The Tor in the Woods, near Manaton

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The Tor in the Woods
The Tor in the Woods

I often drive between Bovey Tracey and Manaton, and recently noticed an enticing ridge line running across the lower slopes of Trendlebere Down in the direction of Becka Brook and Houndtor Wood. I made a mental note to check out the path as soon as I could, and take a walk down there, but by an extraordinary co-incidence I saw, within a day or two of my last drive, that Flickr contact Tim Jenkinson, who writes for the Dartmoor Magazine, had also recently explored the area. Tim is doing terrific work investigating little-known rocks and tors, especially around the East of the moor, and you can find a link to his Flickr set at the end of this blog piece. He added a note to this particular photo set to say he was not sure if anyone else had ever described the giant tor that lies on the steep slopes just below this ridge line. He referred to it as the Tor in the Woods. I had until that point no idea that such a tor existed, and had to see it for myself as soon as I could.

Trendlebere Down
Trendlebere Down

I own many volumes of Dartmoor books: histories, walking guides, archaeological guides, and of course, several maps. It seems Tim is correct, though, because I can find no reference to this tor in any of them so far, which is quite extraordinary, given the size of it. I didn’t photograph the ridge line at the beginning of the walk, for some reason, but the site of the tor lies beyond the hill to the left of the image above. Almost as soon as I started to descend (and my goodness it is a steep descent!) I saw the tor, much earlier than I expected, right in front of me. I wasn’t really prepared for the the scale of the place, the steepness, or the quite wonderful old trees all around me.

Centre Rock
Centre Rock

Dartmoor does old trees so well. Here they are not only visually arresting, but also really useful to hold on to, because the ground falls away all around. At the point of arrival I was dismayed to discover a problem with the base plate for my tripod head – it was slipping badly and I couldn’t tighten it at all. I didn’t manage to repair it until I got home, so for the remainder of my time at the tor I was on high alert for the camera suddenly slipping out of position. At one point it actually fell off the tripod and I caught it by the strap. The steepness of the ground made leveling the camera difficult enough without this problem, but hey-ho.

Rocks and Trees
Rocks and Trees

The image above shows the largest granite stack of the tor. The stacks and the scale are certainly in keeping with what I would expect of a Dartmoor tor. But this environment is definitely not the typical setting. Tors are almost by definition on the highest, most exposed sections of moorland hillsides, with open views in most directions, well away from tree lines. I am used to walking up to them, trying (and always failing) to get as high as I can before the dog, who holds their conquest at the very top of her list of fun things to do in life! But – walking down to a tor that sits in dim lighting, with little to see around me except dense trees and sloping ground? I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But it was entrancing.

Just to the right of the tor at this point the ground just falls away – see the bottom right here:

Steep ground around the tor
Steep ground around the tor

Holding onto roots and branches here is pretty essential for safety. Looking back up the hillside as I descended I realised how quickly the light level was dropping. The sinewy twist of the tree trunk on the left in the image below, and the reaching skywards in the same direction of the trees on the right point very clearly to the only source of daylight from this steep woodland:

Finding Light
Finding Light

From here, having dropped just beneath the large tor I attempted to find a good position to photograph it from below, but couldn’t find a composition I was happy with. Spurred on by Penny’s (forgot to mention the dog was with me) detection of water nearby, I continued the descent until I reached Becka Brook on the valley floor. Penny immediately jumped in and had a swim, while I sat and drank water, and watched her enjoy life more than I ever seem able to!

Becka Brook
Becka Brook

I should add that the path down bank to the brook is not easy walking. Steep (I’ve probably made this clear by now!), rocky, and lots of roots to fall over (I tried quite a few). I realised after a few more minutes that I’d have to walk back up.

Bottom of the hill near the brook (1)
Bottom of the hill near the brook (1)

You may just be able to make out the hazy pyramid of the tor in the top of the woodlands in the image below.

Bottom of the hill (2), looking  up to the tor
Bottom of the hill (2), looking up to the tor

Climbing back up I approached the main tor from the lower right, rather than the left side from which I’d descended. It offered a slightly better composition than I could find from the other side, but the light was by now rather difficult, being directly behind the rocks:

Tor in the Woods from below
Tor in the Woods from below

I continued to skirt around the tor from the right side and found this Rackham-like old tree growing from the underside of the main rock face. The branches spiraling around and the slope of the ground combined to lend a certain rhythm to this image that makes it one of my favourites from the day.

Rhythm under the tor
Rhythm under the tor

I had returned to the top of the tor by now, ready to begin my walk back across the down. But there was just enough time to admire those trees, and promise myself to come back here again soon, perhaps when there is mist all around. What an extraordinary find. Thanks Tim!

Woodland circling the tor
Woodland circling the tor

You can see more of Tim’s work at his Flickr site. Here’s a link to his “Lesser Known Tors…” set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bridgemarkertim/sets/72157629445203796

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