Walk: Belstone to Hangingstone Hill
Length: Choice of a 5-mile walks or a 10-mile walk Start point: Car park at Belstone Village Car Park SX621 938. Basic route: (Blue route: 10-mile route) Into the valley of the River Taw following the river upstream to Hangingstone Hill and return along the Oke Tor to Belstone Tor ridge. (Red route: 5-mile deviation) By turning off early and going straight to Oke Tor, returning the same way over Belstone Tor. This type of deviation can be done at numerous points along the walk to suit whichever length of walk you desire. Some lanes, tracks and gates as well as open moorland to cross. In poor visibility, especially on the Hangingstone Hill section of this walk, a map and compass is essential. There are also a number of streams to cross, not all have bridges. It is important to note that this walk enters the Okehampton Military Firing Range – it is essential to check the firing times and not to undertake this walk when live firing is taking place on the Okehampton Firing Range. Map: Dartmoor OS OL 28 North Sheet
This walk was kindly provided by Moorland Guides
Park at the large village car park opposite the Belstone Village Hall at Grid Ref SX621 938. From here follow the road into the village passing the old village stocks on your left. These are much restored but remain as a sign of the discomforts endured by petty offenders up until the mid 19th Century. The road also passes a memorial standing stone as you head towards the Tors Public House which you need to pass on your right side as you head out towards the valley of the River Taw and the Belstone Cleave down below you and the side of Cosdon Beacon on your left. The lane leads you past some cottages, passing by derelict tractors and agricultural machinery and eventually to the gate in the trees, which take you out onto the open moors. This is the rough lane which allows vehicle access to the water works deep in the Taw Valley a few miles ahead. Follow this track, even though it might be uncomfortable in places, for if you take the worn paths on the left they all lead back to the main track.
This track takes you into the large valley of the upper Taw River, passing the impressive Irishman’s Wall a at SX618 918 coming down from the hillside on your right. An Irishman wishing to enclose that part of the moors reputedly built the wall in the early 19th Century. After allowing much of the work to be completed local moormen besieged the site and destroyed much of the wall causing the construction plans to be abandoned. Ahead of you are views towards Steeperton Tor at SX618 887, looking like a pyramid with a narrow valley either side of it and even further in the distance to the right of Steeperton are glimpses of Hangingstone Hill at SX619 861 - much higher than the hills and tors around it.
To your left and across the River Taw rise other hills in this great amphitheatre, the side of Cosdon Beacon to your east, but whose summit is still illusive, further to its south lie the slopes of Metheral Hill to the left of Steeperton with White Hill and the slopes of Little Hound Tor a little further in the distance.
A little way after Irishman’s Wall you will see a junction on your left which leads down to the River Taw and a large ford for Military and Farm vehicles, but continue on your path towards Steeperton Tor, walking parallel to the river. Ahead of you and to your right on the top of the ridge-line you will see Oke Tor at SX612 900. If you intend to do the 5-mile route you now need to start thinking about making your way up to this tor. Don’t leave your ascent too late because the hill gets steeper the longer you leave it. You can easily pick out some fairly useful footpath tracks going up the hillside diagonally towards Oke Tor. The main route will re-join you at Oke Tor after going on to, and back from, Hangingstone Hill. For those going on further up the valley path your route will depend upon how wet the ground is. If it is fairly dry then continue along the track until it peters out into a number of narrow footpaths which all lead into Steeperton Gorge at SX618 897 beside the river to the right of Steeperton Tor. If, however, the ground is wet then I would suggest going way over to the right and hug the lower slopes of the hillside to get to the gorge because the ground ahead of you can become quite boggy. During the spring season there is a lovely show of the various bog-loving plants in the area, including the Sundews, Asphodels, Bog Cottons and Orchids.
Whichever route you have chosen you will see about you the various odd looking constructions of the North Devon Water Board, built in the 1950’s. These are the sink bore holes at SX606 916 taking water from the marshes to your left b to supply water to the Belstone treatment works and onwards to North Devon and Crediton.
The route now enters the narrow Steeperton Gorge, at the entrance of which is a pretty ford by some gateposts where herons are often to be seen fishing. The best route through the gorge is simply to follow the low ruined wall to Knack Mine Ford c at SX614 884, although the last 100 meters or so are quite boggy so drift over to the right to avoid this wet part close to the ford and track.
As you reach the track coming down from the hillside on your right you will see the heaps of tinners’ waste and a little further upstream are the ruins of Knack Mine, or Steeperton Mine as it was known when in operation.
Here is another opportunity to cut short your walk if you wish to by turning right up the hillside track to go back to Oke Tor on top of the hill and return to Belstone, thus making your walk about 7 miles.
After looking at the mine ruins our route takes us across the River Taw using the track to head towards Hangingstone Hill which is clearly visible ahead of you as a rounded hill with a building on its summit. The track you are following was once the main peat cutter’s track from Belstone to Hangingstone. After climbing the hillside along the track the views to your left open up to Wild Tor across the other side of the Steeperton Brook, which has now appeared from the other side of Steeperton Tor. The valley there can be quite boggy but there are a few tinners’ ruins of interest to have a look at if you have time. Indeed, if you really don’t want to follow the track then the west side of the Steeperton Brook is probably the drier to walk on if you would rather walk across the moors. Whatever route you decide upon head up to the obvious hut at the summit of Hangingstone Hill d, one of the major high points on the north moors with fine views all round.
To your west you have a fine view down into the head marshes of the Taw River as it rises from the boggy ground between you and Cranmere Pool at SX603 858. Only a matter of 100 meters to the south are the head waters of the East Dart River which makes its way eventually to the English Channel at Dartmouth after an amazing journey. To many, including me, this point epitomises the very centre of Devon where two of its greatest rivers are born, and where the splashing of Henry Williamson’s otter – Tarka, can almost be heard as he heads north again along the Taw back to the North Devon coast from his mammoth journey along the Torridge and the West Okement to Cranmere Pool.
The hut on Hangingstone Hill is one of the military range lookout posts, out of bounds during live firing.
Hangingstone Hill gets its name from the odd-looking rock formation about 200 meters to the northwest where an overhanging stone is situated at SX 615 864. This rock is on our return journey and is fairly easy to locate on the hillside just tucked down out of sight of the top of the hill; there is a distinctively worn path leading to it.
After visiting the hanging stone our route takes us northwest down to the valley of the River Taw near to Grid Ref SX609 865. In this area look for the largest tinners’ mound on the east bank of the river. The mound is about 30 feet high and huge for a spoil heap.
At its summit is located the large memorial stone e to Ted Hughes, the Poet Laureate who died in 1998. From here our route is becoming well trodden by visitors to this point and leads us north west across the hillside parallel with the taw to the military range track leading from OP15 (A large Observation Post structure) on the ring road at SX602 877. Whether you chose to turn left on the track to OP15 or cross the track is up to you, but we eventually join the tarmac ring road and head in the direction of Oke Tor at SX612 900. The road can be rather tiresome to walk along but is quicker than the adjoining heather-clad moorland. There is a right hand junction to Oke Tor, which will lead you down to the Knack Mine track, but it is just as easy now that you can see Oke Tor ahead, to step out across the moors to it.
Once at Oke Tor f your views both left and right are magnificent. With the Summit of Cosdon Beacon now in view to the east and ahead of you through the valley of the Taw, the hills of Exmoor can be seen in the distance on a clear day. To your left are the impressive shapes of Yes Tor and High Willhays along with other rugged Tors including West Mill and Row Tor.
Our route continues north along the ridge up to Higher Tor, past three bound stones, and across the ruins of Irishman’s Wall g to Belstone Tors.
From Belstone Tors it would be a shame to miss out on visiting the nearby Nine Maidens Stone Circle at SX613 928. It is not immediately in view from the top of the tor but if you continue from the summit towards the flag pole on Watchet Hill your path is crossed by a grassy track leading from right to left. The easy was to find the stone circle is simply to turn left along this path, past the small quarry and you will find that the path leads to the stone circle. The circle actually has seventeen stones in it rather than nine, but the name probably refers to some pagan nature religion where nine had some significance.
Incidentally, the small quarry is of some interest because much of the stone there has been cut using the ‘wedge and groove’ method, which was in use before the more common ‘feather and tare’ adopted at the beginning of the 19th century.
Once you have visited the stone circle walk along the well-trod path to the north and you will join the larger vehicle track that leads to the moor gate by the Belstone Water Treatment Works. The lane will lead you back into the village, past the old Telegraph Office on your left and eventually to the start point in the village car park.