An edited version of this article appeared in Dartmoor Magazine – Summer 2015.
This article and the next two in the ‘Dartmoor Discovered’ series have been inspired by the accounts of William Crossing in the book ‘Gems in a Granite Setting’ that was first published in 1905 and reprinted for a new generation in 1986. This particular excursion takes in part of the eastern slopes of the precipitous Hound Tor Combe that occupies most of National Grid Square SX 75 78. Despite the many fascinating tors and rocks that are to be enjoyed in this area the Combe itself is rather underrepresented on popular maps with relatively few features shown.
The walk begins at the small car park leading on to Hay (Hey) tor Down at SX 771778 just off the minor road to Manaton that comes up from the B3387 at Hay (Hey) tor Vale. Proceeding north westward from the car park along a broad path for about three quarters of a mile we reach the grand rock pile that is now known as Smallacombe Rocks (SX 756782) and is marked as such by the Ordnance Survey (OS). However, in ‘Gems’ Crossing explains (page 80) that ‘This pile has sometimes been called Grea Tor, but we believe wrongly so. Grea Tor is situated on the other side of the valley but being often spoken of as Grea Tor Rocks the existence of a second pile bearing the name has been supposed. Hence the mistake’ Despite this the mix up in locations seems to have existed for some time thereafter and is replicated as late as 1973 in the caption of a photograph on page 74 of a book entitled ‘Dartmoor’ by Roy J .Westlake.
Smallacombe Rocks, a tor by any other name, is one of South Dartmoor’s finest rock groups consisting of a grand sprawl of granite masses extending downhill to the west. On a clear day the view from the summit across the valley towards the dark crags of Great Hound Tor is breath-taking. A fine hut circle can be seen just off the summit rocks. Taking a northern route from here along the valley side we soon come to the lowly pile that is known as Hole Rock (SX 757785) most notable for its boundary stone on the west side of the main outcrop that is inscribed with an ‘HS’ (Hole Stone) and near to this there is a discarded millstone.
From here looking north we see the next pile in sequence that has acquired the name of Leighon Tor (SX 758787) and is described as such in ‘Gems’ and linked no doubt to one of the largest estates on south Dartmoor away to the northwest, which at one time covered around 1500 acres of land. I included a description of this fine tor in the third batch of ‘Lesser-Known Tor’ descriptions in the autumn edition of Dartmoor Magazine in 1996 (page 28) and have slightly amended the grid reference in light of recent assessment. As I described at the time the tor is indeed a significant landmark, its core remnant split to reveal shelves of granite in the main outcrop beneath which a large clitter sprawls. Despite Crossing’s and later Eric Hemery’s (1983) accounts of this area, the tor has still not yet found its way on to OS maps.
From here we now need to make a detour downhill of some 400 metres or so to the north to a much larger granite mass that has broken into four separate groups of rock on the lower slopes of Black Hill above Leighon Farm. For those interested in a truly lesser-known tor then this is a must see. Stretching for some 200 metres from summit (SX 759790) to foot (SX 757791) I first reported on this area in DM in 2000 as part of an article on ‘Nameless Rock Piles’ and because of its size speculated at the time the possible name of Lower Leighon Tor or Leighon Rocks. Interestingly the former name has now found its way into a recent book on ‘Dartmoor Tors’ by Ken Ringwood.
The ruined tor is immense particularly its middle and lower sections which contain several gigantic boulders amid sprawling holly trees, leading me to believe that this is indeed the place Crossing (1912 p328) alludes to in his Guide, where the Reverend Prebendary Wolfe, who bought the Leighon estate in 1855, once saw as many as thirteen buzzards settle in the rocks and also spoke of ravens breeding here. The Reverend who was for a short time president of Torbay Hospital in the early 1900s was accredited with introducing the trout ponds at the manor. In addition, Crossing states that a golden eagle was once seen in the area by two ramblers in May 1891. Stood among the giant rocks here, it is easy to imagine and concur with the author’s account. Disappointingly there is no representation of these fine rocks on OS maps.
Leaving the tor one now needs a good constitution and stamina to climb the slopes and head south eastwards to eventually reach the small compact outcrop at SX 760786 that I have always known as Black Hill Rocks set some 200 metres south east of Leighon Tor but not visible from there. I have been unable to find any reference to the pile in the literature but given its proximity to the tor some suggest it is perhaps an outlier of the main pile, but personally I think it warrants a separate identity given its prominence on the hillside here when seen from the direction of Smallacombe Rocks.
Taking a final opportunity to enjoy the rugged scenery before departing, the south easterly route back to the starting point allows for the inspection of at least two of the Duke of Somerset’s boundary stones one inscribed ‘Victoria’ (SX 766783) the other ‘Old Jack’ (SX 769781) and both dated ‘DS 1853’.
Hound Tor Combe is a fascinating place to visit. Starting at Smallacombe Rocks the various tors on the far eastern slopes and other features of interest including boundary stones and hut circles are worthy of a day’s excursion alone. I never tire of walking and exploring this part of Dartmoor.
Crossing W (1905) Gems in Granite Setting Devon Books reprinted 1986
Crossing W (1912) Guide to Dartmoor Peninsula Press Newton Abbot reprinted 1993
Hemery E (1983) High Dartmoor: Land and People Robert Hale London
Jenkinson T (1996) Lesser-Known Tors of Dartmoor: Part 3 Dartmoor Magazine: no 44 Autumn
Jenkinson T (2000) Nameless Rock Piles: Field Notes and Photographs Dartmoor Magazine: no 58 Spring
Westlake R (1973) Dartmoor Bradford Barton Truro