Dartmoor: Panners & Peakbaggers

Dartmoor, Bellever Tor, August. 5.2 miles (8.4 kilometres). Clouds and sun, 23°. With family and silly dog.

TL;DR Gold panning, forest, hiking the wrong tor, hiking the right tor.

I’m susceptible to catching gold fever. I once had a day to myself in Otago New Zealand and learned how to pan for gold on the Arrow river. I then spent the next 10 days crouching in it with a plastic pan and decided I would stop working in horticulture and become a full time gold prospector. It was a very happy 10 days. I found about a tenner’s worth. I get the same feeling when feeding 2p pieces into coin pusher machines in amusement arcades. I’m like Bogart in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, stricken with gold fever.

So naturally I brought two gold pans on my holidays and taught lovely son the art of panning in moorland streams. In a few minutes we were both consumed by metallic greed and he knew if he stuck at it he would never have to go to school again.

We started in the Walla Brook, between Cator and Bellever. We found no gold, but I can state with the complete confidence that comes with half baked recollections from twenty years back, we found silver. About 2p worth, if that*. If it was silver. We’ll definitely be doing that again tomorrow, because, you know, shiney. We are jackdaws. There is metal all over Dartmoor: tin, gold, silver, silver-lead, copper. The Romans had a lot of it away, but people like us have been panning and mining for millennia, albeit some more successfully than others.

The sun came out, it was time to walk. More than that, it was time to bag a peak. And let me tell you, I’d planned an extremely easy one: Bellever Tor

It’s a short walk from here to Bellever Forest and the start of the gentle climb through the forest to the tor. We passed plenty of wild Dartmoor ponies and another moorland stream which we fought the urge to get in with our itchy palms and pans. The way up is signposted Lych Way and Bellever Tor, past the YHA youth hostel. The Lych Way is a 12 mile corpse road across the moor, but we headed up through the forest. As much as I love a corpse road, where coffins were hauled across the hills to be buried, today we have a peak to bag.

It can be easy to lose direction in a forest, we turned left at the top of the forest and found ourselves heading to Laughter Tor. Full disclaimer, we hadn’t even realised until, turning round, its big brother was laughing at us, perhaps that’s how it got its name. It’s a lovely short walk between the two, nothing lost, we only gained an extra tor.

Through a meadow of scrub, frogs, lizards and butterflies, we scooted up to the top and bagged the correct peak, just a baby really at 444 metres, but a beautiful bouncing baby. It’s also a trig point, so we added that too. It’s ok to be goal oriented, provided the goals are delightful. It’s not the Cairngorms 4000, we’re not monsters.

After 5 minutes a few more people joined us on the tor. I hadn’t expected solitude on this walk, there’s a huge forest car park at the bottom after all, but even so we’d only seen a handful of people. So we came back down by a slightly different route through the forest. Notwithstanding our impromptu detour it was quite easy to get up and down. There are several routes through the forest but they will all take you more or less there and back. Fortunate really as i’d forgotten to make the OS map offline and those trees sure do steal the interwebs.

* It wasn’t even 2p worth

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Walk info

Follow the instructions on the board at the bottom near the public toilets. You can use the OS app, or of course the Ordnance Survey map for Dartmoor.

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