Ultimate Circuits: Combeshead and Down Tor  Destination Guide

© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing

Far from the fleshpots of Bovey Tracey, the hustle of bustle of Bonehill, and the Hound and its infamous Basket Meals lie - across the western 'Janner side' of the moor - two tors with an altogether different character and feel. Whilst they are far from remote, Combeshead Tor and Down Tor offer a sense of seclusion that is hard to find further to the east, and offer one of the best circuits that Dartmoor - and arguably the UK - has to offer.

The author on Sloping Arete  © Penny Orr
The author on Sloping Arete
© Penny Orr

It says a lot when even the drive-in makes an impression, going down narrow lanes that seem to lead to nowhere, yet eventually land you at the head of the valley, just beyond Burrator reservoir. It's a scenic spot, and a lovely place for a picnic, which is - more often than not - what the vast majority of people are there for. It's just a lovely place to be…

Whilst you can start at either of the two tors, I've always opted for Combeshead first, simply because that way I've got the furthest walk-in out the way. It's a nice walk-in too (or at least it is if you're into that kind of thing), running up old tracks past abandoned buildings, that eventually lead you up onto the edge of the moor. A short, sweaty blast up the hillside leads you to the first boulder - home of the eponymously named Sharp Arête. This is a great place to warm-up, with various eliminates existing in/around it's neighbouring (and similarly appropriately named) Sloping Arête.

n.b. throughout this article I've outlined a small selection of classics which could constitute the building blocks of a circuit, but there's plenty of other problems en route, so just keep your eyes peeled and give whatever you like the look of a go - these are just some that I'd recommend

Sharp Arete - a classic problem, but take note of the way off before you set out
Sloping Arete - another beauty which has various eliminates to prime the pump
Hanging Groove - looks amazing, climbs a little less amazing, but a good one to get the adrenaline going
The Slab - the perfect way to get your footwork in order
Crystal Wall - a true test of your crystal crimping ability, but watch out - it's a blood sucker!!
Simon's Roof - a hard start leads to a droppable top-out - watch out for granite rash.

Penny Orr on the appropriately named 'Sharp Arête' at Combeshead Tor

Beyond this it's up to you where you head next, as there's a whole hillside of boulders to play about on, but there are two logical options: up the hillside towards the circuit's biggest boulder (Cuckoo Rock) or traverse the hillside to find one of the area's finest problems (Proof of Concept). You can obviously do both, but one of the greatest challenges you'll face throughout a day out at Combeshead Tor is skin loss, hence if you are to survive the day with your tips in tact, it could be worth skipping the occasional problem - if only to save yourself from yourself.

Problem 60 (aka. Central Line) - a lovely high-ish slab with a committing feel
Problem 45 (aka. West Face, Cuckoo Rock) - another lovely high-ish slab, only this one is even higher, and with an even more committing feel as a result of this
Proof of Conceptone of the finest problems on the Moors - this stunning arête doesn't give in easily though...unless you happen to like arêtes...
Dyno from Undercutsa great many will find this easier than Proof of Concept, in spite of it getting a harder grade, as it's much more basic (i.e. JUMP!)
Problem 74 - a brilliant slopey traverse

Proof of Concept - arguably the finest problem on the circuit  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Proof of Concept - arguably the finest problem on the circuit
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Say what you see: it's the Undercut Dyno  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Say what you see: it's the Undercut Dyno
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Whilst meandering up the hillside, the logical conclusion to your time at Combeshead is the magnificent and photogenic Hanging Flake boulder. Hanging Flake itself is one of the classics of the crag and Flake Crack is similarly fantastic. On the back of the boulder Problem 87 is worth seeking out.

Flake Crackthis lovely feature is the easiest way to the top of the boulder, but it's also the only way down too, so be warned!
Problem 85 - a fun lay away crack (or jams) with a slightly awkward landing, but a low crux
Hanging Flakesthis aesthetic classic is as good as it looks
Problem 87 - an underrated and unnamed problem which deserves far more attention
Problem 81 - if you enjoy standing on small holds and pulling on crystals, this is the problem for you...

Penny Orr on the superb Hanging Flakes at Combeshead Tor  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
Penny Orr on the superb Hanging Flakes at Combeshead Tor
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Nov 2020

From here, it's time to go off-piste and blaze over towards your next objective - Down Tor. Whilst this area lacks the same level of consistent quality, it has its own charm, and one which lends itself towards a more relaxed approach. It's not necessarily about the individual problems; it's about having a walk around, seeing something you like, then throwing your pad underneath it.

Down Tor  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Down Tor
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Leave a little in the tank though, because on the way back down to the car you pass what is arguably Down Tor's finest: the Whale Back Boulder. It features the appropriately named, but inappropriately graded 6b Arête, which has to be one of the finest of its grade around (whatever that may or may not be).

Arête and Flakeleta lovely problem up the right side of the arête, using the fragile flakelet; can also be done 'World Cup Style' for when your skin is so thin that there's no other option
6b Arêtea truly stunning problem, which is similar in Style to Proof of Concept - only a lot easier!

Penny Orr on the appropriately named, but inappropriately graded '6B Arete' at Down Tor (which actually gets 6A)  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
Penny Orr on the appropriately named, but inappropriately graded '6B Arete' at Down Tor (which actually gets 6A)
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Nov 2020

Penny Orr back on 6B Arete - it's THAT good!!  © Rob Greenwood - UKC
Penny Orr back on 6B Arete - it's THAT good!!
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

Other Info

Guidebook - The Climbers' Club Guide to Dartmoor is without doubt your best bet, although Javu has list of the problems and their locations.

Pubs - The BMC's Dartmoor Access Rep Will Hornby says "The Royal Oak at Meavy offers excellent refreshment and good food" - what better recommendation could you need than that?!

Other Areas - For more information on the other areas throughout Dartmoor take a look at James Clapham's fantastic and thorough article. There's absolutely loads to go at and - if your skin hasn't worn through to the bone - some that are a walking distance from these two areas too.

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Lovely to see this written up (although long may the crowds go to Bonehill!) - this area was my favourite bouldering ground when I was living in Plymouth in the 90s.

The 6b Arête (V3) at Down Tor was so named because it was considered to be technically British 6b at the time - it was considered to be at least as hard as the Hanging Flakes (V4) at Cuckoo Rock.

Many of these problems long predate bouldering mats - so the landings used to be considerably worse than they are now.


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