Thursday, 18 October 2012

Bronze age stone rows, quarries, moorland, railways and.......

One of the two stone rows at Merrivale

An eight miler on Dartmoor today. Starting at Merrivale and then heading to the Bronze Age stone rows, cairns, cists and hut circles. Dating from around 4000BC, their purpose is not known for sure but, given their size and prominence in the landscape, probably had a ceremonial function. Then down a track following the River Walkham for a spell, before climbing onto Dartmoor and joining the old railway track just under Ingra Tor.

This track originally brought granite from the quarries in the area down to the main railway to Plymouth (and beyond) at Yelverton. When it was first in operation (early 1800s) the trucks would have been horse drawn: poor horses as granite is heavy and there's quite an incline for them to negotiate. The advent of steam meant that the line was eventually extended to Princetown. It must have been quite a journey as the line meanders around tors and quarries before reaching its destination. Sadly the line closed in 1956 or thereabouts and all that is left is the track bed.

Granite corbels originally destined for London Bridge
We followed the line as it switchbacked its way passed the main quarries - Swell Tor and Froggator. On the way we came across some discarded granite corbels, originally destined for London Bridge. Why were they discarded? Perhaps excess to requirements or perhaps with some defect? I don't think anyone really knows and the twelve of them lie by the side of the track in silent testament to the industrial heritage of this part of the moor.

Continuing onwards and upwards (but it was a very gentle incline) we came to the largest quarry - Froggator. It is huge and the mind boggles at how much granite must have been removed from it. It does seem strange that, with all this natural material on our doorstep, it's still cheaper to import it from China and Portugal.

And the rain? Heavy showers accompanied us sporadically most of the way around. But what do you expect on Dartmoor in October? Certainly not sunshine. Take a look at the moss in the photograph below - this will give you a good idea of the prevailing climate. Moist!
You don't get moss if it's hot and dry!

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