Sunny days on Dartmoor (if you're lucky)
Well – what weather! I’ve spent today listening to the rain hammering down outside and on the computer working on News words and pix for the winter issue. Tomorrow the forecast looks a little better so I’ll be digging out my boots again and heading for Exmoor. I’ve been doing a load of revision work for Crimson Publishing recently, rewalking and updating routes in my Short Walks Dartmoor and Cornwall books, and the Exmoor Pathfinder Guide. My boots are struggling to dry out…
To be fair, Exmoor hasn’t been too bad. A week or so ago I had a wonderful sunny day on a 3-mile walk from Kilve on the north coast, which circles inland to visit the pretty hamlet of East Quantoxhead with its duckpond, 17th-century mansion and 14th-century church. The geology of this part of the Somerset coast is fascinating, too.
On the same trip I checked out part of a walk which starts at County Gate on the border of Devon and Somerset – fantastic views over Ashton Cleave! – where Exmoor ponies are being used for conservation grazing.
Day Two involved working out how to extend a route which explores the high coastal hills east of Lynmouth (Countisbury Common). The current route in the Exmoor Pathfinder utilises a permissive path, which has been removed, making the walk too short for its slot in the book… so I wondered about starting the walk in Lynmouth and heading east on the coast path up to Countisbury. Bad idea – it’s an enormous climb and it made the walk too long! We also got caught in torrential rain on the coast path (about 30mins after the photo below was taken) and had to pack it in. So that’s why I’m off to Exmoor again tomorrow.
But if I thought the weather was bad on that occasion it was nothing compared to what was to come! I’ve done four routes in Cornwall in the last 10 days: Coverack, Trevone, Port Quin and Tintagel. The photo below shows the sea off Lowland Point near Coverack in the middle of a 6-mile circular walk (getting out of the car and into all my waterproof gear was a bit tricky in incredibly strong wind and heavy rain).
Last Saturday I failed even to start the walk at Tintagel for the same reason: and when we did manage to do it a day later a brief spell of sunshine enabled me to take a photo of the new bridge accessing the island (wanted for the revised edition of the book). Ten minutes later, however, it was pouring again. But the photo of me at St Materiana’s church on the clifftop at Tintagel would seem to indicate that I was enjoying myself (new Paramo jacket being put to the test)!
So back to good old Dartmoor. I’ve done three of the four walks on the list: a circular from Okehampton (East and West Okement), Norsworthy Bridge and Crazywell Pool, and Shipley Bridge and Rider’s Rings. As you can see from the photos below I managed to pick some decent weather for a change. These three photos show the Devonport Leat near Crazywell Pool and near the aqueduct over the Meavy, and the Meavy near Norsworthy Bridge. Following the leat through Stanlake Plantation is much lovelier than it used to be due to the fact that patches of woodland have been cleared, opening up some lovely views towards Down Tor and Sheepstor.
This week I rewalked the Shipley Bridge/Avon Dam/Rider’s Rings/Black Tor route. I had forgotten quite how lovely it is there, particularly in autumn colours and with the River Avon in full flow.
I’ve got one more Dartmoor walk to do: Wistman’s Wood, then up to cross the West Dart at the take-off point of the Devonport Leat and back along the slopes of Beardown Hill. I’ve been putting it off because I need to be sure of getting across the river at or near the weir: wish me luck!
Just a gorgeous late summer's day on Dartmoor...
Most of my Dartmoor walking is for a reason. By that I mean that I am, more often than not, working out a route for a walk to be published in the magazine or in a book, or revising a route for someone. I’ve been really busy this summer with the magazine and other work, as well as publishing two books, and my walks ‘just for the sake of it’ have been few and far between (but – now I come to think about it – see my last blog!). So a couple of weeks ago on a free Sunday afternoon I grabbed the chance to go for a wander around the Staple tors ‘neck of the woods’. Great Staple Tor has always been one of my favourites on account of its spectacular granite formations, beloved of so many Dartmoor photographers. So here’s a selection of photos from what turned out to be a perfect Sunday afternoon stroll – and a demonstration of what fantastic views can be found in just a short distance.
The first thing we spotted was one of the new Dartmoor Way marker posts. The whole 100+ mile walking route has been waymarked over the last few months, and will be officially launched at the end of May 2020. We headed up to Middle Staple Tor, from which there are fabulous views towards Great Staple Tor. On Middle Staple we also bumped into Richard Horsham and his wife Sue, down from the Somerset Levels for a few days to work on his next article in the Dartmoor Magazine ‘Landscapes’ series! (We also handed over to Richard the carrier big of empty cider cans we found on the tor, since he was en route to his car… it is SO frustrating…)
From there we headed across to Great Staple Tor, where we found a ‘wild camper’ making the most of the views towards Great Mis Tor across the Walkham valley .
Then it was on to Roos Tor, from where the views along the upper Walkham just draw you on… it was so tempting to head into the moor ‘proper’, but that wasn’t the plan this time. The views south from Roos Tor are pretty good too.
En route to Cox Tor we passed an area of old tinworkings, and a couple of ponies rather nicely ‘arranged’ for photographs.
And so to Cox Tor and back to the car. And the obvious finish to our perfect afternoon? Cider at the Two Bridges Hotel!
I’m posting this now since the seasons are changing on the moor, and it won’t be until next summer that we see photos like this again. The colours and the light on the moor have become autumnal, and the nights are drawing in. I’ve been asked to do quite a lot of walking ‘work’ on Dartmoor and Exmoor this autumn, so I’m looking forward to some good days out of the office!
A spot of inadvertent Dartmoor tor-bagging...
When it comes to hills and mountains, I can’t really call myself a ‘bagger’.
I remember heading up to the summit of Ben Hope (the most northerly Munro) a year or so ago and someone asking me how many Munros I’d ticked off the list, and I couldn’t answer. If I had a think I would maybe get up to thirty, but that’s not what it’s about for me. I will happily revisit a hill on several occasions: and every time is different, depending on the weather, the company, my general mood.
Bagging the tors of Dartmoor brings with it a bit of a problem, in that there is no definitive list. And when is a tor not a tor? More than 150 of these rocky granite outcrops are marked on the OS Explorer map, but on the ground there are more than seven hundred tors and rocks waiting to be ‘bagged’ (take a look at the new website www.torsofdartmoor.co.uk). But last weekend I did ‘bag’ three new ones, and they were really special.
Every summer I get together with a bunch of like-minded walkers for three days to do some ‘big’ walking (such as the Perambulation of the Dartmoor Forest boundary, which we did last year in intense heat). This year we based ourselves at Dewerstone Cottage, tucked away in beautiful woodland above the River Meavy on the southwest side of the moor. Our first day, after weeks of dry weather, dawned wet and misty. We had a good day out – 14 miles, taking in Brisworthy, Ditsworthy Warren House, Higher Hartor Tor, Sheepstor and Meavy – but, as you can imagine, saw almost nothing and got extremely wet!
So drawing back the curtains on Saturday and seeing the sun glimpsing through the trees was a real tonic. We headed down the Meavy towards Shaugh Bridge, then took a narrow permissive path (which needs a bit of maintenance work) south along the Plym through Bickleigh Vale.
From there we headed up the wonderfully named Hollowgreep, crossed the Bowling Green and the open expanse of Shaugh Moor to reach the trig point on Saddlesborough. What views!
From there we skirted the old china clay works, then headed through damp valley mire full of bog asphodel to cross the Blacka Brook via a little clapper bridge.
A gentle ascent through the tumble-down remains of old farms and field boundaries took us to the ridge between Great and Little Trowlesworthy tors. It was all SO beautiful. The views north from Little Trowlesworthy take in the bulk of Sheepstor, with Leather Tor and Sharpitor beyond. It has to be one of the most picturesque parts of Dartmoor. The header photo captures something of a Dartmoor curiosity, too: an unused base for a flagpole that was destined for Devonport sometime in the 19th century and that never quite made it.
From there we headed northeast across the wide open expanse of Lee Moor – it felt almost prairie-like, populated by large numbers of sheep, cattle and ponies – with stunning views northwest across the valley of the upper Plym to the prehistoric landscape of Drizzlecombe and Ditsworthy Warren House (think War Horse – the film).
Next stop Hentor, again blessed with fantastic views. This area was once home to a large number of rabbit farms: take a look at the map and ‘warren’ and ‘pillow mounds’ appear repeatedly (at one time there were said to be as many as eighteen across the moor).
We reached beautiful steep-sided and tranquil Shavercombe – another first for me, then headed into the valley to find the River Plym, which we followed all the way back to Cadover Bridge (it would definitely be easier to do this when the bracken is less profilic).
Revived by ice cream at Cadover Bridge we followed the pipe track through the woods to Shaugh Bridge, passing the magnificent Dewerstone Rocks en route.
So a brilliant day out on the moor and 14 miles done, and three new tors ‘ticked off’. What different conditions from the previous day, too! But then – isn’t that all part of Dartmoor’s charm?!
Hunting for history in Bellever Forest, Dartmoor
I’ve been out to Bellever Forest a couple of times recently, in connection with bits and pieces for the magazine. DNPA‘s Mike Nendick gave me a guided tour of the new exhibition at the Postbridge Visitor Centre which will link with the Postbridge Trails project, a Moor than meets the eye initiative set up with the intention of getting people to stay longer at Postbridge and explore the local area more easily and in more depth.
One such trail is the History Hunter’s Trail, aimed at families. It’s a great idea: a circular 1.3km walk (so under a mile) to encourage people to get out onto the moor safely and explore Dartmoor’s prehistoric archaeology ‘in the flesh’.
An information sheet and map will lead people around six sites in the forest and on Lakehead Hill, each one marked with an engraved post (where possible existing Forestry England posts have been used to minimise the introduction of additional path ‘furniture’). Each post will have a unique symbol – indicating a settlement, hut circle, basket, arrowhead, axe and flame – which will match a series of letters and numbers on the information sheet – great for kids! Once the sheet and route is complete families will be able to collect their History Hunter’s badge from the Visitor Centre.
It’s a brilliant idea… you’re very quickly out on the open space of Lakehead Hill where the views broaden and you feel that you’re out on Dartmoor proper, without having to stride across open and unsigned moorland (daunting for many people). And the views are good, too… looking south from this point there’s an obvious path up to Bellever Tor, another plus for visiting families.
Mike showed me a cist and stone row that had been ‘mucked around with’ by the Victorians – a pretty poor reconstruction!
As we headed back down the forest track towards Postbridge (this is a very gentle walk) we surprised a young female adder (which surprised me too…).
A few days later (not such a good day for photos) I was back again, this time meeting Becky Morris, Marketing & Communications Officer for Forestry England, with Tim Vowles, FE’s Community Ranger for South Devon who looks after Bellever and the Dartmoor sites. Forestry England (Forestry Commission) celebrates its centenary this year so it seemed appropriate to commission a feature for the autumn issue of Dartmoor Magazine about the workings of the organisation on Dartmoor: sites, history, wildlife, archaeology, management and 21st-century challenges. The three of us had a good walk and talk around the forest, starting from the car park by the East Dart then walking up onto Lakehead Hill past part of the Devon Wildlife Trust‘s Moor & Meadows reserve.
Once on Lakehead Hill we met some of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust‘s ponies (all of which are used to being handled), carrying out important conservation grazing work at Bellever. Something that Mike and I had talked about on our visit was suitable post height for the History Hunter’s Trail, ie so that the posts won’t be used as scratching posts by the ponies on site. As you can see from the header photograph things haven’t quite gone to plan!
Ten Tors and bluebells: a beautiful weekend on Dartmoor (and a long blog!)
It’s been a stunningly lovely weekend and I’ve managed to spend almost all of it outside! Yesterday saw me up at 4.45am and off to Okehampton Camp to watch the start of this year’s Ten Tors Challenge (more below). When I came home I decided to walk ‘the long way round’ to Moretonhampstead. Photo 1 (above) shows the footpath that winds its way across the lower slopes of Hingston Down en route to Pepperdon Common, from where there are pretty good views of Moreton and the north moor in one direction…
… and Haytor in the other!
From there I picked up the lane to Cossick Cross, the hedgebanks full of spring flowers. More good views towards the east end of Mardon Down, which stands above Doccombe.
I crossed the Exeter road and headed up to Mardon Down, turning left along its southern edge, then picked up the bridlepath to Yarningdale.
The descent to Moreton threads its way via narrow paths and wooded tracks…
… eventually reaching the Sentry (more lovely views towards Hingston) and St Andrews Church.
And so to Ten Tors, which took place this year in near-perfect weather conditions. Yesterday morning I watched as around 2400 teenagers, fully loaded in preparation for two days and one night camping on the moor, made their way to the start.
At precisely 7am (after prayers, a countdown and gunfire!) they set off, teams of six each following one of 28 routes, walking either 35, 45 or 55 miles. It’s an astonishing undertaking. We also watched the start of the Jubilee Challenge, a one-day expedition designed for young people with a range of physical, mental or educational challenges. A large crowd clapped and cheered the participants on their way.
Today I decided to walk from Belstone via Cullever Steps towards the Camp to see what happens at the end of the two-day challenge. I’ve been at the finish before, but never out on the moor in the immediate area. We set off from Belstone to Cullever Steps, above which stands an Okehampton/Belstone boundary stone.
Teams were heading down from the Oke Tor direction, so we steered clear of the track from Cullever Steps and headed up alongside the pretty little Black-a-ven Brook (photo taken looking back to the Belstone Tors).
At the top of the hill we met the military road, from where it was possible to spot tired TT teams coming from all directions. Several stopped at the hilltop to don costumes, pick up flags etc for the final descent to the finish at the Camp. We met one team of five who had lost their sixth member fairly early on, and saw another with one member carrying two rucksacks to help a struggling colleague. I take my hat off to the lot of them: what an amazing achievement.
Having wished them all well we headed back to Belstone, paying a quick visit to the Nine Maidens stone circle on the way.
Tea and cake at the Old School Tearoom made THE perfect end to a perfect weekend!
Walking the Dartmoor Way
Over the last two or three weeks the project officer for the Dartmoor Way walking route has done a recce of the 102+ mile circular route, which runs around the moorland edge. It was set up several years ago (along with the cycle route), but whereas the latter was waymarked the walking route never has been – until now! Funding has been secured and the route will be waymarked this year, and officially (re)launched in spring 2020.
I joined the recce-ing party (identifying where waymarks are needed and can be installed, and looking at route options) for two days: 17km from Shaugh Bridge to Ivybridge (a new section: the original route left out the SW corner of the moor) and 16km from Okehampton to Lydford. Two wonderful and very different sections, as can be seen from the following photos (in very different weather conditions too).
We set off from Shaugh Bridge and followed the ‘pipe track’ (along which china clay was carried in suspension to settling tanks at Shaugh Bridge) across West Down and through North Wood, enjoying lovely views across the Plym valley to the Dewerstone crags.
This stretch of the Plym is so beautiful…
From Cadover Bridge the Dartmoor Way heads along the lane towards the china clay works, with good views towards Great Trowlesworthy Tor. Blackaton Cross is passed, then ‘Big Pond’ on the edge of more workings (all new ground for me: many’s the time I’ve looked at the OS map and wondered how the DW might negotiate this corner of the moor).
It was pretty bleak on the day, and the rain soon set in. Below Penn Beacon the ground became boggy, raising a few ‘what’s the best way through here?’ questions… repeated when the proposed route off the moor towards Cornwood turned out to be permanent watercourse rather than footpath!
Quiet lanes carry the DW on through Tor towards Harford Bridge, before which a lovely path heading south through the wooded Erme valley takes it down to Ivybridge.
My second day out on the DW dawned bright and sunny, and I have to say that the route from Okehampton to Lydford is stunning. Easy to follow, non-taxing, along a variety of field and woodland paths, moorland edge and quiet lanes – with wonderful views towards Dartmoor’s highest ground.
First stop Okehampton’s Norman castle (Devon’s largest), just visible through the bare branches, then across the golf course and through Meldon woods (amazing at bluebell time!) to the spectacular viaduct, built in 1874 when the LSWR railway was extended to Lydford.
We crossed the viaduct on the Granite Way, then picked up the Two Castles Trail/West Devon Way heading southwest across South Down and Prewley Moor, with fabulous views of Yes Tor and High Willhays (header photo).
Below the Sourton Tors we dropped off the moor at Sourton, with its beautiful 14th-century church.
From there the DW runs through fields and along green lanes west of the A386. We got a stunning view of Lake Viaduct and Corn Ridge.
After 16 blissful kilometres we ended up in Lydford: always a treat (once home to a mint, an infamous gaol, a stannary court, and the end of the Lych Way from Postbridge…). A refreshing cuppa (it was only 4pm!) at the Castle Inn made the perfect to a perfect day. I can’t wait to walk the whole thing – and just think of what great walking options it will open up (a huge Dartmoor figure-of-eight, employing the Two Moors Way for the S–N stretch, perhaps?!).
Here we go again... Dartmoor Magazine's summer show schedule!
It may seem a little early in the year to be posting a photo of Uncle Tom Cobley at Widecombe Fair, but as soon as each new year hits we have to start thinking about which shows we’d like to attend with the DM gazebo.
This year we kick off with the two-day English Country Garden Festival at Coombe Trenchard, just to the west of the moor, on the weekend of 1 and 2 June. It’s an absolutely lovely event, and a delight to be able to spend two days in such beautiful surroundings (no mud!). And for those who might be interested there is currently ‘A chat with the editor of Dartmoor Magazine’ to be found on their website, in which I talk about my role with the magazine, and how it all ties so neatly in with my other work (writing walking books and articles across the South West).
August is the busiest month (we also go to print with the autumn issue in the middle of August, so there’s a lot to fit in). First call is the Dartmoor Folk Festival (9–11 August) in South Zeal (above). DM has a very long association with the event, and it’s always a great weekend. You can find us in the Craft Marquee, usually next to the Dartmoor Preservation Association table (we are good friends – honest!).
In the middle of August (15th) we’ll be at Chagford Show, in its glorious location on the banks of the Teign below Castle Drogo. Two days later comes Moretonhampstead Carnival Food Festival, on Saturday 17 August (below). The event was held in its current form for the first time last summer, and was a real success. (It’s also less than a mile up the road from home, so really easy for us to set up!)
On August Bank Holiday Monday we’ll be back at Lustleigh Show, after missing it for the last couple of years. It’s a great family day out – and the entries in the children’s classes always wonderful to see.
This year’s Nourish Festival (food, crafts and music over Friday evening and Saturday) in Bovey Tracey is scheduled for Saturday 31 August, finishing off a packed month for us. If you’ve never been to the event, do go – it is fantastic, and very, very busy!
Finally – at the moment – we close with Widecombe Fair in its traditional spot of the second Tuesday in September (10th). (And then – perhaps – a spot of time off?!).
A morning on Haytor granite
On Saturday a group of interested people met at the Moorland Hotel at Haytor for the launch of Stuart Drabble’s new book Haytor Granite: A Celebration (mentioned In the News in the winter 2018 issue of Dartmoor Magazine). Stuart’s intensely researched book tells the story – in extraordinary detail – of the Haytor granite industry on Dartmoor, and the people who ran it, focusing on the early 19th century and the activities of the Templer family of Stover. George Templer was responsible for the construction of the Haytor Granite Railroad, which opened in 1820 (look out for celebrations marking the 200th anniversary next year). Stuart’s book comes highly recommended (we’ll be reviewing it in DM sometime in 2020), and is available at DNPA Visitor Centres, price £16.95.
On a beautiful sunny morning we were treated to a ‘tour’ of Haytor Quarry and the granite tramway in the company of archaeologist Dr Phil Newman. I’ve been to the quarry, and walked in the area, many times, but it’s always a treat to revisit such places with an expert in the field. We headed up towards the main quarry, pausing at an area of uneven ground, foundations of former buildings (possibly cottages). Phil impressed upon us that back in the mid 1800s this part of the moor would have been buzzing with life and industrial activity.
When standing by the quarry pond Phil told us that we were in the oldest quarry in the Haytor area (I believe there were five at one time), this one dating from the 1820s and the first to be worked on an industrial scale. The narrow access path runs above what was once the main quarry entrance – horses and carts would have passed along the gully below the present path. In the 1830s, however, that part was also quarried, and so a new entrance was cut on the north side of the original quarry (via which walkers exit today). The lie of the land was starting to make sense!
Phil also told us that the crane base seen in the image above is not original but dates from the 1920s when the quarry reopened briefly for granite for the war memorial by Exeter Cathedral was extracted (more in Stuart’s book). The odd iron ring (below) set around the edge of the pond would have been used for supporting stanchions to hold the crane in place.
We walked around the pond (beneath a cliff of unworked and naturally weathered granite)…
… to the north side where Phil talked in detail about how the granite was extracted, and pointed to evidence in the nearby rockface (which, when it was pointed out, had obviously been worked). In the photo below you can see evidence of drill holes for the gunpowder used to blast the granite out (the line of vertical holes, and the narrow groove at which Phil is pointing). The third photo shows an example of feather and tare, a traditional method of ‘cutting’ granite; the bottom photo is evidence of an earlier method known as ‘wedge and groove’ (which can just be seen on the edge pointing towards the camera).
We headed out through the ‘new exit’ to look for traces of tramway. Again, I’ve walked along the tramway and its various branches many times, but I’d never noticed – just as we emerged into the open – partially covered granite setts indicating a junction.
It soon became clear that there was once a real network of tramways and junctions and sidings on this part of Haytor Down. Look closely too and you can spot the odd letter carved into the setts (masons’ marks?).
We headed back to the ‘old’ entrance to the 1820s quarry, where Phil produced some old prints of the quarry and associated buildings, many of which are included on the Tithe Map of 1840.
From there we made our way back to the Moorland Hotel (noticing a WW2 gun emplacement and slit trench en route!) for coffee and Stuart’s talk. A fascinating morning – many thanks to all involved.
A new marker stone for the Two Moors Way on the South Moor
I had a real treat yesterday: a trip by DNPA Land Rover onto the South Moor to look at the site of a new marker stone destined for the route of the Two Moors Way at Crossways, near the point where the route leaves the trackbed of the Red Lake Railway. It’s a spot on the route where people have a tendency to go wrong, and so the Two Moors Way Association have been working with Dartmoor National Park on the idea of adding a little extra signage. No one wants to see the moor covered with signposts, but it is felt that an extra marker stone here will be a positive and helpful step. Everything obviously has to be done in consultation with the landowner (in this case the Duchy of Cornwall), and it’s an understandably lengthy process.
We met at DNPA’s works yard in Bovey Tracey, where stonemason Andy Cribbett showed me the stone selected for the job. Aspects such as size of lettering (MW) and which way the stone should face have to be thought about (quite apart from how to actually get it to the site – see below!)
We then piled into the Land Rover with DNPA Ranger Ella Brien and Access and Recreation Officer Ian Durrant, and made our way along the A38 towards Ivybridge. We reached the moor via Cantrel Lane, picking up the southern end of the former Red Lake Railway, opened in 1911 to transport china clay from remote deposits at Red Lake and Left Lake mires to the Cantrel works at Bittaford. By the early 1930s supplies were exhausted, and the track removed. We bumped along the old trackbed for round six miles to reach the Two Moors Way marker stone directing the route off the trackbed (you can see the stone to the right of the photo).
The next photo shows the problem here: two worn paths lead off the trackbed at this point, and some walkers intending to follow the Two Moors Way head for the low mounds of spoil rather than sticking to the route, which is the path on the left. The plan is to set the new marker stone at a point where it can be seen from the trackbed, giving walkers a clear indication of which way they should go.
Having worked out where the new stone should be sited, we decided to go and have a look at the new clapper bridge over the Western Wella Brook (installed last month), so we followed the route of the Two Moors Way down into the valley of the Avon, which is crossed via a 19th-century clapper bridge below Huntingdon Warren.
The new clapper over the Western Wella Brook (just by Huntingdon Cross – see below – also on the route of the Abbot’s Way) will be a huge help to anyone walking in this part of the South Moor. Thanks are due to Dartmoor National Park, Totnes Ramblers and South Devon Ramblers for making it possible (there’s a plaque on the bridge).
I felt I had to cross the new bridge (just to check that it works!). We also spotted that some other improvements to the route in this particularly wet area have been carried out too – many thanks!
We headed back along the Two Moors Way towards Crossways and the Land Rover, just as the clouds parted – the light was incredible – we were so lucky to be there! Once back at the Red Lake Railway and DNPA team spent a while thinking about how to transport the new marker stone the last 100 yards or so, across very difficult ground. The trackbed immediately north of the existing marker stone is pretty much impassable.
What a fantastic day to be out on the moor! Thank you to Ian, Ella and Andy for letting me tag along.
Happy Christmas – and thanks!
A very happy Christmas from our small (but perfectly formed, naturally) DM team to all subscribers, advertisers, contributors, photographers and sales outlets… and anyone else I’ve forgotten! These two opening photos were clearly not taken recently, but are a reminder of brighter and more seasonal weather on Dartmoor. Above is Lambs Down on a very cold day in February; below is the moor near Fernworthy in January three or four years ago. I’m hoping that this winter I’ll be able to add to my ‘snow images’ library… I have a feeling I may have used these two before!
As another year draws to a close I am delighted to be able to report that sales of the autumn issue (with Dianne Jayne Giles’ wonderful photo of a Dartmoor Greyface sheep on the cover) were our best ever by a long way. So thanks are due to everyone who bought a copy… and also to all those who have resubscribed with the winter issue, or bought a gift subscription for Christmas. With ‘good sales’ in mind I thought I’d end this year with a blog about our valued sales outlets and those hotels who support us by taking the magazine for their guests (all listed on the DM website). We’ve got about 75 now, all around the moor and its environs, and we visit them all four times a year to deliver the new magazines and scoop up any unsold copies of the previous issue (and collect the money). An old work colleague from my time at David & Charles Publishers – Rhoda – with her husband Bill, along with my brother David (and sometimes me) – carry out the deliveries, which take three days.
This winter David and I took on the northern and central runs (from Dunsford to Okehampton to Roadford Reservoir, then down to Tavistock and home across the moor via Princetown and Postbridge). The magazines – 1500 at least (loads go to WH Smith and to the subscribers direct from the printers) – get delivered to Animal Crackers (feed merchants) just up the road from home (the lorry can’t get to my cottage!), and we gather there to offload them into our cars. David and I sorted out Moretonhampstead’s outlets then headed for Dunsford, then Drewsteignton’s Post Office Stores, before heading for Chagford and Gidleigh Park.
Delivery day coincided with torrential rain and strong winds, on top of several days’ heavy rain previously – in my panic I forgot to take a photo of the raging torrent encountered at a ford on a back lane towards Spreyton. We couldn’t get through, and almost got stuck trying to turn around… but then it was onto South Zeal and the excellent store in the heart of the village, before heading for Okehampton and Country Lanes Garden Centre, decked out with Christmas merchandise.
Okehampton done (Mole Avon and the Museum of Dartmoor Life) we shot down the A30 to sort out Roadford and Lifton Farm Shop, then dropped in to Riverside Stores in Bridestowe: the village shop is a relatively new outlet for us to supply, and it was good to find out that the magazine had sold really well there. We’ve managed to persuade some shops to switch from WH Smith to letting us supply the magazines: financially it’s better for all of us, and the advantage is that we can do top-ups during the shelf life of an issue.
Where next… oh yes… down the A386 to Lydford Farm Shop and Mary Tavy PO and General Stores (always a good one for us!) and onto Tavistock. Here we supply Lawsons, the wonderful BookStop (exactly how a bookshop should be!) and the newly reopened TIC in Court Gate on Bedford Square (you can see from the photo that the weather was starting to close in again).
On reaching Horrabridge the state of the River Walkham showed just how much rain had fallen recently.
We sorted out Yelverton and the Moorland Garden Hotel, then threaded our way through the lanes to spectacular and historic Boringdon Hall Hotel (see photo below) on the outskirts of Plymouth. By that time a) it was getting dark b) we needed a break – so we headed back onto the moor for tea at the Two Bridges Hotel (where I nearly fell asleep!).
It was a very long day in the end – we then paid a visit to the Dartmoor Brewery in Princetown (holding an open evening – we had a fascinating tour), then went back to Yelverton where I was giving a talk to Yelverton Ladies.
David and I reached my home at about 10pm, a little the worse for wear (we were very tired!). I don’t have many days like that – a bit of bad planning on my part, to be honest – but delivery days are fun. They’re hard work, but it’s always good to meet those people getting the magazine out to the public – and we are really grateful to all those shops and cafes who help us out.
And by the way: the spring 2019 issue sees the start of a new series of articles about Dartmoor’s contemporary village shops, kicking off with a look back through the archives to a time when emporiums such as Bolts in Princetown and Necks in Moretonhampstead were the ‘norm’. The spring issue contributors should all be working away at their words and photos right now (!), and I’ve got lots of great articles in the pipeline for next year…
Have a fabulous Christmas and New Year, and see you on the other side!
The Dartmoor Sheep Gather
I like sheep… and I like getting out onto Dartmoor… and so I was delighted to be able to combine both this weekend and watch the Dartmoor Sheep Gather, courtesy of the Dartmoor Hill Farm Project and Russell Ashford of Bowden Farm near Scoriton. This is the first time that this ‘aspect of Dartmoor’s unique cultural heritage’ has been opened up to the public, and both BBC Spotlight and Radio 4’s Farming Today were on hand to record the event.
It was a brilliant day. We were split into several small groups, each led by a ‘guide commoner’ – an active hill farmer, each one ideally placed to explain what was going on and to answer questions about the historic links between Dartmoor farms and their relationship with the moor. As we assembled I took the chance to photograph the traditional breeds most commonly seen on the moor, which were penned on site: Scottish Blackface, Greyface Dartmoor and Whiteface Dartmoor.
We headed up the beautiful track (down which some of Russell’s Scotch Blackface flock would later be drifted) towards Lud Gate and the open common.
Once out on Buckfastleigh Moor our guide, Philip French of Corringdon Farm, South Brent, talked to us about how the moor is cleared of sheep for a two-week period each November. Flocks are brought back to the farm to be treated for sheep scab and various diseases, and ewes put to the ram. Some farms put their stock straight back on the moor, some keep them off for longer; depending on the farm and its location. Sheep are ‘leered’ to a particular landscape area (lambs following their mother’s example), and different groups of sheep tend not to mix up (other than those that go ‘off-leer’). Philip explained that after the main gather members of the Commoners Council scour the valleys and crags for those sheep that have somehow evaded ‘capture’! (He also talked about the history of the legislation of common rights, which I am not going to go into here for fear of getting something wrong…)
We headed up onto the slopes of Puper’s Hill, with lovely views across the autumnal landscape to Holne Moor and Hamel Down beyond.
And then we caught sight of Russell and his dog, bringing the sheep across the moor (he later told us that a ‘proper’ gather would take all day and involve more people – and more sheep!).
Once the sheep were gathered at Lud Gate – look at the OS map and you can see how the walls bordering the common serve to ‘funnel’ livestock towards the gate – Russell was interviewed by the BBC.
Then it was back down the drift lane to the farm, where the sheep (mainly Scottish Blackface, with a few Texel cross lambs) were penned.
The next part of the event involved Russell and David Attwell, Hill Farm Project Training Coordinator, selecting a ewe (left) and lamb (right) and talking through their life cycle and physical attributes. It was fascinating. I learned that the ear tags carry hold information relating to location (ie Devon), the farm and the individual animal. Questions flowed from the interested onlookers, concerning financial value, health care and passports (sheep don’t have to have them – any suggestion that they might is being strongly resisted). The children present were allowed to get ‘up close’ to the two ‘examples’ on show, which seemed remarkably calm (David told me that if you get a sheep into a certain position it just doesn’t move!).
Russell says, ‘As an owner of common land and a grazier I am passionate to share with the public how we manage the commons and the benefits that delivers for the environment. These areas not only produce livestock but our grazing supports some of our rarest plants and birds while preserving our historic landscape.’ The value of inviting the public onto the farm and common to witness the sheep gather was clear, and I hope that yesterday’s event kicks off many more. My last photo shows a sheepdog demonstration by Kenny Watson from Postbridge, which the assembled company watched while tucking into local lamb and beef from Dartmoor Farmers catering van. The weather had closed in, and the wind picked up – it was getting decidedly chilly – so we beat a hasty retreat.
I’ll leave the last word to commoner Mat Cole of Greenwell Farm near Yelverton. ‘It’s really important that events like this share with the public how the landscape is managed and help to build a bridge between the consumer and the farmer. Many people don’t understand what a common is and how it’s used…’
On the trail of Dartmoor's infamous Hound...
It’s been a funny summer/early autumn for me. I’ve had to drop out of a couple of ‘big’ walking trips – a long weekend in Kintail in the Scottish Highlands to do the Five Sisters, and (today) 23 miles along the Abbot’s Way between Tavistock and Buckfastleigh. My tendons (damaged on the Dartmoor Perambulation in very hot weather) have prevented me from wearing boots until the last few days (normal service should resume shortly!). So walks have been shorter and less taxing than usual… but this has made me think about other ways of seeing Dartmoor, other than tramping across the high moor on foot. To that end (and in connection with a future feature in Dartmoor Magazine) last week I was delighted to be able to join Alex Graeme of Unique Devon Tours on his Hound of the Baskervilles Tour (2019 marks the 160th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series of novels).
Alex has devised a brilliant tour that looks at Conan Doyle’s links with South Devon, and Dartmoor in particular. I’ll just pick out a few details of the day here, but I loved it all – and I learned so much. Alex disseminates a mass of information in a wonderfully relaxed manner – the story is of great personal interest to him, too (see below) which adds a really ‘warm’ element to the tour.
Many will know that Foxtor Mire, near Whiteworks, is said to be the inspiration for Conan Doyle’s dreaded Grimpen Mire in the story (see below), but Alex starts the tour in the village of Ipplepen – ‘surprisingly crucial to the evolution of The Hound of the Baskervilles’. There we saw the home of Bertram Fletcher Robinson, friend of Conan Doyle, and who CD often visited to explore the moors. And Robinson’s coachman, who drove them on their moorland visits, just happened to be one Henry Baskerville…
Alex’s ancestors come into the back story at this point, too. His great-grandfather, Revd Robert Duins Cooke, served the community in Ipplepen from 1897 to his death in 1939. He was a friend of Robinson, and knew Dartmoor well. The two visited the moors together.
Next stop Ashburton, where we saw the later home of Henry Baskerville, and his grave in the churchyard of St Andrew’s. Alex also pointed out a plaque recording the fact that Sir Walter Raleigh was arrested in a hostelry (now the Exeter Inn) on West Street in 1603 ‘to be taken to the Tower’. I’ve been to Ashburton loads of times, but I never knew that! (Alex’s tours are remarkably civilised, too, with time for refreshments built in… we stopped for coffee at Taylors on North Street – just managing to resist the tempting array of cakes!)
Then it was off to the atmospheric ruin of Holy Trinity Church on the hill above Buckfastleigh (somewhere I have never been, but always intended to go). It is a beautiful spot, and steeped in history: sadly subjected to two attacks by arsonists, the second of which (in 1992) destroyed much of the building.
Next to the ruin can be found the tomb (seen in the photo below) of the infamous Squire Richard Cabell, a ‘monstrously evil man’, said to have sold his soul to the devil and whose ghost roams the moors at night with his evil pack of wisht hounds… thought to have given arsonists cause to fire the church. It is thought that his story inspired Conan Doyle to pen his most famous Sherlock Holmes novel.
From Buckfastleigh we made our way up to the moor, passing above Brook Manor, thought to be the inspiration for Baskerville Hall in the story. We stopped at Combestone Tor, which overlooks the Dart valley. The spot as nothing to do with The Hound of the Baskervilles’ story, but bizarrely our bright and sunny day had disappeared, to be replaced by howling wind and low cloud…
We had lunch at the wonderful Rugglestone Inn in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, after which we headed back to Ipplepen (we’d run out of time – too much talking!).
Alex’s tour goes on to visit the Bronze Age settlement at Grimspound (below), thought to have been Conan Doyle’s inspiration for the stone huts in which Sherlock Holmes hid on the moors. And finally Foxtor Mire (see header photo), which Conan Doyle, Robinson and Baskerville visited together. Alex takes his guests to the National Park Visitor Centre at Princetown too, formerly the Duchy Hotel, where Conan Doyle is known to have stayed.
Alex shares much, much more information than I have covered here – and the day went by in a flash. Thank you for a really enjoyable tour – and congratulations on being named UK Tour Guide of the Year at last week’s Wanderlust magazine’s World Guide of the Year Awards 2018!