On a misty Dartmoor day: up the Cowsic and down the Devonport Leat
Apologies: I see I haven’t added to this blog since spring! I’ve had a really busy few months, and not just with the magazine: I’ve had a book commission to catch up on (now that we’re allowed to travel again), and have spent a lot of time this summer exploring Somerset for a new Pathfinder Guide to the county (great fun). I also haven’t felt inspired to write a Dartmoor blog post. Working as I do – promoting some of the most beautiful areas of the country through the pages of the magazine and through various walks books commissions – sometimes brings with it a certain sense of guilt. I love what I do, and feel hugely privileged, but when a landscape is under the threat of pressure from too many people, I sometimes feel a bit guilty sharing information about precious spots. But I also know that the main culprit in the ‘over-exposure’ of some of our more fragile locations is largely down to social media, and there’s not a lot anyone can do about that.
Moving on – something very nice happened last weekend. After a very long ‘break in proceedings’ I met a bunch of walking friends who I haven’t seen for months. Over previous summers we’ve done things like the Perambulation a couple of times, and various north–south, east–west traverses of the Moor… and it was brilliant to meet up again and (for me) explore a corner of the Moor that I don’t know too well (the first half, at least). It was also satisfying in that our leader David started the walk from Two Bridges so that we could seek out some of the Beardown inscriptions, described by Tim Jenkinson in the summer issue’s ‘Dartmoor Discovered’ feature. The two seen here, inscribed by the Revd E. A. Bray in the early 19th century, sit just below Beardown Bridge on the banks of the Cowsic River. Someone’s cleared away the moss to make them more visible.
We started to follow the Cowsic upstream – crossing the Beardown clapper bridge en route (restored by the Dartmoor Preservation Association around 1890) – and spotted a rather wonderful ‘Green Man’ on a tree trunk! David pointed out the lower boulders of Cowsic Tor en route, and then the inscribed Beardown ‘flood’ stone.
We headed up to the Cowsic aqueduct – a new one on me (I’m writing this with Eric Hemery’s Walking the Dartmoor Waterways at my side!) – then continued up to the headweir of the Cowsic Leat, in poor visibility. This formed the west branch of the Devonport Leat, built between 1795 and 1802. Next we crossed over to the east bank of the river in Holming Beam Bottom. We continued upstream – it’s such a pretty little river – to the point at which the Lych Way (Postbridge to Lydford) crosses the Cowsic at Broad Hole.
Next port of call was the Beardown Man standing stone – the highest (altitude) on the Moor and dating back around 4000 years (it has been said that the last bear on Dartmoor was killed nearby, but this suggestion is thought to be a touch fanciful!) – by Devil’s Tor, before we headed southeast to Crow Tor, its recognisable silhouette looming out of the mist. It was a good place to stop for a lunch break, during which time the mist began to thin and lift a little.
It was ‘downhill all the way home’ from here, initially alongside the delightful Crow Tor Brook, which feeds into the river above the weir and take-off point of the West Dart branch of the Devonport Leat. This stretch enjoys good views across the West Dart valley to Longaford and Littaford Tors, and Wistman’s Wood.
Following the leat along the contours makes for an easy return. The rowan berries are spectacular this year, and those along the leat and in Wistman’s Wood almost seemed to glow in the strong afternoon sunshine… we appreciated some welcome shade as we entered Beardown Plantation.
We picked up the outward route at Beardown Bridge and retraced our steps to Two Bridges. One of our party noticed a rather lovely milestone on the old road (which crosses one of the original ‘two bridges’ just in front of the building) near the Two Bridges Hotel.
A fabulous day out! Thank you David for working out the route and leading the walk, and for re-engaging me with everything that’s lovely about Dartmoor (I hadn’t really forgotten, but it’s nice to be reminded every once in a while!).