Length: 5 miles or 10 miles
Start point: Car park at Shipley Bridge.SX681 629
Basic route: Follow the Zeal Tor Tramway up to the Balla Brook then into the Middle Brook valley to Uncle Abs House. Onto Petre’s Cross then Red Lake, Huntingdon and return via the Avon Dam and Riders Rings.
Terrain: Open moorland with some tracks, some river crossings but no stiles
Map: Dartmoor OS OL 28 South Sheet
This walk was kindle provided by Moorland Guides
Park at Shipley Bridge car park 3 miles north of South Brent in front of the remains of the 19th century Industrial Works, where naphtha was distilled from the moorland peat. The site was later used as a clay settling plant. Use the footpath leading past the public conveniences until you reach the road that leads to the Avon Dam following the Avon River. Follow this road for a short distance and you come across the Hunter's Stone on your left. The stone itself was moved to this location many years ago and is carved with the names of the masters of the local hunt. Continue along the road uphill and around the left bend towards the Avon Dam water treatment works plant a. On a nice day there are fine views behind you towards Shipley Tor and to your left you have the ruins of the settling pits from the days of the China Clay extraction in the area. Upon reaching the cattle grid leading into the Water Treatment Works do not enter the site but follow the right hand wall. On your right in the gorse bushes you will see the track of an old tramway that takes you up on the westerly side of Brent Moor towards Red Lake. This is the ruin of the Zeal Tor Tramway, built in 1847 to take peat from Redlake down to Shipley Bridge. This venture failed after a short while but in 1877 the naphtha buildings at Shipley were reused for processing china clay from Bala Brook head, a venture which also failed. Continue to follow the wall until it goes around a sharp turn to the left downhill into the valley of the Balla Brook heading towards Red Brook foot b where the tree lined Red Brook comes down on the opposite hill side and joins the Bala Brook. Way in the distance to your west we can see Wakka Tor and Ugborough Beacon. There are a variety of paths, which will assist you in crossing the slope. Ahead on a fine day you can see up the valley of the Middle Brook as it flows down into the Bala Brook and way in the distance on a clear day you might be able to see the ruins of mine workings that you will be visiting shortly.
Looking into the valley of the Bala Brook there is a fine Bronze Age enclosure at SX672630 down on your left, which has a fence
around it. Instead of going right down to the river turn to the right and follow the river upstream until the Middle Brooks joins the Bala Brook from the other side of the valley. Your path now crosses the Bala Brook and follows up the right bank of the Middle Brook. There is a good crossing point at the junction under some trees. Continue up the Middle Brook to the ruins of some old tin workings at SX 662635 - this is known as Middle Brook Old Wheelhouse c and provided power to a nearby mine. The views to the south from this location are magnificent and reach to the sea off South Devon.
Your journey continues up the Middle Brook through tinners’ spoil heaps and turns to the right into the gully that leads up to the ruins of Uncle Ab's House at SX 656639 d . Not much of it left now but it was far less ruinous in 1954 when the door lintel was still standing and there was a stone nearby with the inscription - CB 1809, suggesting perhaps that Uncle Ab's house was built in 1809 - years before the Zeal Tor tramway. It used to stable horses for the Zeal Tor tramway that took peat from Redlake down to Shipley Bridge but it was originally used to stable packhorses for the peat workings nearby and there are the remains of a paddock in front of the house.
After Uncle Ab’s house continue up through the valley passing spoil heaps and follow a distinct path uphill in the direction of the large pond at the top of the hill, only ten minutes from Uncle Abs House. From here we have a view up the Erme Valley towards Broad Rock, which we visited on our previous excursion.
It is here that the five and ten mile paths separate with the five-mile route heading off to Eastern Whitabarrow at SX 665652 in the distance. The ten-mile route will eventually re-join the route near that location. The best route to take is to follow down to the dam at Petre’s Pits where the wet area of the settling pits can be crossed using the path over the dam at SX 658648. This is the deepened head of the Bala Brook and it is all that is left of three failed ventures to extract poor quality china clay. The clay ran down in suspension along a series of pipes that took it to Shipley Bridge. Those on the five-mile route can now strike across the open moor, on a compass bearing in poor visibility, for the distinctive Eastern White Barrow.
The ten-mile route carries on north eastwards until you reach the route of the Zeal Tor Tramway coming up from the right and crossing your path. Turn left and head northwards along the tramway up to the damaged Bronze Age Cairn of the Western White Barrow and Petre's Cross at SX 653655. Turf cutters from nearby Red Lake built themselves a shelter in the barrow and in so doing damaged the cairn. They knocked the arms off the old Petre’s Cross and used it as a chimneybreast. The views from here are superb on a good day - Plymouth, Salcombe, Torbay and much of Bodmin moor can be seen.
Looking to the north you will see the lonely pyramid of the Red lake spoil tip at SX 646670 f which is your next destination, reached by following the tramway then the old railway track. Red Lake, with its distinctive landmark, lies in the heart of the Southern Moor and is the overgrown spoil tip of the China Clay works that started working in 1910 but had failed by 1933. The clay was water-blasted out from a deep pit and the slurry went to nearby settling beds at Greenhill. After a few days of settling the sluices were opened and the clay in suspension flowed down pipes some 7 miles to the clay processing works near Ivybridge. The unwanted sand and gravel was loaded into trucks at Red Lake, which were then tipped onto the waste tip that we see today. The railway, which ran alongside the clay pipes that led down to Ivybridge, was only used for moving people and basic materials and is known as the Puffing Billy track. It was 3ft gauge and small steam engines pulled passenger carriages.
There are 3 deep pools, ruined buildings as well as the tip and is surrounded by mires and fen but is an interesting place to see.
Your route now takes you eastwards towards the Huntingdon Warren area and the rocks of Broad Falls at SX 653670 is not the easiest of places to cross the River Avon so it might be a good idea to divert slightly to negotiate the river at the clapper bridge at SX 657662 g. Once over the bridge a short walk upstream will lead you past a nice example of a ruined vermin trap by a tree, with its distinctive funnelling walls.
Once at the ruined blowing house near Broad Falls at SX 654669 your course takes you northeast to the summit of Snowdon h at SX 668684, passing the distinctive ‘T’ Girt on your left. From Snowdon a short walk brings you to Pupers Hill at SX 673674 then the ford at SX 667671 on the track leading to the ruined Huntingdon Warren Farm, which burnt down in 1956 and was only reached by a difficult track from Lud Gate. This farm started off being the focal point of an extensive rabbit warren business in the 19th century.
Your path now takes you downstream on the left bank to Keble Martin's chapel at SX 666666. This was built in the early 20th century by a group of young men led by Keble Martin the famous botanist and sometime vicar of Dartington. The whitish granite pillar has a cross inscribed on it and just to the left of it is a step with the Christian symbol Px carved on it. A short distance further is the ruined remains of an old tin ore-stamping floor of the Huntingdon Mine at SX 665664 where there is a derelict water wheel pit - part of the old tin mine of Devon Wheal Vor that closed down in 1815 but reopened for a short while in 1866 as the Huntingdon Mine.
Continue your way downhill to a modern-day Dartmoor curiosity: the recently built, and useless, wall next to Huntingdon Cross i at SX 664662, an essential part of an E.U. grant in this age of political correctness. What the ‘old men’ of the moors would have made of this beggars belief.
Your route crosses the ford on the Avon nearby and takes you south east across the hillside as you rise up walking parallel with the River until you see Avon Dam come into sight and over to your right you see Eastern White Barrow at SX 665652, a Bronze Age cairn. It is a commanding structure - a streamlined heap of granite with a circular tower of stones. It looks rather like an early submarine, but is a burial structure. Continue around the hillside on one of the many pathways to the dwellings at Ryder's Rings j at SX 678643. This is an extensive Bronze Age settlement with over 30 huts within a double pound ring as well as a great variety of animal enclosures of various sizes.
Across the hill you will see Black Tor at SX 681636 which signals the route back to Shipley Bridge. Continue to Black Tor which has some lovely rock features as well as Pennyworts growing amongst its pitted walls.
At the tor look towards Shipley Tor across the valley with the distinctive wall leading to it, ahead of you will be seen a wall of an enclosure with rhododendrons growing in as well as a large dead tree. Head towards this wall and dead tree and follow it to the left. This will bring you down to the road which leads from Shipley Bridge up to the Avon Dam. Once you have clambered down to the road turn right and follow it back to the car park passing the ruins of Brent Moor House on your right and the Hunter’s Stone, thence back to the car part at the start of the walk.