sheep leap, one of many along its length.  


We then turned east and walked through extensive tin workings.  It's tranquil now, but once it would have been bustling industrial site.  


We then followed this handy wall for some way towards our most famous landmark of the day, Childe's Tomb. 


Looking up to Fox Tor


Looking north to Fernworthy and Hameldon on the horizon


A wall built over a stream


Ted showing an ardent interest in a couple of sheep


A short diversion from the wall and we were at Childe's Tomb.  

The following is an outline of the story of Childe the Hunter from my novel, Dart, told by my hero, Tobias, who has been caught out on the moor in a snowstorm:  

Of all Amyas’s tales, the one that chilled him most concerned Childe the Hunter. A Saxon lord or so the story went, he’d been overtaken by the sort of snowstorm Dartymore could conjure on a whim and, in a desperate attempt to keep warm, had slashed open the belly of his steed, stripping out its pulsing guts and crawling inside its corpse. Which was where monks from Tavystoke had found him days later, entombed in flesh and ice and quite dead. This very cross was said to mark the spot, and if Tobias wished to avoid his fate he’d turn straight back. 


The fact that the tomb part of the monument is a prehistoric kistvaen suggests that the body buried here was that of a tribal chieftain, not a Anglo-Saxon lord - and certainly not a Christian.  It's a great legend, though, which is probably why it has stuck.  

I confess I wrote about this part of the moor without having walked it.  I was familiar with it from studying maps and peering at it from the other side of the mire at Whiteworks, but I'd always felt a bit fraudulent, having never sat there, like my hero, in contemplation.


In fact, it was as atmospheric as I had imagined, and apart from the occasional bovine cough, totally silent now that the larks have stopped trilling their beautiful song ('Get-the-fuck-away-from-my-nest, get-the-fuck-away-from-my-nest ... ).


Our next task was to cross the River Swincombe - a shortlived yet beautiful river, which, after its journey through this great amphiteatre of mires, debouches into the West Dart, a little to the north, at the staggeringly gorgeous Sherberton Firs. 

Tobias has to cross the river in winter:

Keeping his chin tucked into his chest, he descended the western flank of the hill to the roiling river at its foot. Although it sprang only a short distance to the south, so much rain had flooded the uplands that its trickle had become a torrent, plummeting down the gully and all but submerging the boulders that served as a crossing. Tobias bent to scoop up a handful of water. Its bite was icy, freezing his fingers and making his teeth ache.   

For us it was easier - Son the Younger and Ted managed it quite easily - but it was pretty demanding on my arthritic knees and ankles.


By the ruins of an old settlement we disturbed a flock of crows.


Ter Hill


After a difficult section of the walk across tussocks that were quite boggy at times, we reached the track alongside Wheal Emma leat - now dry - and then the access path leading from Swincombe Intake Works.  


The easier going made it easier to appreciate the beauty of the broad river valley ...


... with views over to Bellever Tor and Laughter Tor, and skies to die for.  


Heading west, we passed the ruins of Swincombe Farm.





Then we took the track back to Whiteworks, crossing the Strane (a tributary of the Swincombe) which proved pretty squelchy and resulted in late-in-the-day wet feet.  





A trying last half mile uphill to the car on aching hips and knees was mitigated by the view looking back to where we'd been - beautiful, dangerous, wild Foxtor Mires.  










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