Karen’s Sourton Saunter – Sunday 23rd June

The longest Sunday of the year was chosen by Karen for this walk, starting from Bridestowe, taking in Sourton, Meldon and surrounding area, around 50 miles from Torbay.

Sadly, dreams of a long, hot midsummer walk faded with the strong breeze and looming clouds – such is this Summer!

A band of 14 set off from the Village of Bridestowe, having tactically avoided Dartmoor roads and the 4000 cyclists participating in the ‘Dartmoor Classic’ today.

Bridestowe is on the edge of the National Park, steeped in history with buildings dating back to 1676. We left the village to take Pig Leg Lane and eventually the stile to the Two Castles Trail, 24 miles in all between Launceston and Okehampton Castles. Field, stile and some sleepy cows were negotiated before reaching the busy A386, which was crossed with care.

The Highwayman Inn was an interesting sight, the promotional blurb states An Aladdin’s cave of eclectic artifacts and curios, an interesting and celebrated clientele (including a resident ghost), combine to make The Highwayman Inn truly something special. Indeed.

No ghostly encounter today as we walked past Sourton, St. Thomas Church, across the bridge towards the Moor and paused here awhile for tea and ginger cake.

We then carried on southwards initially, the views wonderful normally but the wind was strong and yes, contained moisture. A brief glance back to spot Lake Viaduct, now of course part of the Granite Way Cycle Trail.

We opted not to climb Sourton Tor and look from the trig point over to Cornwall, for fear of being blown away – perhaps another day.  Sourton Tor, Karen promised, has one very interesting feature – it is one of the very few Dartmoor Tors not made of granite, but a mixture of dolerite and tuff, created in the metamorphic aureole. Tuff is compacted volcanic ash and dolerite, intrusive volcanic rock. Both formed between 300 and 400 million years ago. We were humbled but headbent due to inclement wind and rain. A poncho stop ensued as we headed downhill to see the Sourton Ice Works

They were created in 1875 in order to fulfill the demand for ice from fishmongers in Plymouth. A spring fed water into 30 terraces that were dug into the hillside. These would freeze due to the altitude and prevailing winds, the ice was compressed into blocks and stored in an insulated building before being taken by horse and cart to Plymouth. The mounds are clearly visible. However, a short-lived industry as a few mild winters and the invention of the refrigerator soon put paid to any profit here.

We gingerly crossed the infant West Okement at Vellake Corner, known to be a boggy spot, heading now for Vellake Gauge Weir across the much wider West Okement River. This lovely spot was to be our lunch venue on a glorious summers day, but today we aimed for the minimal shelter of trees near the Meldon Reservoir, for our sustenance.

Thankfully the rain eased as we circuited the reservoir on the south side, the north having been closed some 6 years ago due to a dispute between the landowner and Dartmoor National Park.  We crossed the reservoir via Meldon Dam. Meldon is the youngest of Dartmoor’s reservoirs, opened in 1972 to serve West Devon (yes, correct Sandra!) for many years to come. It is 900 ft above sea level and it’s creation caused more protest and controversy than any other Reservoir on the Moor. The issue rumbled on for nearly 10 years until in 1968 the bulldozers finally moved into the beautiful Meldon Gorge. See the b&w shot in our gallery for the Meldon Valley, prior to the building of the dam.

We walked on to Meldon Quarry Pool, now a haven for wildlife and wild swimmers at times – even bungy jumping research reveals! No takers for that today and even the obligatory group pic was spoiled by rainwater on the lens. The quarry was orignally limestone and the workings flooded to become the greeny-blue pool we see today, latterly aggregate was the material sought there.

Drying out nicely now, we took the path below the old viaduct, through Meldon to the Granite Way Cycle Trail, spotting the ‘Waterloo 199.77 miles’ sign and site of the old Meldon Signal Box on the track, operated once by the London & South West Railway, opened in 1871 and closed shortly after Beeching’s famous Plan of 1963. A brief tea stop here to rest our bones and we were of again.

We deliberately avoided a lengthy walk along the Granite Way Cylce Trail, considerate of those with foot and heel problems, to pick up the paths back to Sourton Church, across softer moorland.

A return then, which should have been simple, down the Two Castles Trail to Bridestowe but hampered somewhat by inquisitive and inreasingly agitated bovines causing an unintended deviation from the correct path and a little cow induced tension, shall we say.

Hopefully a walk through history and beauty on the western edge of Dartmoor that we don’t visit often. Despite the weather, 12 miles completed and a great group on the day made it worthwhile.

Tea with scones and hot chips were enjoyed at the Fox & Hounds who, although surprised at the bedraggled group appearing despite the advance warning, were welcoming and cheery in the event.

Thank you to all – A walk to be repeated on a long, sunny day perhaps?

Karen H