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..
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!