I left Salisbury just after eleven and after an uneventful drive I arrived on the moor at just after two in the afternoon. Parking down the road from Rundlestone, within view of Dartmoor prison I checked my kit and headed off up the road on foot in the direction of Merrivale for 500 metres. Leaving tarmac behind I walked onto the moor proper following the sign for Fices well.
Shortly after walking along the old Naptha works tramway I came across a large standing stone. I wasn’t expecting this so at the time I was a little puzzled by the worn words engraved onto it. I realised that it wasn’t prehistoric but I was perplexed all the same.
I now know this large menhir to be “The Touchstone” it was commissioned by the poet John Powls to commemorate the millennium in 2000 AD.
The inscription reads thus:
A nice standing stone and poem but it had me thinking that there was possibly many better places they could have placed this menhir, it isn’t the most dramatic part of the moor..
I continued my walk along the old tramway towards Fices well. The now disused tramway was built for transporting peat from the distant moor into the prison where it was used to produce naptha. The peat in this part of the moor apparently has a sixty percent volatile naptha content. By the year 1846 the British Naptha company used the prison buidings which were now largely empty. This was due to the end of the Napoleonic wars which saw foreign soldiers and convicts repatriated, so it was the perfect place to produce the product. Naptha was at the time a highly sought after fuel which was used in gas lighting, candles and mothballs.
Forking off to my right towards Fices well, I took the wrong side of the fence and had to clamber over some barbed wire when the well itself came into view. Fices well named after Sir John Fitz from Tavistock is a natural spring bubbling out of the ground. John Fitz had a small lintel construction built over the well in 1536 after becoming lost on the moor whilst out riding with his wife. It is said that they were led astray by Pixies who brought down an impenetrable mist which soon saw them unable to find their way. After wandering lost for some time they came to rest by the spring to have a drink, as soon as the water touched their lips the mist lifted and they realised they weren’t far from the Princetown road. The lintel is carved with the letters IF (Old English for JF) and the date 1536.
The well now has a surrounding dry stone wall which was constructed by prison convicts in 1906. I had planned to collect water here before my hike up to Great Mis Tor but it was unfortunately a bit green and slimy and looked like certain death.
I walked back to the old naptha tramway and followed it to a small stream where I collected my water supply for the evening. Following the stream onto the moor in the direction of the tor I soon realised that this wasn’t the best route. I covered roughly one mile in fifty minutes due to bog, mire and grass hummocks eventually arriving at yet another barbed wire fence which took some careful climbing to avoid snagging my clothes.
Great Mis Tor was finally in view but I decided to first pay a quick visit to Little Mis Tor lower down on the slope.
I stopped here for a drink and looking up I thought that the walk up to Great Mis Tor looked quite daunting.
Saying that it wasn’t long until I was at the top, finding the walk very easy going in comparison to the walk of death I’d just experienced through the boggy mire.
Arriving at the top with a rumbling stomach I pitched tent and after filtering some water I made myself some rehydrated Pasta Al Funghi with vanilla pudding for dessert.
After dinner and re-energised I went for an explore of this massive tor. After clambering to the top of every single outcrop I discovered on the very last climb what I had been looking for, the “Devil’s Frying Pan” which was once known as “The Mistor pan”. This is a rock basin which has been naurally eroded over millions of years and now holds a pool of water. To be honest, had I known it was going to be full I could have collected my water from here and saved a few kilos in weight , my sawyer filter would have dealt with any nasties floating in it.
interestingly it is said that the name of Great Mis Tor derives from the ancient sun god “Misor” who was connnected to “Sol”, the number one god sun god. So one can only guess if prehistoric people use Great Mis Tor (or Great Misor) to practice their ancient rites, maybe worship or sacrifices even involved the Devil’s frying pan or Mistor pan? I sat up here for quite a while pondering these ideas. The views from the Mistor pan are incredible in all directions, in my opinion there is possibly no better place to worship the sun and sacrifice a few deviants.
After an hour of working out how I would control my society of prehistoric followers via sacrifice and modern technology, I returned to my tent on the more sheltered side of the tor. The wind up here was constant and the temperature was dropping. I found myself a nice comfy rock to sit on out of the wind and had a dram whilst listening to the folk hour on radio two.
I sensed that the sun was getting low as my side of the tor was now in the shade, so I went for a look at the setting sun.
After watching the sun set for half an hour it was soon dark and quite cold in the wind, so I decided to get into my tent and watch a movie on my phone. Tonight’s entertainment was 30000BC. Quite possibly the most ridiculous film about prehistoric times that I have yet seen. But it helped pass the next couple of hours of darkness and I was soon warm and asleep in my tent dreaming of prehistoric world domination.
I woke up at seven in the morning to hear the rain lashing off my flysheet. Poking my head outside into the rain and mist I decided to skip breakfast, strike camp and get back to the car.
It was a quick downhill walk back through the mist following a fence all the way back to the road. Apart from some cows coming a bit too close for comfort it was uneventful. I took some photos of some abandoned farm buildings and found myself a lucky horseshoe which I now have at home.
After reaching the road I walked about a mile along the tarmac with lorries and cars speeding by in excess of Dartmoor’s 40 MPH limit, considering the misty conditions it puzzles me why motorists seem to think it’s ok to drive like this. No wonder so many animals are killed each year.
Surviving the walk back to the car I took a drive to the Fox Tor Cafe in Princetown and treated myself to a veggie fried breakfast and a gallon of tea before returning home to Salisbury.
All in all a good little one nighter in a great spot with some fantastic views, a combination of weather and a bit of history..