First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
" 'Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!' "
The most thrilling and chilling lines in The Hound of the Baskervilles were first read by ten-year-old me under the bedclothes with a frisson of pure, delicious fear. I’ve loved Holmes and Watson’s great supernatural Dartmoor caper ever since. And although the real Hound Tor isn’t quite within howling distance of Conan Doyle’s fictional Great Grimpen Mire, I just couldn’t resist that atavistic name when it came to choosing a walk on the moor.
It turned out misty – well, of course. As soon as Jane and I had climbed from Haytor Vale up onto the open moor, ghostly hands began to draw a white woollen blanket across the granite tors and the undulating sea of gorse and heather in which they rode like weathered grey ships. The twin hulks of Haytor Rocks slipped out of sight, and nearer at hand a harras of moor mares and their foals faded to insubstantial silhouettes. But moor mists are funny things, and this one ran up against an invisible barrier. Smallacombe Rocks, our aiming point, remained in broad sunlight, and from the tor we saw the dog’s tooth of Hound Tor sharply outlined against blue sky across the steep little valley of the Becka Brook.
We descended among crab apples, sloes and whortleberries, and crossed the Becka Brook by a stout old clapper bridge. Up in the shadow of Hound Tor the path ran past a tight-packed maze of stone-built dwellings, smothered in bracken and bramble. The high ground of Dartmoor may be deserted today, but in medieval time it was spattered with shepherding and tin-mining settlements such as this.
On the peak of Hound Tor we paused to breathe and take in the view. Then it was on, down to ford the Becka Brook, up again to follow the rails and sidings of the Haytor Granite Tramway. Laid down in the 1820s, its railway lines carved out of solid stone, the tramway trundled granite from the Dartmoor quarries to build some of London’s greatest Victorian edifices.
Haytor Rocks stood clear of the receding mist. We climbed to the top and surveyed the moor. Snaking away through the purple-gold landscape, the chunky granite tramway looked endearingly clumsy – as though a troll had taken a peep over George Stephenson’s shoulder, and decided to do a bit of DIY on his own account.
Start & finish: Rock Inn, Haytor Vale TQ13 9XP (OS ref SX 771772)
Getting there: Haytor Hoppa bus service 271 (Sat April-Oct, plus Thurs May-Sep) from Bovey Tracey (www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk/vi-haytorhoppa)
Road – M5, A38, B3344 to Bovey Tracey; B3387 towards Widecombe-in-the-Moor; in 3 miles, Haytor Vale signed to left.
Walk (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL28): Leaving Rock Inn, right for 50 yards; on bend, ahead (bridleway fingerpost); in 75 yards, right (‘Moor, Smallacombe’). In 350 yards, in a dip, fork left through turnstile; follow roadway to cross B3387 (778773). Up path opposite through bracken to ridge; left towards Haytor Rocks for ⅔ mile to cross Manaton road through car park (770778). Follow clear track across Haytor Down, with Haytor Rocks ¾ mile away on your left. Just before reaching Smallacombe Rocks, bear right/north (756782) down rocky path. In 300 yards, at fork, left downhill past fingerpost (754786; ‘Houndtor Down’). Follow bridleway to cross Becka Brook (752787); uphill past medieval settlement (746787) to Hound Tor (742789).
Retrace steps for 300 yards; right (south) along green path just above settlement, with Greator Rocks on left. In 100 yards pass waymark post, and on. In 300 yards, through gate (745783); left (‘Haytor Down’); descend to ford Becka Brook (747778). Up path opposite, aiming for Holwell Tor, to reach Haytor Granite Tramway track just below it (750778). Left along it. In ⅓ mile, pass branch to right (757777); in another ¼ mile, right (761777) along branch through quarry to climb Haytor Rocks (757771). Aim for Dartmoor National Park centre on B3387 below (767772); left along road; in 100 yards right, then immediately left to Haytor Vale.
NB – In mist, only for map/compass/GPS users.
Online maps, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch/accommodation: Rock Inn, Haytor Vale (01364-661305; www.rock-inn.co.uk)
Cottage rent: Beam Ends, Haytor Vale (Jill Morrish, 01364-661376, email@example.com)
Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre, Haytor (01364-661520) – books, guides, maps, advice