Christmas Bonus Walk – Sunday 23rd December – Dr Blackhall’s Drive

A gloomy outlook today, 80% chance of rain we were told. We decided to test the wet weather gear – no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!

Five brave walkers set off from New Bridge, where hoards of canoeists were preparing to take advantage of the swollen River Dart, and we made our way along the river and uphill.

Karen promised this was the only serious hill of the day, although it did come in two stages as we climbed onto the moor to reach Dr Blackhall’s Drive where we drew breath.  This track was created by Dr. Thomas Blackhall so that his invalid wife could travel by carriage to see the 360 degree panorama here. How thoughtful. He hailed from London but owned Spitchwick Manor and when in residence loved to take his wife and their friends up along his 2 mile track.  It has been said (in very quiet tones) that on certain dark nights a ghostly figure wearing a top hat can be seen at various spots along the drive…..

We followed his track until it became too stony to support any wheeled transport and, with Mel Tor ahead of us, we carried on, buffeted by a strong wind, to Bel Tor Corner. Here a strange phenomenon occurred, the skies turned slightly bluer and some shadows were espied! It was unseasonably warm as we crossed the road and walked across heathland to take the right-hand turn towards Ponsworthy and across the ford, covering the whole road on this occasion.

We passed the old Victoria Village School building, still sporting the original bell and we pondered on the children who would have walked there from roundabouts, probably in some awful weather at times.

Leusdon was our lunch stop and Karen showed all the grave of Dr. Blackhall, who died in 1899.  St. John the Baptist church is quite imposing, looking down over the Webburn Valley. It was built in 1863. We ate lunch in the Church Porch, entertained by Carols and animal nativity scenes – very festive.

Our last leg took us through field and lane, down past Spitchwick Manor, built in 1782 by John Dunning, first Baron Ashburton. Only the gatekeepers lodges were visible from the road but the house is set in some 6.5 acres and the gardens are open to the public on selected days in May and June.

Along Spitchwick common and under New Bridge to find ourselves back at the car park once again, completing 7.5 miles, relatively dry if a little muddy.

Teas and festive fun were enjoyed at The Dartbridge Inn on the way home. Spot the Secret Santa!

Karen H