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  • Writer's pictureJodie Newton

Watern Tor and an unplanned Helicopter ride

Updated: May 9, 2021

I must start this post with some massive Thank yous

Firstly to the three Hikers who stopped and helped in our hour of need. Tom, Luke and Matt, thank you. The Devon Air Ambulance who are amazing and two kind fishermen on the Teign.

You have all restored my faith in human kindness.

Our Bank holiday started as usual with a planned hike in our favourite place. Rich and I had seen photos of Watern Tor on the "We love Dartmoor" Facebook group (the members of which should also be thanked for all your well wishes and post shares.)

It was one neither of us had been out to before and is apparently singularly spectacular in its unique formation. Its geology is an excellent example of horizontal jointing.

The Thirlstone on Watern Tor

Upon checking our maps we decided that we'd park at Fernworthy reservoir and take in the Fernworthy stone circle on the way.

The sandwiches and waterproofs had been diligently packed and we were expecting a lovely sunny adventure.

Arriving nice and early at the reservoir, we hiked from where there is a small car park near the end of the surrounding road and took the path West through the trees to Fernworthy stone circle.

Fernworthy forest

Half way along the path we could all smell wood smoke and upon arriving at the circle we discovered that someone had lit a fire near by. There were no signs of those responsible but they'd carelessly left a rather large piece of wood burning over night.

We immediately set about pouring the majority of our water (we had sterilising tablets for a stream refill) onto the wood to put it out.

It is illegal to light fires and BBQ's on Dartmoor. The ground beneath the fire was peat which is very dangerous as fires can spread undetected underground, particularly when there has been a long dry period as we've had in recent weeks.

Fernworthy stone circle remains largely intact and does not seem to have had any restoration work of note. It is one of the more impressive Bronze age antiquities in this area.

Fernworthy stone circle

Having doused the fire to the best of our abilities and taken our fill of the mysterious archaeology we continued onwards along our Westerly path out of the forest and over to Teignhead farm.

On the way we crossed the picturesque Teignhead Farm clapper which is located just below the now deserted farmstead.

Teignhead Farm Clapper

I had planned to take some photos of the farmstead, however there seemed to be a number of rather untidy wild campers, who'd decided to use the length of the surrounding stone walls as a temporary clothes line which was rather disappointing. I didn't fancy having photos of other peoples laundry and camping equipment. Please remember to camp considerately.

Following Manga Brook with Fernworthy in the distance

We continued on, following Manga Brook up the hill and followed the dry stone wall at the top in a Northerly direction, towards a substantially sized Cairn which lies just South of Watern Tor.

We stopped here to fly our pocket kite and take in some impressive views.

So far so good.

From the Cairn we could see our objective sitting regally on the crest of the hill and we trotted onwards, kite flying, enjoying the peace without a care in the world.

As we approached Watern Tor we noticed that some more wild campers had pitched their tent right in front of the famous Thirlstone, which had been the thing I'd been looking forward to seeing and photographing most.

Luckily these campers looked to be packing up to leave and it was almost lunch time so we patiently waited for them to become less conspicuous and opened the Winegums.

Eventually we were able to enjoy Watern Tor in all its glory.

Here thin pieces of granite appear carefully layered one on top of the other, sculpted to produce this distinctive and unique Tor.

On the edge of Dartmoor's North plateau, the moor sweeps down from Watern Tor to the North Teign River and Walla Brook before descending further to the rolling countryside around Chagford.

Between the two main pillars of rock is a gap known as the Thirlstone, through which you can look out both East and West creating a spectacular rocky frame for the vistas in both directions.

Watern Tor

We set about posing for photos and pottering around on the rocks. I was on the Eastern side of the Tor when disaster struck.

From the Western side I heard my husband cry out and our middle daughters terrified yells of 'MUM!'.

My lovely, highly experienced moorland hiker of a husband had managed to get his hiking boot snagged on a thin lip of granite. His already weakened ankle (twisted a few years back during our Macmillan Mighty Hike training) gave way, as his body weight continued forward and his foot stayed put.

He heard it snap, as did our daughter who was some 3ft away. He tumbled a short distance to the ground and unfortunately proceeded to also break his shin as he landed.

So there we were, 4 miles from our car with three children and my husbands leg clearly broken.

I did the mummy voice 'it's fine, nobody panic' (whilst mildly panicking on the inside, we've all been there). I looked around franticly for help and spotted three other hikers heading West not far from us. My daughter and I flagged them down and they came over to offer help and support.

(if you are reading this then again a thousand times, thank you)

Now it may seem as though we were very unlucky however, I count ourselves incredibly fortunate for these reasons.

  1. It was just his leg, not his head, back or neck.

  2. One of the lovely people I shouted to for help had just passed his medical exams.

  3. I had a phone with a full battery and a signal (it's not unusual for us to have no signal for miles whilst out).

  4. Devon is covered by the amazing Devon air ambulance.

  5. I can map read and my husband had been teaching our eldest daughter to do so, planning our route back to the car.

  6. There were other people to seek help from. (More often than not we hardly see another soul when in this area.)

I phoned 999 and asked for the ambulance service, though it took a couple of minutes to explain to the young lady in the call centre that we were 2 hours from the nearest road, the Devon Air ambulance was with us with in a matter of minutes.

This is where I have to iterate the use of what3words /// The simplest way to talk about location app. It gives an exact grid reference of your location for the rescue teams and emergency services and though I could have given a grid reference from my OS map, this was quicker and easier. I highly recommend you download it just in case.

By this time my poor husband was clearly in shock and began shaking uncontrollably. We piled our warmest layers over him and tried to keep him still.

Once the fantastic air ambulance crew got to work everything became calmer. They oozed confidence and we felt completely safe in their more than capable hands.

We said farewell to the hikers who'd waited with us until safety and help arrived, though I wish I'd thought to take their contact details to thank them and return their roll mat, which they'd kindly placed beneath my husband when the shock kicked in.

Our eldest daughter has aspirations of becoming a paramedic and she watched with enthusiasm as the crew administered pain relief and a very clever inflatable leg brace.

They stabilised him and popped him on a stretcher, lifting him gently into the back of the helicopter. It was all awe inspiring as well as terrifying.

If you are a regular on the moors it may be in your best interest to donate to this amazing charitable organisation. Donate now | Devon Air Ambulance Trust (

You seriously never know when you may need their help and if you do, trust me you will be in the safest of hands.

Now, whilst the paramedics (saints in my opinion) were getting on with their work I was thinking about getting the three children back to Fernworthy with all of Richards kit as well as our own. My eldest daughter and I quietly came up with a plan, switching items that were heavier to my bag and reorganising who was capable of carrying a little more weight. As I've mentioned in a previous post, both our girls have a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome which, amongst other things can cause their joints (especially shoulders in our middle ones case) to dislocate and we didn't need any more drama for one day.

By this time the crew and Richard were ready to fly to Derriford hospital. Rich was clearly a lot more comfortable with some lovely pain relief in place and we waved farewell from the Tor as they took off.

Adrenaline pumping, we stood slightly bewildered at what had just occurred.

Now you may think me a slightly bad parent but it was at this point, I allowed the children to shout (there was no one around to hear) which ever swear words made them feel slightly better. We had some nervous giggle filled moments when, I realised they'd clearly been listening when I thought they hadn't all these years.

I could see our destination in the distance on the horizon, though I knew there was a valley between. So we set off in what we thought would be the safest and quickest way back to the car.

We descended down the hill in an Easterly direction following a stone wall marked on the map, towards the North Teign River. The kids were amazing. They were a bit tearful but we jollied each other along.

Once we hit the river, we soon realised that it was not the best place to cross, however there was (luckily, once again) a fence over it, which we were able to shimmy along.

It was here that we met our third set of hero's for the day. I called to two chaps in fishing gear that I could see a little further up the hill and more for my own peace of mind I double checked with them, that I was heading for the quickest easiest route back.

They were absolutely lovely and once I'd explained our situation they went out of their way to make sure we were ok and told us an even quicker path through Fernworthy back to our car.

The lovely farther and son duo had been trout fishing and offered to walk with us for part of our journey back. It was a welcome relief to have some additional adult company so a big thank you them also if they read this.

In what felt like no time at all (though that may have been the adrenaline once again) we found the car safely nestled amongst the trees in Fernworthy forest and headed for home.

By the time I'd driven back to Teignmouth, Richard had been safely flown to Derriford, x-rayed, put through a CT scanner and an orthopaedic surgeon had told him the news. He had indeed broken his ankle and his shin and would require surgery. He is now the proud owner of what he calls his bionic leg. A metal rod is now holding him together and he is currently at home recovering from some serious surgery.

So what have we learnt from all this?

Never be too over confident no matter how much experience you have.

Make sure you know what to do in an emergency.

Make sure more than one member of your party can map read and navigate.

Do download the what3words app.

Make sure your phone is fully charged.

Always carry extra layers and a basic first aid kit.

People are, in general, kind, helpful and supportive when others are in need.

That we in the South West are incredibly lucky to have The Devon Air Ambulance.

I must leave this post there for now as I'm playing Nurse maid to our lovely invalid and I'm pretty sure he'll be needing another cup of tea and some more pain killers very soon.

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