” Like walking in 4-Wheel Drive” was how Elaine described Nordic Walking to me, as we strode along the snow covered path on Dartmoor. I’m no stranger to using walking poles, having spent several days last year walking the Tour de Mont Blanc in the Alps, but the Nordic walking poles that Elaine supplied me from the back of the land-rover were longer and narrower than the ones I was used to. We set off after lunch from the Two Bridges car park with Elaine’s regular walkers, Gavin and Sandy, who were raring to go despite the fact they’d been walking all morning out on the moor and had just stopped for a break in the pub before they met me. Only Maisie, Elaine’s dog was lingering hopefully by the land-rover, clearly thinking that she’d done enough walking for one day.
Walking out from Two Bridges
The first snow of the year had fallen the day before, but it hadn’t deterred us from driving down from Bristol for our weekend at the Prince Hall Country House Hotel where we were staying nearby. Now the air was clear and cold and we could finally get out and enjoy the snow. We passed plenty of families with the same idea, sledging down the slopes near the car park. As we headed away from the flat path, I was pleased to have the poles to steady me on the rough, snow covered terrain. I’d hoped to see the clear blue skies that I glimpsed as we passed through Tavistock, but higher up on the moor it was still misty and overcast. That morning the cloud had been even lower and Elaine told me they’d barely been able to see any of the Tors, the granite outcrops that are dotted all over Dartmoor. But as a personal trainer and Dartmoor walking guide, Elaine was not to be put off. ” If you worried about the weather, you’d never get out on the moor” she told me, “there are so many moods to Dartmoor, but every one is a different training opportunity”.
Nordic walking for fitness and fun
Nordic walking came about when cross-country ski-ers needed to find a way of training outside the winter ski season and realised that by using poles for walking, they could maintain their all over body fitness. Now Elaine takes walking groups onto Dartmoor to give them the same fitness benefits of an all over body workout – they say that Nordic walking uses 90% of the body’s muscles. We pressed on up the hill, digging our poles well into the snow to keep our balance and test the depth of the snow. Elaine explained to me the finer points of Nordic walking, demonstrating how when going up hill you should keep your poles in front of you for traction and contact with the ground, while on the flat you need to keep them behind you for propulsion and speed. The varied terrain of Dartmoor makes it the ideal playground for outdoor fitness and what Elaine practices is more Nordic trekking than walking because you’re never far from a Tor to trek up to on Dartmoor.
Crockern Tor and the Stannary Parliament
As we neared the top of Crockern Tor, I learned how this was once the site of an ancient Parliament where the Tinners of Dartmoor would meet from the 15th century onwards. The Tor is bang in the centre of the moor, making it easy for the tin miners to gather here from the four Stannery towns of Tavistock, Ashburton, Plympton and Chagford, where the tin ingots were stamped. As the tin mined from the rivers was such a great source of wealth, the Tinners were granted special privileges and their Parliament could rule over all but the most serious offences. It was a risky business to speak out against the Tinners or you might find yourself subject to the Stannary Parliament’s jurisdiction and thrown into Lydford jail, where you might linger at the Tinners’ pleasure or even be subject to “Lydford law”, in other words, you’d be hung first and tried later!
There was a famous 16th century case of Richard Strode who was the Member of Parliament for Plympton and brought a case against the tin miners for silting up the rivers, but was ruled against by the Stannary Court and thrown into jail. It was only with the help of the Parliament of Westminster that Strode was freed and the Stannary Court’s decision reversed – hurrah for the right to free speech.
From the top of Crockern Tor we had an amazing 360 degree view all around the moor and could see how the land formed a natural amphitheatre below the granite outcrops. We took turns to sit in the giant stone seat naturally formed in the rock, known as the “Judges Chair” to feel what it might have been like to hold power over the whole of Dartmoor.
I hope you enjoy the video below of the Panorama from Crockern Tor on Dartmoor
Continuing beyond Crockern Tor, we walked on until our way was blocked by a stone wall and a stile that Maisie couldn’t get over so we skirted downhill along the side of the wall, crunching the snow and cracking icy puddles underfoot. Elaine pointed out Longaford Tor ahead of us and the other Tors that make a great circular walk from Two Bridges along the ridge of Tors and then returning lower down beside the river where you can see the ancient, twisted oaks of Wistman’s Wood. The stunted oaks have seeded here among the mossy boulders by the river which have protected them from the nibbling sheep and the harsh weather. Although we didn’t go down there in the snow, I made a mental note to come back to explore in the summer and was reminded of a similar river bank with trees and mossy boulders where we’d gone hunting the Ash Black Slug on Dartmoor some years ago.
We returned down the path to the land-rover, definitely feeling a lot better for our all over body workout with lungs full of cold, fresh air. Maisie jumped gratefully back into the land-rover while Gavin brought out a box of home made lemon curd cakes and a thermos of tea – I’m always happy to walk with a man who brings cakes. I said goodbye to Elaine and my fellow walkers, heading back to the cosy open fire of the Prince Hall Hotel with crumbs around my mouth while Maisie curled up for her well deserved rest.
If you’d like to go Nordic Walking on Dartmoor
My Nordic Walking took a couple of hours and was guided by Elaine Sylvester of LoveDartmoor.com. Elaine is a Personal Trainer, Outdoor Fitness Instructor and Dartmoor National Park Guide, and she takes group walks out on Dartmoor. You can check her website for dates of her popular Saturday walks which cost £10. Elaine is also available to work with private individuals and lessons cost from £35 depending on length and intensity and she arranges residential fitness weekends on Dartmoor from £225 including local accommodation. Details and dates are available on the website or by contacting Elaine at email@example.com. You can follow Elaine on Twitter @LoveDartmoor or on her Love Dartmoor Facebook Page
We stayed just up the road from Two Bridges at the Prince Hall Hotel, an intimate and cosy, Country House Hotel which is known for it’s wonderful food, artistic interiors and is especially welcoming to dog owners. Read my Review of the Prince Hall Hotel. The hotel only has 8 rooms and is ideal for walkers who want to explore Dartmoor but return at the end of the day to a comfortable bed, log fire and delicious meals. The hotel is also open to non-residents for coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner and is also able to arrange many activities such as fishing on the river Dart within the grounds and wildlife walks on Dartmoor. Follow them on Twitter @Prince_Hall_UK and on their Facebook Page
More things to do on Dartmoor
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