The lost Sea Vixen of Flat Tor

Sea Vixen pond on Flat Tor

Flat Tor is situated in a remote and unforgiving part of Dartmoor. As the name suggests, it’s not the most impressive Tor – it wouldn’t warrant a place in a Now That’s What I Call Dartmoor’s Tors compilation – but its beauty lies in its splendid isolation.

It’s a pig to get to. A trek to Flat Tor isn’t your typical post-Sunday lunch stroll with the dog. It’s a long and often treacherous walk, with the hidden bogs, tall grass and steep climbs combining to make it tough going, even on a good day.

Once you’re within touching distance of your destination, you must navigate an area of blanket bog, which protects the Tor like a moat around the castle. One last push and you reach the summit.

It’s worth the effort. Stand on Flat Tor and you’re surrounded by nothingness. Few plants grow up here and the animals have learnt to stay well away. Only you’re not alone. Flat Tor is hiding a secret and it lies beneath a man-made pool.

Bogged down on dartmoor

Sea Vixen

On 31 May 1965, a Sea Vixen was returning to Yeovilton when it ran into trouble over Flat Tor. The two airmen ejected to safety when the aircraft entered a spin, leaving the Sea Vixen to crash into the blanket bog below.

It formed a huge crater, which immediately started to fill with water from the surrounding bog. Over time, the crater became a pond, creating a watery grave for the stricken Sea Vixen. The crew survived and were airlifted to safety by a search and rescue helicopter from RAF Chivenor.

It’s a sizeable pond. The Sea Vixen – of which there are no flying examples – was a twin-engined, twin-boom relic of the Cold War. It was the first British aircraft to be armed with guided missiles, rockets and bombs, along with folding wings and a hinged nose cone. It had a top speed of 690mph and a flight range of 600 miles.

what lies beneath?

Crater at Flat Tor Dartmoor

How much of Sea Vixen XN648 is left in the crater is a matter of opinion. In the 2009 book Aircraft Wrecks, the author suggests the pond ‘probably contains the bulk of this aircraft’. Other sources suggest the larger parts of the fuselage were removed by the military.

Today, it’s not difficult to find parts of the wreckage. Some pieces are scattered around the edge of the pond. Others can be seen beneath the surface, glistening in the Dartmoor sun. On a windy day, the surface of the water ripples like waves on the sea, camouflaging whatever is lurking below.

Dartmoor has claimed many aircraft over the years. What’s comforting about the Sea Vixen site is that nobody lost their life. Many of the other crash sites feature a memorial plaque dedicated to the airmen who perished on the moors.

The Sea Vixen isn’t alone. To the south of the pond, there’s evidence of research conducted by Bournemouth University into the restoration of Dartmoor’s blanket bog. There’s also the remains of one of Frank Phillpott’s peat passes, which will be explored in a future blog post.

back to life

View from Rough Tor Dartmoor

Heading back to civilisation, you have a choice. Either way you must navigate the undulating terrain and peat pools before you reach Rough Tor and its formidable views over Dartmoor Forest and across to Princetown (pictured).

If you arrived from Postbridge via Chittaford Down and Brown’s House ruin, then follow the edge of the firing range to Lydford Tor, then pick up the path via Longaford Tor and the old gunpowder mills.

Allow six to seven hours for the trek to and from the Sea Vixen. It’s worth it. You’ll see everything from the rugged beauty and splendour of Dartmoor, to its historical relationship with man and machine.

Maybe Flat Tor deserves a slot in the Greatest Hits of Dartmoor after all.


Sea Vixen image for illustrative purposes and courtesy of Alex Layzell.