Dartmoor 2, The Stone Age

by Gethin Thomas December. 11, 2020 325 views

I've called this second post of my photo drive across Dartmoor the Stone Age because after a while that's where you feel you might be up on the moor. Throughout the ages stone has been used to make almost everything, walls, bridges, gate posts, enclosures, homes, tombs, and monuments as even the landscape was made by nature in the same material. These ubiquitous stone walls fascinate me just for their sheer weight and solidity.

I have encountered dry stone walls all over Britain made from local materials but I think these are the only ones I have seen made from boulders of a size which it would be almost impossible for a single man to lift. They are timeless and indeed difficult if not impossible to date and they speak of a time when there were far more people on the land than there are today. The sheer quantity of them also speaks of a long period of time during which they have been built and maintained. There are estimated to be hundreds of miles of these walls on Dartmoor.

Below Combestone Tor, where I ended my last post on Dartmoor, are two tiny adjoining hamlets called Hexworthy and Huccaby, not much more than a pub, The Forest Inn, and a handful of houses and a church strung out spaciously along a narrow road. This road down from Combestone Tor is probably one of the narrowest, steepest, twistiest roads I have ever driven on. One in Italy comes close.

Of course even in this remote outpost of civilisation there is the ever present Red Telephone Box. Sadly many are being lost but many are also being saved because they are more than outdated technology, they are part of the landscape as much as an Iron Age fort or a medieval bridge. This one contains a defibrillator, not a telephone.

The church is St Raphael's and is quite unusual, it's central feature being a fireplace rather than an altar. Again built from stone the main feature facing the road is the very large chimney stack.

I was pleased and surprised to find the church unlocked with welcome signs as I have missed looking inside all the ancient rural churches scattered around my new county. I look forward to photographing the interiors of some of the local churches where I live once things return to normal. They are places crammed with history and interesting art and sculpture. This small church very much reflects it's location and the interior is sparse and plain but very atmospheric.

St. Raphael's Chapel situated in the beautiful hamlet of Huccaby on Dartmoor, is a place of peace and tranquillity. Built in 1868 as a combined chapel and schoolroom, it has the distinction of being the only Anglican chapel in the country to be dedicated to the Archangel St. Raphael. His name means 'God's Healing' or 'God has healed' and he was one of the archangels who stood before the throne. He is also known as the patron saint of travellers.

The Chapel has been awarded 'Good to Go' status. 'Good to Go' is the national standard awarded by a partnership of Tourist Organisations in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Award recognises that St Raphael's is a safe place to visit during these challenging times. (moorlandteam.org)

There were the usual Covid notices on entry and a small welcome table with information as well as hand sanitiser.

Huccaby was originally one of the Ancient Tenements of Dartmoor consisting of five farmsteads, the earliest documented reference to the place was in 1296 when it was called Woghebye. The suggested etymology of the place-name consists of two descriptive elements – woh meaning crooked and byge meaning curve or bend. Both words aptly describe the nearby, large horseshoe-like bend in the West Dart river. (legendarydartmoor.co.uk)

Below, this is a gateway into an enclosure. Who knows how old it is. I had not realised until I checked out all my stops on the map for names that this enclosure is almost a perfect circular stone wall, which suggests great antiquity. I remember hearing somewhere years ago that one of the distinguishing signs between Roman and Pre-Roman Britain was squaring the circle. Prior to the Roman invasion most structures were circular. I have no idea if this circle is that old but I think it is unusual. Even the other side of the farm next door the walls are all straight lines as you can see above. It is even possible that a farmer many years ago has added to an ancient stone circle of which there are many remains on Dartmoor.

Two trees taking advantage of some protection from the wind inside the walled enclosure.

Even in this bleak spot there is still a working letter box, this one has the cipher V.R. for Queen Victoria, the V and R separated by a moulded crown. The first post boxes on Dartmoor were installed in 1857 so it dates somewhere between then and 1901 when Victoria died. Britain's first roadside letter boxes were installed in the 1850's but in more remote and less populated places a cheaper more practical alternative was needed resulting in the development of smaller boxes which were initially installed in existing walls or buildings, like this example. The rarest letter boxes, and I have never seen one, are those erected during the reign of Edward VIII, who abdicated after being King for just one year, they carry the cipher EVIIIR .

Lower Cherrybrook Bridge is Grade 2 listed and the official description by Historic England reads, Road bridge over the Cherry Brook. Circa late C18 or early C19. Granite rubble with dressed granite voussoirs (a wedge-shaped or tapered stone used to construct an arch)and coping stones. 2-span round arches with projecting keystones and low triangular cutwater. Cranked string course above arches and slightly cranked parapet.

So this fits with my theory of dating bridges on Dartmoor by their width, this being the widest one and the latest one I crossed so far. It has the interesting and quaint wooden gates in each archway which I am guessing are there to stop sheep and or ponies wandering over to the other side. I have never seen these anywhere else.

The outcrop on the hill is King's Tor. King's Tor is a superb collection of granite outcrops roughly 3km west of Princetown. The tor overlooks the prehistoric complex at Merrivale and provides top views of this section of the National Park in addition to the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Cornwall.

This the first Tor I have climbed up and it was a real moonscape of boulder strewn boggy grass and uneven rock. Sharpitor is a landmark rock formation, popular with walkers, noted for its pointy, granite top & Bronze Age ruins. The views from the top are spectacular.

This view looking South is of the English Channel at Plymouth.

The ponies must be very sure footed and tough wandering around this landscape.

You are never far from boggy peat and even pools edged with moss.

This is the top of Sharpitor with it's lonesome pine half way up.

Higher Meavy Bridge, has to be old, it is certainly extremely narrow and I was quite careful driving over it. It bypasses a much older ford that is now unusable as the boulder surface has been undercut by the river and there is a sheer drop.

According to Historic England, this Grade 2 listed structure is , a road bridge over River Meavy. Probably an early C19 repair of an older bridge incorporating some of the earlier fabric. Granite rubble with roughly dressed granite coping stones. Single span round-headed arch with projecting keystone on west (downstream) side. Cranked parapet and swept-out abutments. The eastern side appears to have been rebuilt more recently. This bridge was on the main route from Meavy to Cornwood and is probably on the site of one shown on a C16 map. According to the Sessions Books repairs were necessary to Higher Meavy Bridge in 1665 and it was widened by about 2' on the downstream side prior to 1809. Source: Henderson and Jervoise - Old Devon Bridges

I'm glad they widened it by 2 feet before 1809 or my car certainly would not have made it across. Interestingly on the map the main road is a straight line through the ford, while the bridge is a small hairpin diversion proving how old the road and ford were before the road was bent in a loop to accommodate the bridge.

This is the ford, showing the straight road cutting through with massive boulders along the edges, forming a structure that shapes it, again denoting some considerable age.

This panoramic is taken from the top of Sharpitor looking West with the county of Cornwall on the horizon. The town of Horrabridge dead ahead and the town of Yelverton on the right hand side. Yelverton looks interesting and I plan to do a photo walk around it at some point. This marks the end of my tour across one part of Dartmoor, there is a lot more to explore. I hope you concur with my description of it as living in the Stone Age.

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Camellia Staab 5 months ago

Some really excellent captures and the information quite interesting.

5 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil 5 months ago

Love the pictures and all the information. Thank you for such a great post my friend

5 months ago Edited
Gethin Thomas Replied to Antonio Gil 5 months ago

Glad you enjoyed it.

5 months ago Edited
Björn Roose 5 months ago

Dartmoor has been on my must see list for ages (I've seen nearly nothing of the UK, actually) and your series proves me right smile That "gated" bridge is, by the way, indeed pretty unique.

5 months ago Edited
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