First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The painted saints contemplated one another from their rood screen panels in the Church of St Mary the Virgin at Holne. Looking at their long, expressive faces and richly coloured robes, we wondered what could have persuaded an artist of such talent to come in Tudor times to this obscure village church under the eastern rim of Dartmoor. Whoever he was, he left a remarkable legacy here.
Holne lies sunk in a hollow above the young River Dart. A green churchyard path led out of the village, and soon we were descending the narrow road to Michelcombe under a hot afternoon sun. Cooper the golden retriever bounced out of a house to bark us on our way up a clinking stony lane that climbed towards the moor.
Sheep lay panting on a heap of soil in a gateway, their chins pressed deep into the cool earth. The views broadened all the way, south and east over steep pastureland to where the sea lay beneath a grey haze in Tor Bay.
A gate led out onto the open moor. We crossed the granite bars of an ancient cattle grid over Wheal Emma Leat, once the power source for the tin mines of this area, now a low ditch half hidden among sedges.
A path wound through the bracken, heading northeast, its dry peat surface stamped with the prints of sheep’s hooves and pony shoes. Soon it made rendezvous with a moor road that ran between banks of devil’s-bit scabious and wild thyme.
A dozen moor ponies were hanging out in the car park at Venford Reservoir, moodily swishing their long tails as they waited for tourist sandwiches. We made for the flat granite boulders of Bench Tor, a grandstand from which to admire the giant view and to spy out the homeward path.
A precipitous scramble down beside a stone wall into the depths of the River Dart’s gorge, a delicious cool plunge in the peat-dark waters of Sharrah Pool, and we were heading back to Holne on the riverside track through oak woods where the declining sun dappled tree trunks, pathway and the shallows of the river in the quiet valley.
Start: Village car park, Holne, Newton Abbott TQ13 7SL (OS ref SX 706695)
Getting there: Holne is signposted off B3357 Two Bridges road, west of Ashburton (A38)
Walk (7½ miles, moderate/strenuous, OS Explorer OL28): From west end of church, left through hedge gap; right (fingerpost/FP) across field. Cross road (705694); on to Michelcombe. Right at junction (697690), follow ‘Bridleway’ up stony track. In ½ mile, ahead through gate (687690) onto Access Land; same direction to cross stone bars over Wheal Emma Leat (685691). In 150m, right on grass track (685692); in 500m, meet and follow wall (687697); in 400m, join stony road (690698). Cross stream (692699); in 150m, sharp right at junction (691700) to road (694701). Left to Venford Reservoir car park (688709). Aim across moor to Bench Tor (692716); then southeast to corner of stone wall (692715). Keep wall on right; in 300m, follow it left (695713), very steeply down beside wall through woods to River Dart (697715). Left along track to Sharrah Pool (696717). Return along track and on. In 1¾ miles hairpin sharp right (711703, FP on right) up Two Moors Way back to Holne.
Conditions: Very steep descent to River Dart – for surefooted people! Unwaymarked paths across the moor.
Picnic: On Bench Tor, or down by the River Dart