We always try to fit in a walk on Dartmoor over the Christmas break, and this year’s had to wait till the 4th for a dry day with some chance of sunshine. The circular walk from Venford Reservoir to Bench Tor is one of our favourites, taking in a mix of oak woodland, granite tors, moorland and waterside paths.
Even at this time of year, there is colour to be seen: golden gorse flowers, russet bracken, and vivid emerald mosses, as well as multiple shades of soft brown in the trees.
We park by the waterworks (no icecream van or loos in midwinter!), and cross the road bridge, turning left to walk through White Wood on the slopes of the Dart valley. Oak, hawthorn and mountain ash all have their own interesting winter silhouettes and lichen flora. Mossy branches shade the mossy boulders in a wild replica of a Japanese garden, and downslope, the trees are growing from a russet carpet of dead bracken that glows in occasional bursts of sunshine.
A flock of Scottish blackface ewes is foraging under the trees and along the drystone walls. their occasional bleating the only sound over the distant rushing of water.
The path follows a pipeline running down to the waterworks, and gradually curves up the hill until you come out into the clearing at the top, where there are distant views and a glimpse of the River Dart tumbling over rocks between wooded slopes, as well as several lovely specimen trees. Eventually the path turns uphill and back towards Bench Tor, which has several outcrops of granite shading stunted and windblown oaks and hawthorns. From the top, you can see the distinctive cone of Sharp Tor, and below it the hamlet of Rowfoot, where my husband and I always said we would have loved to live had things been different!
Descending the hill towards the reservoir, there are views of the woods and water, which always looks black and sinister. You can walk round the lake to bring you back to the car park; it’s relatively quiet in winter, but summer brings anglers, birdwatchers, picnickers and dog walkers out in force.