Sunday, 11 October 2015

Access all areas

Despite the gloomy weather forecast, I found myself on Dartmoor on Saturday afternoon, packed and ready for a letterbox walk around Windy Post and Pew Tor.  I haven't walked these parts in many years.  A new set of letterboxes has been sited here, and my time away had generated a long list of clues to search for.  I parked in the car park just below Little Staple Tor, aiming directly for Feather Tor and the peaks beyond.  

The going underfoot was far tougher than I remember.  The grass and gorse were very deep in places and the lack of grazing livestock is clearly having an effect on the landscape.  On the southern side of Barn Hill, Spring's swaling, still very obvious, successfully cleared the undergrowth.  The wide pathways through the gorse were eroded and muddy, in an area which receives more than it's fair share of walkers.  It made me think about access to the moor, after all - to my East - remained Dartmoor's most sensitive, well-known and long running issues - Vixen Tor.

As I feared in my post (Vixen Tor and other restrictions) in January 2011, spray painted rocks surround the area.  That Vixen Tor has always been enclosed is not disputed, but the removal of a stile over the enclosure wall in 2003 sparked protest and trespassing until the courts ruled in landowner Mary Alford's favour in September 2011.  Based on my observations, displaced rocks from the wall, clear footprints inside the enclosure towards the rockpile, and damage to the barbed wire fence and fenceposts indicate that the public continue to access the land where the stile once stood.

Some 30 years ago, at least one Letterbox existed beyond this wall:  Named 'Vixana's Lair', in honour of the enduring legend of Vixana the witch, who, it is said, lived on this high Tor.  She used her powers to conjure up a mist when anyone came close. Disorientated and lost in the fog, they would inadvertently wander into the nearby mire.  Legend has it that Vixana was defeated by a local man with the assistance of a 'magic ring' enabling him to see through the mist, creeping up on her and pushing the unsuspecting witch to her death from the summit.

Partly in reverence to the story (and partly as the Letterbox no longer exists) I did not cross the wall.  My walk took me around Heckwood Tor and towards Pew Tor Cottage.  It was great to meet Caroline and Ian Kirkpatrick near one Letterbox.  The Kirkpatricks have long been great promoters of the off-Dartmoor letterboxes to which I have referred to this year.

I found 9 Letterboxes in all, and though some of those on my list were missing, I was satisfied with the afternoon's walk.