Friday, 7 October 2016

A walk with a bit of everything that makes for a good walk

A great day for a walk and a great walk for the day. This one, just myself and my IWC, had a bit of everything: views, history, moorland, fields, ancient trackways, hidden hamlets, streams and stone rows. We'll be doing this route again in the very near future with a couple of our walking groups and I'm sure they'll enjoy it as much as we did.

Our route, starting and ending at Bennett's Cross right in the middle of the moor. It was an anticipated 8 miles but, although not shown on the above track, we had a few deviations due to navigator's error. This probably added at least a mile to the total.
The view due west from the start. The photograph does not do justice to the shafts of light shining down through the clouds.
Lots of Highland cattle were to be seen grazing the sparse grass that the moor offers. And that's the reason they are there: they can feed on the poorest pasture.
Our descent from the moor was quite steep and this view looks back from whence we came. To the left and right of this track were the remains of the old East Vitifer mine, which was active in the mid 1800s but was never a tremendous success. Tread carefully in the woods as some of the original shafts are still uncapped.
It's a little strange to come across signs on Dartmoor showing the way for mariners but it's true (allegedly). In days of yore, mariners would walk from the North Devon coast (Bideford) to the South Devon coast (Dartmouth) to take up positions on the sailing ships. It was easier to do this than sail around Lands' End. The Mariners' Way is now a recognised long distance foot path (90 miles or so) linking the two coasts of Devon. In actual fact, at the time it was being actively used, there probably never was a single end-to-end path. It is more likely that the travellers used a network of paths and tracks to get them to where they wanted to be.
West Combe farm on the edge of the moor is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the Mariners' Way actually went through the cross passage of the farm (It has since been diverted around the dwelling. The situation arose because the farm was build over an existing ancient right of way.) and secondly, it was the first Devon longhouse we encountered on our walk.
Speaking of Devon longhouses, we soon came across the hamlet of Lettaford and Sanders Longhouse, reputed to be one of the oldest on Dartmoor. It has been very well preserved by the Landmark Trust and is available for holiday rental. What is a long house? Traditionally, a dwelling with living accommodation and animal housing under one roof, separated by a cross passage.
This shows the component parts of the Sanders Longhouse and, as with all similar buildings, the animal housing (shippon or byre) was built down the slope. Sanders dates from 1500, although there was a building on the site from around 1230.
Another depiction of the Sanders Longhouse. The work done by the Landmark Trust has maintained the original functional layout.
Granite, granite everywhere. There is a bit of serious granite dressing in this wall, and there were plenty of others like it.
And talking of granite ... this old gatepost caused me to think of what it's original function was. The 'L' shaped slots threw me for a while but...
..when I came across this one nearby, it was obvious (?) that they were slots to house bars forming a gate. The 'L' shaped slots provided a sort-of locking mechanism to keep the bars in place.
Up on Hurston Common is what some say is the best preserved double stone row on Dartmoor. It's about 1/2 mile long with 49 pairs of stones. I walked up between the stones towards the end stone at the top of the hill and it was a strange feeling. It seemed as if the stones form a barrier with the outside world. There's no question in my mind that they had a processional significance, rather than a guide to orientation. 
Regular readers of this blog will recognise immediately what this depression is. Yes, it's a leat. There were many on this part of the moor, all taking water down to the Vitifer mining complex. The leats seem to have been fed by water from marshes and bogs rather than from streams.

1 comment:

Brian Champness said...

Excellent, eagle-eyed account. The mariners story was fascinating - never heard anything like it.