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!