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  • Writer's pictureJodie Newton

Christmas morning and a New Years trundle in the snow

Two shorter walks

Christmas morning sunrise 2020

Happy new year to all my readers.

Every year, for the past three years my family and I have planned to hike up Rippon Tor for a glorious view of the sunrise on Christmas morning.

This year the weather conditions were just right and so, on Christmas Eve we prepared our warmest layers (to pop on under the Christmas PJ’s of course), some hot chocolate, the small camping stove to Toast some crumpets and once Santa had safely delivered the stockings, we popped those in our backpacks too.

We rose early (I always wake early Christmas morning, so I was up at the hideous hour of 4.00am) and left the house at 7.50am.

It felt magical, giggling in the dark, trying to pack the car quietly, so as not to disturb our lovely neighbours.

Don't toast crumpets on a dual fuel 😉

The children were all full of the joys of Christmas and the spirit of adventure. We arrived at our parking spot just south of Saddle Tor, donned our head torches and crossed the road with Rippon Tor ahead of us.

Hiking in the dark is great fun, so long as you know where you’re going and your torch is bright enough (mine was not 😁) .

The ground was icy and slippery in places, but it was fun hearing the ice crack beneath our boots and occasionally finding ourselves sinking into mud that we’d have navigated around in daylight.

We headed for the Western side of the Tor, as the path up is slightly easier and you can get round the end of the stone wall that is on the Eastern side.

We summited Rippon Tor just as the sun's first rays were breaching the horizon and hunkered down in the cairn at the top. It was very cold and the hot chocolate was a welcome distraction, as we handed the children their stockings and set about toasting our crumpets. I have to say, they didn’t toast particularly well on the small burner but it was an experience simply trying. We got some beautiful photos of the glorious sunrise, with colours ranging from deep reds to purple.

Sunrise, Christmas morning 2020

Then we decided to descend back to the car wishing fellow hikers a happy Christmas on our way down. It was only a short walk as it was so cold but the hike from here could easily have been elongated to incorporate saddle Tor or further over to Haytor.

Saddle Tor, on our descent

In all, it was a lovely way to start our Christmas morning but I had to get back to get the turkey in the oven and the children obviously wanted to open their presents which were waiting beneath our tree.

We had a lovely quiet Christmas this as year (as many of us have) and on the 2nd of January we decided the weather would be just right for another short walk to blow out the festive cobwebs.

Dartmoor had been dusted with snow over the holidays and some of it was still about.

My lovely family had bought me a personalised OS map of Dartmoor for Christmas and I spent the time between the big day and New Year perusing our options.

Leather Tor caught my eye and a bit of research informed us that it is sometimes known as “mini Tryfan” (Tryfan is a notoriously difficult summit in Snowdonia and one my husband had visited in his days as a Venture Scout).

Leather Tor

There was snow and as such, the area was busier than usual with some people choosing to park on the side of the roads, I don’t recommend doing this as it causes some serious traffic problems. Please be considerate when parking on the Moor. Remember that farmers need access to their land and livestock at all times, and that you need to leave room for emergency vehicles.

Parking in a car park just North of Sharpitor on the B3212 we headed North East down the hill towards the old Princetown Railway, which I’ve described in detail in a previous post about Foggintor quarries.

Kings Tor in the distance with a snowy Princetown Railway track.

On the way down the hill we came across a herd of ponies shying and prancing around a large snowball. One of them was brave enough to creep up to it and give it a good hoof and a bit of a lick to check it was safe. It was a lovely thing to witness but we kept our distance as wild ponies can be unpredictable.

One brave pony

Once we hit the track we turned left (South East) towards a disused pit marked on the map. The path was thick with compacted snow and extremely difficult to walk on without slipping so we decided to head off the track, back up the hill, South west toward a Bronze Age stone row SX 548 705. Once we’d found all the stones and finished throwing a significant amount of snowballs at each other we continue up and over the main road to the top of Peek Hill.

Part of the stone row

Traveling up the hill was brilliant, there were a fair few more people than usual but it was lovely to see them out enjoying the snow on sledges and the odd tea tray. The main track had become a temporary “luge” with people of all ages whizzing down the slippery slope. We reached the top and enjoyed one of the best views on Dartmoor, down across Burrator reservoir and surrounding plantations. The slight dusting of snow and ambient light creating postcard worthy panoramas.

Peak Hill to Burrator

From here we traveled South West over to Leather Tor. On the way we found the remnants of one of Dartmoors Nuclear Monitoring Posts.

Monitoring Posts were underground structures which were placed at strategic locations across the UK. Their purpose was to serve as Cold War nuclear reporting installations, and were manned by volunteers from the Royal Observer Corps between 1955 and 1991. The one at Walkhampton is Located South West of Sharpitor, just off the summit of Peek Hill. This was the earliest of Dartmoor’s posts and was opened in 1957 and closed in 1991. Many of the features are visible today, including the mound with its air vent and entry shaft which have now been sealed with sand and stones. SX 557 699.

Leather Tor is impressive, my husband and our son decided they’d like to climb to the top but the girls and I stayed at the bottom. I’m not particularly fond of heights as I may have mentioned before and the added danger of slippery ice and snow was a red flag for us. The boys both said it was hard work traversing it’s peak.

We stopped here for a while, taking photos, poking about under rocks for letter boxes, throwing more snowballs and talking to the odd pony.

The weather had changed as we were investigating Leather Tor and dark clouds were appearing in the North, heading our way. We decided that we should get a move on and so headed back up towards Sharpitor.

Leather Tor with Sharpitor in the distance

Sharpitor is really easy to get to and there are various bits of Bronze Age archaeology on its Northeastern slopes. It’s very close to the road and carparks so makes for a nice stress free walk if you have very little youngsters who like a walk in the fresh air.

We were getting cold at this point and though the snowball throwing was continual over our 4 mile stroll the kids were becoming overly chilly. We reached the car just as the sleet started to fall and headed home to the warm.

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