CROSSING CORN RIDGE, and on meeting a seemingly friendly stranger, Bishop Branscombe was offered lunch. Fortunately, an observant companion spotted the traveller’s cloven hooves, brushing the satanic snack aside just before it was accepted. The cursed bread fell, petrified, to the ground. Something tells me the origins of Branscombe’s Loaf may have more to with superheated geology, but whatever the truth, this isolated lump of stone remains one of my favourite Dartmoor features. To reach it can involve little more than a 2km saunter up onto the moor from the village of Sourton. Or it can be left to near the end of a good circular walk.
As I turned south off the A30, Sourton Tors formed the first bumpy bit high on the moorland edge. With the van parked near the church, and the sun rising behind this scattered collection of geology, the climb looked somewhat tougher than my map suggested. In the end, the rock-strewn slope provided just the right warm-up for the walk ahead. The view south towards my next goal from the top was inspiring, and Great Links Tor only fell briefly from view as I approached along a sturdy track.
From a distance, Dartmoor tors often look larger than they really are, and while from the ridge Great Links Tor seemed quite sizable, I expected the same shrinkage. With a final stroll up a grass slope, I was pleased to find this gate-like formation continued to look satisfyingly solid, standing as a fitting sentinel on the moorland edge.
It also provides the first glimpse of the metamorphic understatement that is Kitty Tor. This put-upon (quite literally) little outcrop isn’t the most inspiring spot on Dartmoor. But while the modest collection of low granite mounds and military detritus isn’t much to look at, the views are excellent, taking in the curved ridge holding High Willhays up and away to the north-east.
Revelling in the sense of space, I set out on a bearing to tramp across Corn Ridge myself. Lots of sky and a remarkable feeling of isolation more than made up for the squidgy and ephemeral apology for a path. And no dodgy-looking chaps with free meals either.
Beyond the Loaf, with Sourton Tors back in view and the wooded splendour of western Devon spread out below, some rather extraordinary earthworks were now visible off to the right. These represent the remains of Sourton Ice Works, established in the late 1800s, when water from a spring was caught in channels, to freeze in winter. Collected and stored in peat-lined pits, this ice was carried away by cart to preserve fish landed in Plymouth.
I followed the track away from this bizarre spot and back towards the church, trailed by the imagined creak and grind of ice-laden wagons.