Ancient Dartmoor

 

Ahh, there’s nothing like a bit of fresh air.

And boy, was this fresh. Don’t be deceived by the deep blue sky and abundant light, glorious though it all was. Up here among the tors the wind was ferocious. But then isn’t Dartmoor one of Devon’s last truly wild places? It’s what I love about it. Pockets of snow lingered in those spots where the sun doesn’t quite reach. To the right of the patch of snow, Snippet, the very lucky dog of my good friend Em. We became friends through blogging and Em still posts her stunning photographs from daily ramblings on the moor through her Instagram account: @wiggy55 (here). Last week I got to join her for a day.

 
 

 

Weather worn granite

 

The road to get here is a challenge, at least it is for the typical woman driver who is hopeless in reverse. Mentioning no names. There is barely room for one car let alone two and precious few passing places. Those that exist couldn’t exactly be described as generous. I pulled into one such place in the face of an oncoming van. The driver stopped and gesticulated impatiently toward the sky. I shuffled forward and back in an attempt to gain another inch until the sickening crunch as wing mirror and granite met. In these parts high banks which may appear soft and yielding quite often aren’t. Leaving Yours Truly in the doghouse. Again.

 
 

 

And I thought chez rusty duck held the National Collection of mosses.

 
 

 
 

 

Hut Circle, or round house, in Dartmoor National Park

They are all that’s left of the dwellings of the people who lived here in the Middle Bronze Age, between 1400 and 1000BC. Given the climate on the moor, and the rough terrain, agriculture has never been carried out as intensively as in other parts of the country and thus many of these prehistoric remains survive, largely unchanged, to this day.

 
 

 

Some of the huts, like this one, had a sunken floor with a step down and were partially built into the hillside. Large rocks were placed vertically to line the inside edge. It’s a very odd feeling standing within a structure that was someone’s home over 3000 years ago. The roof, resting on the low stone walls, would most likely have been made of a thatch consisting of turves, heather, rushes or bracken, supported by wooden posts, tent like, in the centre.

The ultimate ‘des res’ came equipped with a porch and possibly even a stone deck, for sitting outside in the sun. Or maybe a barbie with the neighbours. With an estimated 5000 hut circles found across Dartmoor it was clearly a well populated place. There were possibly even more, given that over the intervening years stone could have been robbed to build walls, roads and other buildings or structures. There is more information on the construction of these houses on the Legendary Dartmoor website (here). It’s really quite fascinating.

 
 
 

 

Looming over the cluster of hut circles is Kestor, or Kes Tor

This is an area rich in ancient monuments.

 
 

 

Shovel Down double stone row

 
 

 

Looking up the row from the other direction we get a hint as to how extensive the system is. It follows a sort of skewed letter ‘Y’ with the photographer stood in the puddle at the bottom end. In new wellies I’m relieved to say, no longer the leaky ones. One arm of the Y extends off towards the horizon to the upper right and the other, more difficult to spot, up the hill to the centre left.

 
 

 

At the junction of the arms of the ‘Y’ there is a series of rocks forming a circle and the remains of a cairn, or cist (burial chamber).

 
 

 

The Long Stone, with Kestor in the background.

At 3.1m it is the fourth tallest remaining menhir (or standing stone) on Dartmoor. In later years the stone became a boundary marker. We can easily make out the letters etched into one side – GP or Gidleigh Parish. On the face to the right of it, slightly lower – DC, Duchy of Cornwall. Out of view on the rear face is C, Chagford Parish. (ref. Legendary Dartmoor, here)

I’ve scoured google in an attempt to find an interpretation for the arrangement of these stones but come up with a blank so far, other than a general nod to them having an important ceremonial purpose. Most likely no-one knows for sure. A secret lost forever to the moorland mists of time.

 
 

 

Not only the humans bracing themselves against the wind..

 
 
 

 

Iconic Dartmoor

 
 
 

 

It can’t always be the easiest of places to live in.. but my goodness it must be worth it.

Thank you Em, once again, for your hospitality and a properly invigorating walk!

 
 
 
 

2018-03-12T14:18:13+00:00March 12th, 2018|Tags: |

68 Comments

  1. Backlane Notebook March 12, 2018 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Great post and great place with all that ancient history.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      I never realised there was so much history still up there, it was quite an education.

  2. grammapenny March 12, 2018 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    Thanks for these photos.. I can almost feel the wind.. we were near there years ago.. very windy but gorgeous…I agree it is so surreal to stand inside some of those ancient circles and wonder who lived there

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:25 pm - Reply

      They had tough lives for sure. But unbeatable views!

  3. Ali March 12, 2018 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    These are wonderful textures, with the stone and the moss and the lichen. I miss rugged landscapes a bit, living in rural Kent. I am a Yorkshire girl originally, so sometimes crave some wildness!

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:31 pm - Reply

      Yes, I know exactly what you mean. They are the type of places we tend to seek out for walks. Deserted beaches, windswept cliff tops. When we went to Australia it was the outback that always drew me in. The more desolate the better!

  4. Susan Garrett March 12, 2018 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    We had a similar day on the North Yorkshire Moors on Sunday but instead of horses there were sheep. No ancient stones but very, very narrow steep roads. I hope the guy whi caused the crunch felt suitably guilty.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:34 pm - Reply

      I doubt it Sue. White van man who thought he owned the road or at least had permanent right of way. The North Yorkshire moors are just as beautiful, I wish not quite so far away!

  5. justjilluk March 12, 2018 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    That was really interesting. Never been there and never knew it was so interesting, in that it was well populated for such an unwelcoming vista now. Brilliant photos as ever!

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks Jill. It was an eye opener for me too and fun to research it and find out more about the history. And I thought my house was old!

  6. Christina March 12, 2018 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    You made me wish I was there too! thank you.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks Christina. The wind was so strong it threatened to blow me over. Some of the pictures show evidence of the movement, even with the strong light.

  7. Heyjude March 12, 2018 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    How beautiful it is up there. And I sympathise with you re the wing mirror. Reversing down narrow twisting lanes is not my idea of fun either and my car bears the signs of unseen rocks and scratching branches 🙁

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:44 pm - Reply

      It comes with the territory down here doesn’t it. I guess when some of these ‘roads’ were built they only had to allow for the width of a horse.

  8. wherefivevalleysmeet March 12, 2018 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    This makes me grateful that I was not born a bronze age women! – glad to learn that Em is fine and well now that she no longer blogs.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:50 pm - Reply

      Absolutely Rosemary, I need my creature comforts too much. Standing inside one of those huts it’s easy to imagine how tough life must have been. Especially with the wind blowing as hard as it was.

  9. Torrington Tina March 12, 2018 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    I love your blogs about places as much as the gardening ones, beautiful phots as usual. You are not alone regarding rear-view mirrors, I have done that myself. We know the Merrivale stone rows and Hound Tor medieval village, so many ancient places to visit on Dartmoor.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Thanks TT. I must admit, having found out how many of them exist on the moor I’m inspired to go and see more. And the landscape is just so breathtaking, why ever not?

  10. Kris P March 12, 2018 at 8:26 pm - Reply

    Fabulous scenery and I can almost feel the wind upon viewing your equally astounding photos. There’s certainly no sites like that visible in my area of the world – they’re all thoroughly buried. Good for you in braving the drive! I doubt I’d have had the courage – heck, driving the hills in Malibu is enough to set my nerves on edge.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 8:58 pm - Reply

      Driving anywhere in Los Angeles would set my nerves on edge. I don’t know how you do it. Seven lanes of traffic in each direction? I wouldn’t know where to start.

  11. Charles March 12, 2018 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    Have you been to where they carved moles in the rock to cast tin? I went as a teenager, so long ago that I have forgotten. Dartmoor is probably the most beautiful place in the world. Never be intimidated by drivers on Dartmoor, only incomers would expect you to damage your car. Gorgeous pictures and nice to know that your friend is alive and well, I followed her blog with interest, having an autistic son myself, I trust that she and her son are getting help, if not let me know, I know helpful lawyers who work on legal aide.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      Incomers and white van drivers.
      Em and her son are doing fine. She is a great Mum and has done everything within her power to set him on a good course for the future, playing to his strengths. The support she had from Great Ormond Street is certainly paying off.

  12. Charles March 12, 2018 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    For moles read moles read mould goodness I do love apple….

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:15 pm - Reply

      I think you can turn the predictive text off but I’ve never looked to see how. Also mine seems to be stuck on American English which doesn’t help. I doubt the mole would appreciate being carved into a rock. I’d be interested to know where that place on Dartmoor is, if you can remember.

  13. Anna March 12, 2018 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    Fabulous skies, space, history, horses and a sense of wonder. Thanks for sharing your day with us Jessica.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:18 pm - Reply

      I couldn’t believe the sky was that blue! It makes it look warm and it most definitely wasn’t. But oh gosh, so refreshing.

  14. germac4 March 12, 2018 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    Wonderful photos…..I’m glad I looked at this post on our larger screen computer….I never tire of the beautiful and diverse English countryside, and always so much history embedded in it. This was a nice start to my day!

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gerrie. England is certainly that, although I’d say the same is true of Australia, if not more so. I was reading a post today that suggested indigenous culture in East Arnhem Land goes back 65,000 years!

  15. Linda March 13, 2018 at 1:55 am - Reply

    Stunning! And so much more interesting seeing your photos than the fancy pr kind of landscape images one usually gets.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:33 pm - Reply

      There was a bit of camera shake unfortunately, thanks to the wind. It was a challenge to find a photo for the header shot which always wants to zoom itself in. But I agree, they show the reality. Waterlogged ground and all!

  16. Beth @ PlantPostings March 13, 2018 at 3:24 am - Reply

    It sounds like quite an adventure to get there, but the payoff is the amazing view … and the history! Wow! I’ve heard much about Dartmoor, but your photos are so expansive and beautiful!

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:36 pm - Reply

      It is a truly beautiful place Beth. And a National Park too so it is protected from development. The roads will always stay as they are!

  17. Rosie March 13, 2018 at 8:47 am - Reply

    Wonderful atmospheric photos and the Bronze Age remains are fascinating, hope your poor car was easily mended:)

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:39 pm - Reply

      Thanks Rosie. The car is booked in to be fixed. Along with a few other bumps and scrapes (not mine!) which makes me feel a bit better. 🙂

  18. derrickjknight March 13, 2018 at 11:32 am - Reply

    Lovely landscapes; informative history; your usual humour. Clever to show some lingering snow to provide evidence of how cold it was.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:40 pm - Reply

      The snow might even be still there. Getting colder again.. oh I do wish we could get to Spring.

  19. Freda March 13, 2018 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    You do wonder what those. residents lived on – they must have been super-hardy! Still snow lying here too. Wonderful photographs Jessica.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks Freda. Yes, we have it easy with our wood burners and heated homes. Not to mention the supermarket down the road. Are we happier though? Maybe not.

  20. Peter March 13, 2018 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    It’s awesome to contemplate how long this land has sustained human life. Makes one feel small. So, are the moors haunted? Great images. Thanks for the link, very interesting indeed.

  21. Brenda March 13, 2018 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    I have read about Dartmoor many times in books, but never seen any photos. It’s rockier and more wild than I envisioned. And sort of mind-bending to think of all the people in those communities leaving nothing behind but rock remnants and questions.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 9:59 pm - Reply

      It’s an awesome place. There is a water filled hole in the rock on the top of Kestor which could just be a natural phenomenon but which some say was used by druids for ritual sacrifice.

  22. pollymacleod March 13, 2018 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    Beautiful, stunning photos. The ponies are wearing their lovely winter coats. Many years ago I belonged to a walking group, we had a weekend away every month. Dartmoor was one of my favourite destinations.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 10:02 pm - Reply

      We thought one of the ponies might be pregnant. It would be the right time of year. It is lovely to be on Dartmoor when the foals arrive. And the lambs!

  23. Chloris March 14, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Fabulous photos and stunning scenery. That must have blown the cobwebs away.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 10:02 pm - Reply

      Just a bit!

  24. croftgarden March 14, 2018 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    Beautiful, wild, barren landscapes, just rocks and sky. Definitely for the aesthetic minimalist, but I love these stark landscapes too.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 10:05 pm - Reply

      That’s why I think I would love the islands and will get up there some day. I am as far from being a city girl as it’s possible to be.

  25. Mary March 14, 2018 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Love your story and the landscape photos. Walking in those types of spaces always give you room to think…when not freezing off various body parts.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      That’s so true. Maybe that’s why I love remote places, it’s an escape from the pressures of modern life. There’s no phone signal up there either.. even better!

  26. offtheedgegardening March 14, 2018 at 7:56 pm - Reply

    Gorgeous photos, I was almost there with you, but a little warmer I would guess. Sounds like a day to remember.

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 10:21 pm - Reply

      Definitely Gill. We are so lucky having all this on our doorstep are we not?

  27. Sarah March 14, 2018 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    That’s one of our favourite places on the moor. It must have been cold! I’m sure you had a lovely time with Em, it was good to see Snippet again! Your pictures of Dartmoor are fantastic! Sarah x

    • Jessica March 14, 2018 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      Thanks Sarah, I did have a great day. Snippet is as lively as ever, and Jack, who seems to have eluded my camera. You’d think all that running about over the moor would tire them out but it doesn’t seem too!

  28. smallsunnygarden March 15, 2018 at 2:48 am - Reply

    Just loved the post, Jessica; it makes me think of all those layers of prehistory lying around underneath more than two thousand years of honest history… Also how bone-chilling it must have been up there! 😉 I’ve now followed Em on Instagram and look forward to seeing more from her. If you are on IG or decide to start up there, please let us know! 🙂

    • Jessica March 15, 2018 at 7:47 am - Reply

      I’m on Instagram as @rustyduckblog but I must admit haven’t been very active recently. It’s such a faff getting photos on to it from a computer as I don’t use a phone for photography. But I think there is a better workaround now which I must investigate when I get a spare moment!

      • smallsunnygarden March 15, 2018 at 4:27 pm - Reply

        I had a good deal of trouble with that myself. The solution for me is uploading my selected photos directly to Google Photos, from which I can access them either on my phone for Instagram or my laptop for the blog. The need to swap computers to get my blog posts up is now my main source of hair-tearing… My current phone is a Moto G, so Google Photos is actually the default photo gallery, which I still think is a bit odd but very convenient tbh.
        Just in case that helps… 😉

        • Jessica March 17, 2018 at 2:07 pm - Reply

          Thanks Amy. Instagram always seems a little less ‘joined up’ than other social networks, presumably that’s the way they want it. The other thing that really bugs me is the inability to add a link to a post. I shall give it another go.

  29. ginaferrari March 15, 2018 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    It’s years since I’ve been to Dartmoor so it was wonderful to see your photos. So wild and unspoiled.

    • Jessica March 17, 2018 at 5:52 pm - Reply

      I love it up there, for precisely those reasons. But my gosh how the wind doth blow!

  30. bitaboutbritain March 16, 2018 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Dartmoor is one of my favourite places – so lonely and mysterious, with signs of our ancestors almost everywhere. Going back almost as far, it taught me a bit about intrusive vulcanicity too. And it’s beautiful. Wonderful shots, Jessica.

    • Jessica March 17, 2018 at 6:37 pm - Reply

      Crikey. You had me looking up intrusive vulcanicity. It’s quite fascinating isn’t it. And humbling when you think about how long the landscape that we are so familiar with has taken to reach its current state. And is most likely still evolving.

  31. Julieanne March 19, 2018 at 11:02 am - Reply

    5000 hut circles?! Wow. I knew there were a few on Dartmoor, but that’s more than a few! Wonderful post. I love this history in the landscape and you gave us a lovely description with great photos.

    • Jessica March 19, 2018 at 10:46 pm - Reply

      Thanks Julieanne. I knew nothing about the history before that day, the 5000 hut circles surprised me too but it was mentioned several times in the research I did. The inhabitants chose a tough life, assuming they had a choice. There are easier places in Devon. But I can understand why they did, it’s beautiful up there.

    • kentpianist March 28, 2018 at 4:39 pm - Reply

      It’s intriguing that the rocks and stones tell so many stories. Dartmoor is a place of grandeur and wonder, a great solace from our busy cluttered material towns

      • Jessica March 28, 2018 at 6:29 pm - Reply

        Hello and welcome! It’s the wild places I will always seek out, wherever we travel. Somewhere where the history feels so close you can almost imagine yourself living it. And the peace. Apart from the wind, the calls of the birds and maybe the bleat of a sheep, it’s just so blissfully quiet up there.

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