VIDEO: Take a waterside stroll around lush pine forests and lake – Dartmoor's answer to NW Territories
There’s a touch of the Canadian outback at Fernworthy Reservoir, thinks Martin Hesp.
We're not really meant to approve of things like man-made lakes or forests if, that is, we're singing from the absolute, full-on, hair-shirt, environmentally correct hymnbook. Things like reservoirs and pine plantations don't tick many "as-Mother-Nature-intended" boxes – and, try as they might, they cannot emulate authentic wilderness.
And yet, such places can be lovely. Very lovely indeed, in the case of Fernworthy Reservoir and forest – which is the Westcountry's answer to the great Canadian outback – or whatever it is the endless, watery, coniferous countryside is called in North America.
I make no excuses for heralding the place long and loud. I absolutely love North Dartmoor's answer to the North West Territories – and the basic three-and-a-half-mile walk around Fernworthy's blue, blue, lake is one of the most pleasant waterside strolls you can take anywhere in this region.
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You can, if you wish, extend the reservoir walk in many different directions to enjoy a longer stroll – indeed, I'd highly recommend that you do.
But last week I was between newspaper assignments when I managed to grab a couple of hours to follow the brown direction signposts from the Moretonhampstead-Princetown road. And, as it happened, I had a little mission of my own – an ulterior motive for wanting to walk somewhere that was both dark and dimpsey and full of sparkling light.
Camera users might instantly understand why – such places act as a challenge for the little gadgets we love so much that record the images of our lives.
That was – and is – my mission. Since this weekly Classic Walks slot grew up to become a fully fledged double-page spread, its photographic offering has become even more important – and, as I take all the photographs to illustrate the articles, the responsibility falls heavily upon me.
I mean heavily. Because for years I have hauled around a whopping great big DSLR camera attached to a hefty, high quality, 18-200mm lens. It gives excellent results, but you don't need to go to a gym after carrying it any real distance.
In fact, the whole photography-while-walking thing is primarily a matter of discomfort. Hang a big DSLR around your neck and you'll not only get neck-ache – you will be treated to mild bruising all around your mid-torso where the thing bangs against you. Moreover, in English weather you must take a special camera-bag or a rucksack – because digital cameras are allergic to rain.
In short, the whole photographic part of enjoying the countryside is a bit of a bind, begging the question – why take a camera at all? Obviously, it's part of my job – but I would take a camera anyway because I have a poor memory and because I get huge enjoyment looking back at remarkable places I've experienced on dark and dismal days years later.
However, would I take a heavy professional camera? That question used to be an important one – but suddenly it's become less relevant. There's a whole new generation of affordable compact or bridge cameras out there which do a breathtakingly fantastic job – proper grown-up cameras with interchangeable lenses that are so small you can put most of them in a pocket.
Camera manufacturers have probably been forced to shrink their models because of the plethora of mobile phones that come with amazingly good cameras in-built – and this happy a development that is great news for walkers and country-lovers. So, in the coming months I'll be trialling various models – and the first I've got my hands on is the new Canon EOS100D which is billed as the smallest, lightest, most compact full-on digital single lens reflex camera in the world.
It won't quite fit in to your pocket, but it is extremely lightweight – less than half that of my old Canon DSLR. The photos illustrating this article were taken with the 100D and you can also see a short video I shot using it at Fernworthy on the WMN website. In a few weeks I'll do a brief report on what I think of the camera...
In the meantime, let's get walking. There's a visitor car park and picnic area for those who simply wish to admire the view at Fernworthy – or there's a choice of walks for those who fancy shaking a blood corpuscle or two. The round-the-lake hike is easiest and most desirable.
There seems little point in telling you where to go: a) because a large illustrated map adorns the interpretation board at the car park, and b) because the route around the lake is obvious.
All you have to do is make up your mind whether you want to walk clockwise or anti-clockwise – and enjoy. I chose to go in an anti-clockwise direction, which took me right along a path to the dam. Be warned, this is not one of the Westcountry dams you can walk across – you have to continue a few metres beyond its granite mass to descend into the valley and cross the River Teign, which was so rudely interrupted in its course back in 1942 when they built the reservoir.
Fernworthy was actually once a village. In fact, judging by the many prehistoric remains now hidden by the massive pine forests which back the lake, it was once a very busy place indeed. It is fascinating to read William Crossing's account of wandering around the area before the trees came – and the reservoir, for that matter. He writes of an old farm that used to stand somewhere hereabouts, and how it was once in the possession of a Farmer Lightfoot who carved his initial 'L' in the stone over the doorway. A tiny fraction of a Dartmoor fact – but evocative nonetheless, now that either water or coniferous darkness covers all.
Climbing out of the steep valley back towards the dam, we reach the northern bank of the reservoir which affords the lake's most open aspect. Long grasses sway in the breeze along this part of the walk which passes under Thornworthy Down and its low tor. Next time I'm up this way I plan to leave the reservoir here and walk north to see the Three Boys standing stone – a fantastic hike could then be developed around Stonetor Hill and the back end of the big pine forest.
But, lightweight camera in hand I plodded on around the lake, snapping photos of it's sparkling surface with the backdrop of dark trees, just to see how it would cope.
Well, as it happened. But not as well as me. Because the thought suddenly dawned on my just how lucky I was to be in such a heavenly spot on a hot sunny day without having to share it with a single other human being. Amazing. Here was I, marching around an easy-to-follow, well-made waterside path in an August heatwave – and I didn't see another soul until I was nearly back at the car park.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed my lonesome sojourn, but at least I've got some great photos to remind me of the experience.
Fernworthy is in the hills above Chagford – expect to drive along narrow lanes. Map ref: LR191 665840
There are a number of way-marked walks around the lake and forest, including the circular waterside stroll and a walk designated for less able visitors with seats and information en-route.
A special protection zone at the south-western arm of the lake is managed in conjunction with Devon Bird Watching and Preservation Society. Visitors will find two hides, one of which is suitable for wheelchair access.
Martin paid £2 to park at the reservoir.