There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

South to Ugborough: Day 32 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

Last night's renewed confidence was bolstered by a good night's sleep and I discovered I was moving fairly easily when, bright and early, I followed Brian to Ugborough to drive him back after parking his car at the end of today’s walk.

Day 32 (in yellow)
After breakfast Mike took us back to the lane between Cross Furzes and Lud Gate where we finished yesterday. We walked to Lud Gate and onto the open moor.

Walking to Lud Gate
For the second day running we started high (305m) but almost immediately had to climb higher. I was not particularly quick up Hickerton Hill (420m), but not desperately slow either and it felt a lot less brutal than yesterday's opening salvo.

Up Hickerton Hill from Lud Gate
The view from the top was of moorland stretching as far as the eye could see.

There is plenty of moorland!
Yesterday, I failed to mention the skylarks over Haytor Down; they were here too, their fluttering song softening the moor’s austere beauty. This is a landscape formed by nature, by the soil and rocks and the cool, damp maritime climate. It is also a landscape formed by people, we would shortly encounter the remains of recent activity while medieval crosses and boundary markers are everywhere and on the hillside opposite are hut circles and Huntingdon Barrow (less prosaically known as the 'Heap of Sinners'), built by the region's earliest inhabitants.

Ancient Settlement on Huntingdon Warren
From the summit, as we picked our way through the mire towards Western Wella Brook...

Descending towards Western Wella Brook
... we passed what at first I took for a ruined dwelling, but it was far too narrow – and full of water. Mike suggested it might have housed a waterwheel; Richard Knghts’ excellent Dartmoor Walks  confirms that, identifying it as the only easily visible remains of Wheal Vor, a tin mine that closed in 1815.

Waterwheel pit from Devon Wheal Vor tin mine
We had strayed too far to the right and reached the brook north of the crossing point. A long step from the bank to a tall, flat topped stone and then another to the far side were enough for Brian and Mike. Those of us blessed with shorter legs continued downstream through a land in aqueous solution.

Alison following the West Wella Brook
(the brook is actually 30m to her right, but detours were necessary to get round the boggier sections) 
The map shows a ford just above the confluence with the River Avon, and here the stream is wider and shallower though it is not an easy crossing if you want to keep your feet dry. Undoubtedly my passage was inelegant and wobbly, but as I couldn't photograph myself, here is Alison.

Alison crossing the West Wella Brook
Huntingdon Cross is near the ford. Originally it was a waymarker on the Abbot’s Way, a route between Buckfast Abbey to the south and the abbeys of Tavistock and Buckland to the north, but after the dissolution of Buckfast Abbey in 1539 it was commandeered by Sir William Petre, Henry VIII’s Secretary of State, to be a boundary marker of his vast estates – which now included the former Abbey lands. Sir William served Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I in the same capacity, dextrously hopping backwards and forwards between Catholicism and Protestantism. You have to admire his agility, if not his integrity.

Huntingdon Cross, 
We followed the Avon upstream. There is a ford and Francis left the path to check it out but deemed it better to detour a short way upstream to the Huntingdon Warren clapper bridge.
The (Devon) River Avon
Clapper bridges are a feature of Dartmoor and Exmoor but this was the first on this walk, and it was a splendid bridge on which to cross the third Avon of the Odyssey, after the Warwickshire (Shakespeare's) Avon in 2010 (Day 7) and the Bristol Avon in 2013 (Day 16). We shall leave England's two other Avons, both in Hampshire, uncrossed.

We all crossed to the far side, then returned as it was eleven o'clock and there were better places to sit for coffee on the near side. It was the sort of bridge I was happy to walk across twice, and again so I could pose in the middle for a photo. And I wasn't the only one.

Francis & me on the Huntingdon Warren clapper bridge over the (Devon) Avon (photo: Alison)
It was thought that clapper bridges were ancient, but most are medieval and, like this one, associated with a nearby ford, from which the word ‘clapper’ is probably derived via Latin or Anglo-Saxon.

From here the Two Moors Way makes a lengthy detour contouring round the end of Western White Barrow but it was much shorter to go straight over its 480m summit. We had hardly left the bridge when the rain started, first as drizzle but getting steadily harder.

As we started to climb I paused to put on my allegedly waterproof jacket over my genuinely showerproof coat then got down to a slow but steady upward plod. There have not been many (any?) climbs where I have reached the top before Francis, so this may have been a first. When Mike and I passed him, he was sitting in the long, sodden grass in sluicing rain struggling into a pair of over-trousers. All three of us were wearing shorts, but skin dries quickly, so why bother covering it?

Francis had nearly caught us up by the time we had reached Petre's Cross (him again) on the summit. Below us was a disused tramway, and below that, in the valley, another tramway snaked into the distance following the contours between the hills.

Petre's Cross on Western White Barrow
We made our way to the first tramway, walked along it briefly and then picked a spot to descend to the second. The boggy ground made watching your feet at every step essential. And then the rain turned into hail, which stung a bit.

Boggy ground on Western White Barrow
The attraction of the tramway for me was its flatness, I can keep up on the flat, but what made it an absolute winner (and the Two Moors Way follows the same route) is its relative dryness. Nothing on the moor is absolutely dry, the tramway had flooded sections to detour round, but the risk of sinking up to your knees in mud was minimal.

Along the Red Lake Tramway
Unlike the Haytor Granite Tramway yesterday, The Redlake Tramway, for such this was, was an 8 mile long narrow-gauge railway built in 1911 to haul china clay from the moor to the main line near Bittaford. Operations finished in 1932 and it was subsequently dismantled.

It took longer than I expected to cover the first two kilometres to Left Lake. Despite appearances the lake on the left of my photo is not Left Lake, in fact it's not a lake at all, it is a pond created by the removal of china clay. The Left Lake is actually the steam which drains Left Lake Mire (and now the pond as well) flowing beneath the tramway to the infant River Erme. We had joined the Redlake Tramway well south of the Red Lake, which is also, perversely, a steam, though there is now also a pool for the same reason.

The lake on the left is not the left lake at Left Lake (I hope that is clear)
We strode on, the rain long gone, contouring between the hills. Alison looked at her map 'That's Sharp Tor,' she said pointing at a protuberance ahead of us. She was a little behind Francis and on his deaf ear and it was with perfect, if inadvertent, comic timing that Francis immediately pointed at the same hill and said 'That's Three Barrows'.

In due course we stopped for a lunchless lunch break. The landscape changes slowly when walking between the hills but the path itself is almost featureless and can be confusing. The consensus was that the hill ahead was Piles Hill but Mike spotted a distinctive triangular forest down to our right which meant it must be Ugborough Beacon and we were a kilometre further on than we thought.

Looking beyond the wood, we caught a first glimpse of the sea, a large inlet which we identified as the Tamar estuary at Plymouth, though the city remained hidden.

We had been on the tramway for over five kilometres, but before the beacon, at a place marked by the medieval Spurrell's Cross the tramway swung right, round the eastern side of Butterdon Hill while we would bore left to pass between Butterdon Hill and Ugborough Beacon.

Leaving the tramway to walk round Ugborough Beacom
We passed through burnt gorse on the side of the beacon. The burning may have been the result of a wild fire or management of the moor, but what surprised me was that anything here had ever been dry enough to burn.

Burnt gorse on the flank of Ugborough Beacon
We descended the southern flank of Ugborough Beacon, the first serious contours we had encountered for some time, to Wrangaton golf course.

Down to Wrangaton Golf Course
Here we left the moor for the final time and entered the South Hams. A field path and lane taking us past Moorhaven Village.

Plymouth Asylum opened in 1891, built in response to the 1890 Lunacy Act. The complex grew and developed, becoming Moorhaven Mental Hospital before closing in the 1980s. Redeveloped as Moorhaven Village, a housing complex with communal gardens and sports facilities, this once grim Victorian institution is now a desirable place to live.
Moorhaven Village
Moorhaven is immediately north of Bittaford, a large village with a functioning and open pub, the first since Lustleigh last year, so we took advantage of the situation (well, why not? Ugborough was only two kilometres away). There had been no rain for several hours, but as we pushed open the door of the Horse and Groom it started spitting, as we drank it became torrential and by the time we had finished, so had the rain.

Bittaford is at a height of 130m, Ugborough is slightly lower so it could have been a gentle end to the day, but Devon is not like that. From Bittaford we made way down to and under the A38 and then descended further to cross the Lud Brook at 80m. From here Ugborough was on the other side of a ridge that rose to 150m, definitely a sting in the tail, but not on the scale of yesterday's.

Looking back at Bittaford from the top of the grassy section
The initial climb up a grassy field was steep, but then we hit a minor road which rose gently to Toby Cross before descending into Ugborough.

Garden on the edge of Ugborough (pity it was bin day!)
Despite its unfortunate name, acquired from once being the fortified homestead of a Saxon called Ugga (what were his parents thinking?) Ugborough is a pleasant village with a large 12th century church (in poor condition inside, Lynne tells me) and a market square still used for markets, but on the days we needed it fortunately performing the function of car park.

Ugborough Market Square
Unlike yesterday I finished if not fresh, at least still feeling human. Brian drove us to our new B&B, up the hill on the other side of Ugborough giving a preview of tomorrow's taxing start.

We stayed just outside the small town of Modbury (did they once have fights with Rockerbury?)  and ventured into town to dine on pub fare at the Modbury Inn. Some also had a pint our two of Jail Ale from the Dartmoor brewery at Princetown a stone's throw from the prison. Brian and Francis rate it very highly, so I will finish this report with a controversial statement. I do not understand what the fuss is about, I would be just as happy with a pint of the very similar Doom Bar - though the fabulously hoppy Proper Job, is, for me, the pick of the beers we've encountered in the south west.

The Modbury Inn, Modbury

The South West Odyssey (English Branch)


  1. I was desperate to get those overtrousers on as the rain came down on us on the way up to Western White Barrow but continued the struggle. My cagoule is quite a short-length so my shorts would have got very wet and then been cold. Overtrousers do keep out the wind as well as the rain. I'm forced to question your eyesight as I could clearly see the city of Plymouth soaking in the sunlight. Perhaps you've been overdoing the awful Doom Bar!

    Pleased we have now cleared Dartmoor and only have the South Devon coast left to do next year.

  2. I love your research into the history of the things we see and can't explain - it saves me doing it. I've been fascinated to see all the evidence of how Dartmoor has changed throughout history, from the bronze age settlements to the industry.
    I'm pleased to have captured you on a photo, for a change. The one of me crossing the stream is very similar to one Francis took in New Zealand.I'm scared of slipping and twisting my ankle, or worse - but I do agree, our crossing was more inelegant and wobbly than the others' confident strides.