Walk: Stall Down and the Erme Valley
Length: Choice of a 5-mile walk or a 10-mile walk Start point: Car Park at Harford Moor Gate 3km North of Ivybridge. (SX 643 595) Basic route: (Blue route: 10-miles) Through the newly defined CROW Act land and into the valley of the River Erme and upstream to Erme Pound then across to the east of the river to the disused Red Lake Railway track. Then return south along the track to Spurrell’s Cross and west back to the car park at Harford Moor Gate. (Red route: 5-mile deviation) By turning off early to cross the Erme just north of Piles Copse and to make for the Red Lake Railway track then continue to Spurrell’s Cross and the car park. Both of these routes lie outside of the firing ranges so can be undertaken at any time of the year. However, a crossing of the River Erme is necessary on either route and therefore it is recommended to only undertake the walk when the river is low and easier to ford. The 10-mile route takes in some of the most remote parts of southern Dartmoor so is not to be undertaken lightly or without the proper clothing and equipment. Despite there being lots of features on this walk, in both good as well as in poor visibility a map and compass are essential especially on the 10-mile section north of the Water Board Dam and in the area of Erme Pound Map: Dartmoor OS OL 28 South Sheet.
This walk was kindly provided by Moorland Guides
Park at the car park at Harford Moor Gate (SX 643 595) where there is a gate and plenty of parking available. Ensure that no valuables are left in your vehicle and, as always, leave details of your route and estimated time of return with someone. Be aware that much of this route is out of signal for many of the mobile phone services, especially in the deep valley of the River Erme.
From the car park walk back through the gate down to Harford Church continuing downhill to Harford Bridge. Go over the bridge and continue around the left bend go uphill passing Harford Bridge Cottage on your left. (Don’t go through the first gate on your right, the sign warning about a bull being loose will put off most walkers!) Carry on up the hill passing a conveniently painted white stone on your left until you go around a right hand bend to find a second gate on your right. a This gate is marked as ‘Permissive Path’. Go through this gate and follow the well-defined footpath, which goes up the hillside. You will pass by a few new CROW Act signs as you go along the well defined path through walls and eventually out onto the open moor through a gate at the corner of Hall Plantation (SX 636 600). Continue towards Tristis Rock (SX 638 601) which you can see ahead of you. Over to your right, to the east, you have fine views over the opposite hillside, which you will be walking back over on your return journey. If you would like to visit a nearby kistaven simply walk about 50 metres west of Tristis Rock b to the first gorse bush, where you will locate it hidden in the gorse. From Tristis Rock our path is well defined and heads north through a prehistoric settlement and eventually goes through a gate with a CROW Act sign in the wall. Pass through this gate and continue north for about 500 metres towards the final wall with a wire fence on top. The footpath leads you toward the right slightly but if you loose the path simply carry on towards the wall and turn right to locate the final pedestrian gateway out onto the open moorland ( SX639 610).
Go through the gate and out onto the open moors, going uphill in a north westerly direction until you reach the rough Water Authority vehicle track which goes through quite an impressive settlement with hut circles all around you.
When you reach the track simply turn right and follow it into the valley of the River Erme. As you walk along you will see Piles Copse woods on your right (SX 643 621) on the other side of the river. This is one of the three ancient oak woods on Dartmoor, the other two being the Wistman’s Wood near Two Bridges and Black-a-tor copse in the valley of the West Okement near Okehampton on the north moors.
High Above Piles Copse is Sharp Tor. There is a well-defined wall going all the way around Piles Copse. When you reach a point at the end of the Piles Copse enclosure it is here that the five-mile deviation leaves the track. For those wishing to do the 5-mile route you simply walk down diagonally to the right just as the track reaches a lone Hawthorn tree on your left. Go down to the river to where the enclosure wall comes down the hillside on the other side. There are a few places here to cross the river, don’t go any further upstream because the ground on the other side of the river is boggy.
Once you have crossed the river simply walk up the steep hill with the wall on your right, when the wall bends to the right just carry on eastward until you reach the Red Lake Railway track. You then follow the 10-mile route back to the car park.
For those carrying on with the longer route continue along the track to a gully on your left (SX 638 629) where the small Downing Brook runs down the hillside. If you take a little deviation of a few meters you will locate Downing’s House c, a small tinner’s beehive shelter where tools and ingots could have been hidden, for it is too small to be a proper shelter for a man. To find it simply walk up the brook towards the tree ahead of you, stay on the right bank and about halfway between the track and the tree you will stumble across the small ruin.
After looking at Downing’s House simply carry on up the track to the Water Authority hut and dam (SX 639 631) where the track ends at the head of the water works on the River Erme. Pass by the hut and you will find a footpath going northwards up the valley. Looking over to the right you will notice two streams coming down the hillside. One is the Left Lake and the other is the Dry Lake.
For those wanting to cut the 10-mile route a little shorter, perhaps due to time, it is possible to cross the Erme here (SX 640 663) and walk up the first of these brooks to the Railway Track (SX 646 634) where the 10-mile route rejoins you.
All around you are now the familiar herringbone patterns of the tinners’ waste heaps beside the river.
The River Erme now goes either side of an island (SX 637 635) and our path goes left slightly into the valley of a small brook running down from our left. Cross the brook and continue up the Erme valley. When you look to the right over to the other side of the Erme you will see a few very distinct settlement enclosures.
Looking ahead upstream in the direction that we are travelling you can see on the left hill that there is a brighter green enclosure (SX635 642) higher up above the Erme. We are going to be heading for that greener enclosure once we have negotiated the boggy area ahead of us caused by the draining Blatchford Brook coming down from our left. Simply follow the brook upstream to the left to the first tree where there is a pool and a large number of boulders below the pool where you can easily cross the brook.
Make your way across the low wet area and start going up the hillside on the other side of the small brook. As you go uphill the ground is quite difficult because of the length of the grass and being quite wet but this soon ends as you gain the rise. There are a few paths to pick up which lead to the greener enclosure area, where you will find some hut circles.
We now continue uphill to the stone circle (SX 635 644) known as Kiss-in-the-Ring and the start of the longest stone row on Dartmoor, and allegedly, in the world.
Our route now simply follows the stone row and the distinct path that runs beside it all the way to the River Erme. We pass a large cairn on the way, itself worth a brief detour to inspect. As the stone row drops down to cross the River Erme we part company with it to go to the remains of Erme Pound d (SX 637 656), a Bronze Age enclosure that has several huts within it. It was later used as an animal pound.
The River Erme is easily crossed in this area to reach the Pound. Once visited the route simply goes due east to join the Red Lake Trackway (SX 644 657).
At the track turn right and start walking on your return journey southwards.
After about 500 metres you pass by the brick built mica-settling pits on your left (SX 649 656). These were used in the clay industry of this area and well worth a brief deviation to have a look at.
Once back on the track you simply follow it for 6 kilometres to Spurrells Cross (SX 658 599)
On the way along the track you pass by the old clay pit at Leftlake (SX 647 634) and then on your left you will see the high Three Barrows e (SX653 625) – well worth a closer look at. There is also a distinct Reeve (a prehistory land boundary) running through this location marked on the map.
You next pass Sharp Tor on your right (SX 647 617) with views across the Erme valley over to Stalldown and Hillson’s House.
There are a number of crosses, which a small deviation will allow you to visit. One being Hobajon’s Cross (SX 655 604) and finally Spurrells Cross f which isn’t actually on the former railway track but about 100 metres east of it.
It is at this point that there is a distinct grassy path leading west across the hillside and downhill to the car park at Harford Moor Gate and your car.