Walk: Rattlebrook Walk
Length: Choice of a 5-mile walks or a 10-mile walk Start point: Car park at High Down Car Park at the rear of the Dartmoor Inn, Lydford at SX524 853 . Basic route: (Blue route: 10-mile route) Into the valley of the Doe Tor Brook and upstream to Dick’s Well and onto Bleak House, then up to the Rattlebrook Peat Railway to Sourton Tors and the Ice Works then return via the Peat Railway to High Down. (Red route: 5-mile deviation) By turning off early from Bleak House and returning to High Down over Great Links and Widgery Cross. This type of deviation can also be done on the railway line at ‘Points’ to suit whichever length of walk you desire. Some tracks as well as open moorland to cross. In poor visibility, especially on the section near Bleak House, 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 follows beside the Wilsworthy Military Firing Range – it is essential to check the firing times and not to cross into the range past the red and white range posts when live firing is taking place. A Red flag is flown from nearby Doe Tor SX541 848 when firing is occurring. Map: Dartmoor OS OL 28 North Sheet.
This walk was kindly provided by Moorland Guides Park at the car park situated at High Down at SX524 853, which is located by taking the rough track beside the Dartmoor Inn, Lydford and through the gate at the top of the lane.
Walk out onto the open moor by using the gate to the right when you are facing the moors. This way you go out onto the grassy downs following an obvious wide track which leads you to the ruins of Wheal Mary Emma Mine at SX530 852. The higher mine workings now consist of a small indentation in the ground but a very obvious flat rod channel which leads down the hillside through the gorse. The channel is a bit too overgrown to follow so use one of the clear paths to make your way down to the River Lyd and the ruins of the mine workings beside the river near to the ford at SX532 851just upstream from where the Doe Tor Brook tumbles down the hillside into the Lyd. Wheal Mary Emma Mine did not last long and few, if any, records of it survive. An interesting feature to see while you are here is the plaque on Black Rock a at SX533 852 dedicated to the memory of Captain Nigel Hunter M.C (Bar) of the Royal Engineers who was killed near Bapaume on 25th March 1918, aged 23 years. He wrote the poem on his memorial on his last visit to Lydford, and after reading it you can’t help but wonder if he knew that it would be his last trip to his beloved Dartmoor.
After leaving Black Rock walk back down the River Lyd to the ford by the mine workings and cross the river to walk up hill to join the left bank of the Doe Tor Brook. You do sometimes have to leave the bank of the brook to find suitable footing because it can get rather wet and steep here but once you have passed by Widgery Cross on your left the land flattens out and you can easily follow the river as it bends left to the north. Alternatively there is an easy well trodden path which bends left over the gentle slope and follows along the course of the river to the ruins of Wheal Frederick Mine b , sometimes called Foxhole Tin Mine. The workings here are worthy of investigation. The old mine house is still in a surprisingly good condition. There is an impressive wheel-pit which has been filled in and also a pair of circular buddles below the ruins.
After leaving Wheal Frederick cross the Brook, there is a little bridge a short distance upstream, and walk upstream on the right hand bank because there is a very interesting Tinners’ Cache beside the brook in the steep bank near to SX549 858 thought to have been used to hide tin before being taken to one of the Stannary Towns to be assayed. The best way to locate the cache is to walk near to the edge of the gully on your left and the gully turns to the right. Keep looking over the edge and you’ll look right down into it. Once you have located and seen the cache go north across the stream to a large mound about 200 metres ahead on the uphill slope. This is the ruin of a reservoir used by the tinners to collect water. From here simply walk north again for about 100 metres and you reach the well-trodden pathway which was used by the peat cutters in the Rattlebrook valley.
At this point if you feel you would like to return to the start and your vehicles then simply turn left, westwards, and follow the distinctive path back to High Down ford and back to the car park. If you are continuing on with the walk turn right, to the east, and follow the track to Dick’s Well at SX551 861where you will find a boundary stone marked with ‘L’ (Lydford) on one side and ‘BS’ (lands common to Bridestowe and Sourton) on the other. Continue east taking the left fork in the path to the River Rattlebrook and the ruins of Bleak House c at SX559 864 and the Rattlebrook Peat Works at the head of the Rattlebrook Railway. The path swings left to the north to go below the small tor known as Dunnagoat. The best place to cross the Rattlebrook is just below Dunnagoat where there is a large stepping-stone in the stream. The peat works concentrated on the extraction of peat in the mid 19th Century but by the late 19th Century the venture had failed. It then continued spasmodically into the mid 20th Century and in 1961 the ruins were eventually blown up by the military.
Once visited, those who wish to only do the five-mile route need to either retrace their steps back past Dunnagoat to Dick’s Well (don’t forget to fork right when the path splits) and thence to High Down Ford along the distinctive path, or alternatively a more pleasant walk with fine views would be to go north west across the moors from Dunnagoat to Great Links Tor at SX550 867. On a good day it is possible to see the sea on the north coast of Cornwall near Morewenstowe and on the south coast near Looe. Another possible visiting point on your journey home is the cross on Brat Tor at SX539 855. This is known as Widgery Cross and was constructed at the behest of the Exeter painter, William Widgery, in 1887 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. From here you make your way downhill to the High Down Ford and the track following the wall back to the car park.
For those leaving Bleak House with a view to doing the ten-mile route it is best to cross back to the west bank of the stream and to follow the distinctive footpath running on the high ground parallel to the river northwards to the railway line at the west end of the high embankment, which once carried the track across the mire and stream. If you follow the east bank the route is very boggy indeed as you near the ruins of the peat works at SX559870.
Once on the old peat track you simply turn left into the cutting and follow the track across the hillside as it leads you to a sharp turn on the track called ‘Points’ at SX545 887. This is where there was a turn about for the trucks because of the steep incline and change in direction.
If you wish to cut your walk short at this stage you simply follow the track downhill and over Great Nodden at SX538 874 to Nodden Gate, then simply follow the River Lyd, using the east bank, downstream to High Down Ford and along the track back to the car park.
For those wishing to continue their route all the way to the Ice Works go along the track into the turn-about area and carry on northwards along a well-trodden path towards Sourton Tors ahead of you at SX453 898. The Tors are initially out of sight but soon appear around the corner when you walk along the path.
It is easier to walk to the right of the tors and go to the north at a point near SX545 901 where you will locate the longs ridges and ruins of the Ice Works d just over the hillcrest. Ice was produced here at the later end of the 19th Century because of the altitude and conditions as well as the close proximity of the railway in order to take ice to Plymouth where it was used in the fish markets and the Barbican. Indeed there wan an intention to take a branch from the Rattlebrook Railway to the Ice works but this never came about. Unfortunately the venture failed shortly after it started and the workings were abandoned.
Another interesting feature in this area is an abandoned granite crusher base which is located east of Sourton Tors on the grassy plain at the foot of the slop between Sourton Tors and the steep slop leading up to Branscombe’s Loaf.
Once you have looked at the ruins and the crusher your return journey is best to retrace your tracks back to ‘Points’ on the railway track and then follow the track, as already described back downhill and over Great Nodden to the River Lyd, and down the Lyd to High Down Ford and back to the car park. A brief, but interesting diversion, on the very summit of Great Nodden e is an interesting cairn.