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  • Writer's pictureJodie Newton

Burrator Reservoir to Sheeps Tor circular 6.5 miles

Down Tor stone row and cairn circle

Parking at Norsworthy Bridge car park, Burrator reservoir. This area is popular, for some reason unbeknownst to me many people like to walk around the flat road that surrounds the fenced off water. As such, my advice would be to get there early in order to park sensibly. On the plus side however, there is usually an ice cream van in this car park on warmer days, so take your wallet for a celebratory ice cream on your return.

We arrived at 8.30am on Easter Sunday and headed East along the footpath, up hill to Down Tor SX580 694. Half way up the hill the coats came off. It was a beautiful day despite being early April. It is always advisable to wear layers on Dartmoor at all times of the year. I have been freezing in mid August and in a T-shirt in April and Late November so be prepared.

Down Tor offers some spectacular views over Burrator reservoir and the surrounding tors above.

We were aiming for Down Tor stone row also known as Hingston Hill row, which is just East of the Tor on the map at SX587 692.

This is one of Dartmoors more impressive Bronze Age archeological sites and a firm favourite of my own.

The stone row is 316 metres long and comprises of 174 stones which vary in height. Sitting at each end of the row, are two standing stones. The largest at the Western end is 2.8 metres tall. This row was restored in the 1890s when the Western standing stone was re-erected.

At the western end of the row sits a cairn and its kerb circle, it has a diameter of some 8 metres and stands 0.7 metres high.

At the opposite end of the row is a circular enclosure and a little further on the remains of a settlement. Dartmoor is littered with these “settlements” and some of the best preserved can be found at Grimspound and the Erme Pound. I find them fascinating and try to make a point of including them in my routes when planning a walk. I find the stones themselves very tactile and my mind wonders off, imagining what life must’ve been like for their inhabitants thousands of years ago. Granite is extremely hard and heavy and I can’t help but be in awe of the craftsmanship and engineering that must’ve been used to build these structures.

We doubled back on our selves slightly, back to the Cairn circle at the Western end of the row and took the worn track South to Combshead Tor.

Combshead Tor is very pretty with lots of opportunities to climb and bimble about on the rocky outcrops with stunning views back across the valley and over the reservoir.

From Combshead Tor we journeyed West down the hill to Cuckoo Rock.

Combshead Tor

The origin of Cuckoo Rocks name is disputed. Some claim it is named after the shape of the top of the rock, while others say it is because the rock was an ideal point from which to hear cuckoos in spring.

Cuckoo Rock is a large outcrop of granite and local legends suggest it was formerly used as a hideaway for smuggled goods, especially alcohol.

Cuckoo Rock

By this time the children were getting hungry despite being an hour from lunch. We decided that we’d head for Narrator Brook, which sits just West of the rock in the valley below. There is a foot bridge noted on the map and here we found an ideal place for an early spring Dartmoor dip and our sandwiches.

The sun was shining, warm and bright and my husband had bet the children a small sum of money, that they wouldn’t get their shoulders under the water.

Game on! Our middle child is always up for proving she’s made of stern stuff and had stripped to her underwear before I’d even managed to unpack our picnic. In she jumped...out she jumped squealing at the the frigid temperature of the babbling brook.

She was not deterred however and once she’d eaten her sandwich, she was in again quick as a flash (before I’d even got the camera to hand) in a full plank position and performed a perfect press-up under the icy torrent of Dartmoor water. Her point made and £7.50 earned, proving once more that she is made of steel.

Her brother and sister followed closely behind and our youngest stayed in the water deciding that once you were numb it was fine.

The fact all three had braved the water made it near impossible for me to chicken out. Egged on by the rest of my clan I too got in. It was cold, cold to the point of hurting cold, until as my son had discovered, the numbness set in and I too managed to get my shoulders under for a refreshing “swim”.

leaping over Narrator Brook to get to our lunch spot

Narrator Brook, Spring Dartmoor dip.

Clothes and boots back on and all the litter from our lunch safely packed back in our bags to take home (and dispose of like any responsible adventurer should) we headed to Yellowmead stone circles and the main reason I’d picked this area for our walk.

I had seen the circles in the 'Dartmoor 365' book by John Haywood, sometime during the first lockdown of 2020 and had been badgering the family to get out to them ever since.

We followed the path from the foot bridge keeping the forest on on our right and headed south, cross country from the end of the trees towards Yellowmead farm. The circles are near the boundary wall at SX574 678

Yellowmead stone circles are a set of four concentric circles, only discovered in 1921 after a fire had burnt away heather that had been covering them for centuries. They were restored shortly after the initial finding and what can be seen today is the assumed original positioning of the stones dating from the Bronze Age.

They weren’t as impressive as the Down Tor stone row but still worth a look and I was glad to finally get out to see them.

Yellowmead Stone Circles

From Yellowmead we headed North West following the boundary wall towards Yellowmead down and Sheeps Tor.

We were going to look for Pixies house (a cave marked on the map) but Sheeps Tor covers a vast area and the children were getting tired so we abandoned that idea for another day.

Sheeps Tor

Sheeps Tor dominates the Eastern side of Burrator Reservoir. It rises steeply from the plantations that fringe the water and is topped by huge rocky outcrops and crags that are popular with climbers.

It is currently for sale along with Yellowmead stone circles and 120 acres of land for a guide price of £145,000. Any new prospective owner will not be able to do anything with the land and will be custodians only as public access will still be in place.

From here we walked North down the steep side of the hill towards Narator plantation and the footpath that leads to the road around the reservoir where we turned right and travelled back to the car park.

The walk was roughly 6.5 miles and could easily be shortened or reversed to suit your needs. I found our route relatively easy but several months in lockdown had significantly reduced my fitness levels and my knees certainly felt our descent.

In all, it was a lovely day and a much needed trip back up to our beloved Dartmoor.

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