Sunday, 21 August 2016

Walkham Valley from Merrivale

Most people passing through Merrivale nowadays probably have no idea of the complexity of the landscape that surrounds them. There are signs of at least 4000 years of human occupation and the walk we took this week touched on artifacts from both ends of the timescale.
For those who like to know, the walk started and ended at the lay-by at 555348 75017. Just cross the road, hop over the stile and you are on your way. It was just on the 6 mile mark and was a mixture of open moor, sheep tracks, not too much mud, some rock hopping across a river, some leat-bank following and a short stretch of road walking at the end.
Looking up along our route along the east side of the Walkham and back down the west side. Spot the footpath? There wasn't one, which leads to a 'head for that point in a straight-ish line' approach to navigation. Not a problem when you can see where you are going but one not to be recommended when the mist comes down. Then the GPS comes into its own.
We contoured around Great Mis Tor, the sides of which have a generous sprinkling of scree and boulders. But all of this jumble hides the fact that it is a landscape of human occupation since the Bronze Age or even Neolithic times (there is some evidence of a Neolithic fort on the summit of the tor).
Dotted here and there are circular enclosures and hut circles. Sometimes, like this one, obscured by the bracken..
...And sometimes far more visible where the bracken doesn't grow. This collection comprises around 12 hut circles within a large stone enclosure.
Members of our group dropping down to the River Walkham looking for a safe place to cross and a good spot for lunch. As with all Dartmoor rivers, the Walkham served two purposes: water for domestic and agricultural uses and water for power.
A good example of using the Walkham for power is this leat, now overgrown but still discernible as a line to the left, which provided power to the long defunct Wheal Fortune. Nominative determinism was common in the naming of Dartmoor's mine: give them an optimistic name and they will produce the goods. Unfortunately many of them didn't. As well as drawing water into leats for waterwheels elsewhere, the raw power of the Walkham was also used to wash out metal bearing silt, which was further processed in blowing houses on the river banks.
Also coming off the Walkham is the Grimstone and Sortridge Leat. This leat is thought to be at least 500 years old (some say 700). Water from the leat supplied Grimstone Manor, Grimstone Farm, Monkswell House, Sortridge Manor and Sortridge Farm; it also turned waterwheels at Sortridge Consols and Moortown farm. It runs for about 5 miles and water is still drawn off for domestic use along its course. I find that fact very satisfying.
Highland cattle are becoming a relatively common sight on the moor. They seem to fit in with the barren landscape as if they were born to it.
These objects alongside the leat and quite close to the Merrivale Quarry are sett maker's banks. Here stone workers knelt or crouched at these low benches, fashioning granite setts (cobble stones) that were used in making the streets of Plymouth, Tavistock and other places. This was an industry that flourished for about fifteen years from the 1870's, although some people put them a little earlier, from 1850-1860.
The 'anvil' stone is sloping backwards so the stone chippings flew away from the worker towards the rocks behind. You can see a pile of chippings still in place. Apparently one man could produce about 60 setts a day. I'm assuming that there was some sort of production line going, with other men fetching and despatching the raw materials. Not a nice place to work but they did have wattle fence shelters to protect them from the elements.
And here is an old back lane in Devonport by the Royal Albert dockyard gate showing some setts in situ. Somebody once told me that Plymouth still has the most cobbled streets in the UK. Is it true? I don't know but there are certainly lots of them still visible.
At the latter stages of the walk, looking back across the valley to our starting point and King's Tor to the right. Those with keen eyes might be able to make out what looks like a line of stones just off centre to the right. These are the remains of a railway project which would have taken stone from the quarry to join up with the main railway line. An impressive undertaking but it didn't get much further than what we see now before the money ran out.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

A big bang in Plymouth

"Are you going to the Fireworks Competition in Plymouth?", she asked. "Take lots of photographs, please". Job done.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Sunday Afternoon Stroll: 14th August 2016

A sunny afternoon and we took advantage of the weather and took a stroll along the banks of the River Lynher. Sometimes described as the forgotten part of Cornwall, it has long associations with the military because of its proximity to the Royal Naval dockyard at Devonport. A very pleasant 3 mile there and back linear walk, with a halfway break at the Carew Arms in Anthony.
Our start and end point was Wacker Quay on the Lynher. It is thought that Wacker is derived from Wicker and refers to its one-time willow industry.
The view from Wacker Quay up the creek just off the Lynher. Way back the quay was used for general transport purposes and had its own lime kiln. This use was changed when the military moved in and it became a supply line for two neighbouring forts built as part of the Palmerstone fortifications of Plymouth Sound and its surrounds. From here a railway line  headed downstream for half a mile or so to feed an inclined plane up to the forts. For lovers of ephemera, it's worth mentioning that the original locomotives, lines and engine sheds were destined for Khartoum in the Sudan but the demise of General Gordon etc put an end to this. The last notable activity that took place at Wacker Quay was during preparations for the D-Day landings when elements of the US Army embarked here.
A view down and across the Lynher showing the scenery we had for the greater part of the walk. The tide was coming in and the fish were jumping. The creeks off the Lynher need to be dredged regularly to keep the channels clear and the expense of doing this contributed to the run-down of Wacker Quay.
A nice collection of headstones in the graveyard of St James the Great, the parish church in Anthony. Unfortunately it was closed - on a Sunday!
The church dates from the 12th Century but, as we couldn't get in, there's not a lot more to say about it. But it did have a fine tower with a rather unusual clock face. Look carefully and see if you can spot what's odd about it.
And the answer is .. it's only got one hand. Not because one's dropped off, it was made that way. I presume that the approximate time was good enough for the locals back in 1810 when the clock was installed. Time was obviously not so critical back then. Such clocks are comparatively rare in the UK: many were made but few have survived.
Looking north east, the two bridges at Saltash are visible in the distance.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

A walk from Meldon Reservoir to the highest point on Dartmoor.

Whilst people in Brazil jumped, ran, swam, rowed and threw things, we went for a walk with our U3A Thursday group. No gold medals for us but a sandwich taken on a sheep-dropping bedecked tussock was an adequate reward for our efforts. We walked in the north moors of Dartmoor, beginning and ending at the car park close to the Meldon Reservoir, a couple of miles south of Okehampton. Our route took us straight up (and I do mean straight up) to Yes Tor, across the saddle to High Willhayes, the highest point on Dartmoor, and then back to our starting point via Black Tor and the western end of the Reservoir. The terrain was an interesting mix of footpaths, sheep tracks, an old military road and a fair amount of cross-country bog and tussock navigation, parts of which we would never have attempted if there had been more rain recently. As it was, there were lots of 'soakers' and muddy wet trousers in evidence. No turn on the podium as the National Anthem blared out at the end but some did manage to use the throne in the nearby public loos. An Olympian effort all round.
The map reference for our start and end point in the Meldon Reservoir car park was 56133 91791.
Looking down towards the old railway viaduct near Meldon Quarry. Steep valley fed by many streams? Could be a good spot for a reservoir?

Somebody else had that idea in the late 60s and, lo and behold, Meldon Reservoir came on stream in 1972. A very controversial decision as it impinged on the hitherto sacrosanct lands of the Dartmoor national Park. Nowadays I'm sure that visitors to the area wonder what all the fuss was about.

Two butterflies for the price of one! A little bit of sunshine and some flowers on the bramble and out they come. The larger one is a Silver Washed Fritillary and the one at the top is a female Meadow Brown.
The Silver Washed Fritillary. A little ragged in parts so it's been around a while. You can get a much better idea of why it's called 'Silver Washed' from its undersides. I spent ages trying to get a shot of it with its wings closed but it just wouldn't cooperate and there was a limit to how much time I was going to spend waiting.
Nothing out of the ordinary, just Common Bird's-Foot-Trefoil. But still a very attractive flower.
When I saw these diverging paths, I immediately thought of the lines from Robert Frost's poem 'The road not taken'. I won't pretend that I could remember it all but I could come up with:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In a way, it's what I've always done throughout my life, been attracted to the path less travelled.
An oak tree with an interesting bole down by the river. This woodland is a remnant of what used to cover large parts of the moor a long time ago.
Slogging our way up the side of Yes Tor. It actually looks steeper than it was in practice but still good exercise.
Looking back up to Black Tor, the third 'peak' we visited on our walk. In fact, a good day for 'tor bagging' - Yes Tor, High Willhayes and Black Tor.
It's a good year for Rowan (Mountain Ash). Apparently the berries make a good jelly.
Looking up a coombe. There is a path picking its way up the stream to the ridge but we took the one which came in from the right.
My mushroom guide tells me that this is Panaeolus semiovatus or the Egghead Mottlegill mushroom. Non-psychoactive and non-poisonous. Apparently it is edible but hardly a mouthful for gourmets.
Local eccentrics on the top of High Willhayes. OK, so you reached the cairn but there's no need to show off.
The trig point on Yes Tor. At one time, Yes Tor was thought to be higher than High Willhayes, the 'peak' in the distance, hence the placement of the trig point. A remeasuring exercise reversed the order: High Willhayes comes in at 2034 feet and Yes Tor at 1999 feet.
Breathes there the man with soul so dead ,
who never to himself hath said .
This is my own, my native land.

(Sir Walter Scott).