March 2005 www.classic.co.uk
classic news | Dartmoor In this edition Tanya, one of our property team, relates her experiences from days spent trekking across Dartmoor. This wild landscape really does bring all its mystical stories to life.
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As part of Classic’s property team, I am constantly reminded of the beauty and diversity on offer throughout the West Country. One of my favourite areas is Dartmoor and I hope to share some of the appeal of this magical area with you.
Dartmoor – a vibrant palette of nature’s colours The unspoilt landscape of Dartmoor is beautiful, breathtaking and wonderfully diverse. Although officially part of Devon, the 368 square miles of National Park (the largest open space in southern England) has a feeling of distinctiveness that entices its devotees back year after year, in all weathers and seasons. Many visitors choose Tavistock as a base for their stay. This ancient market town just nudges its way inside the western boundary of Dartmoor. One of Devon’s four Stannary towns and birthplace of Sir Francis Drake, its rich history is very much in evidence throughout. There is plenty to see and do here, ranging from investigating the ruins of the 10th Century Benedictine abbey to enjoying the peaceful riverside walks or rummaging in the renowned Pannier Market. The Market’s origins date back to a Royal Charter granted in 1105, and it is still a popular, well-attended and lively affair today. Besides its weekly general market, visitors can enjoy the regular themed markets which include crafts, antiques, local produce and even an Aladdin’s Cave. Together with the twice-monthly Farmer’s Market, Tavistock also boasts an abundance of interesting little old-fashioned shops – one of my favourites is the Country Cheeses shop, where all but one or two of the 50 or so cheeses are produced in the West Country. After all that shopping, what better way to recuperate than by enjoying an indulgent lunch in the courtyard of the nearby Browns Hotel. Formerly a coaching inn, this four classic news | Dartmoor page 2
star hotel and wine bar now offers an excellent a la carte menu and the chance to sample spring water drawn from its own fresh water well and bottled on the premises. For a more laid-back dining experience, try Jack and Jill’s – arguably the best fish and chip shop in the area! For those who prefer a taste of the arts be sure to include a visit to Tavistock Wharf. The locals are understandably proud of their arts centre, which offers a multitude of events from cinema screenings to exhibitions of paintings, photography and sculpture, and live music to local productions. The Devon Guild of Craftsman also calls Dartmoor home. Based at Bovey Tracey, on the opposite side of the moor, the Guild focuses on promoting the best of the region’s arts and crafts and has recently refurbished the riverside premises that showcase their finds. Further south is Ashburton, another Stannary town that lays claim to being the ‘gateway to the moor’ – such an enviable title that there are at least three ‘gateways’! A bustling market town centre offers good opportunities for browsing and a stroll around the cobbled streets and historic buildings is an interesting way to while away an hour or two. However, like a large percentage of Dartmoor’s visitors, I am always keen to leave the confines of the towns behind to venture higher up onto the vast areas of true moorland. The moor apparently boasts over 160 tors – prominent
formations of rock, some huge, others more modest, usually (but not always) at the top of a hill. One of the most popular is Haytor Rocks, a commanding structure much beloved by visitors to the south eastern edge of the moor, not too far from Ashburton. A relatively easy stroll leads you up to this enormous granite climbing frame. The echoes of hundreds of footsteps are imprinted on every surface, and once you reach the summit views unfold towards Saddle Tor, Hound Tor and Greator Rocks to name but a few, making the effort worthwhile. This mixture of imposing tor and rolling wilds, mottled with granite, heather and gorse, personifies Dartmoor for me as for many other visitors. The individual tors are too numerous to mention, but there are some interesting tales behind their seemingly incongruous naming. Vixen Tor for instance was so-called after the witch Vixana who lay in wait there for unwary travellers. On sighting a victim, she enticed them into a nearby bog where they met an untimely end. Another is Bowerman’s Nose, supposedly the petrified remains of Bowerman the Hunter, who was turned to stone by yet another coven of witches (there are plenty connected with Dartmoor) when he ignored warnings not to cross their land – the smaller surrounding rocks are reputedly his hounds. Folklore and legend add a mystical sheen to life on the moor. One of the most poignant stories is of Jay’s Grave, another wellknown landmark near the sleepy village of Manaton, believed to be the final
This page: The famous clapper bridge at Postbridge. Page 1: Dartmoor’s big blue sky. Page 2: The dwarf oaks of Wistman’s wood. Page 4: Top: One of Dartmoor’s babies! Bottom: The mystical Jay’s Grave.
resting place of Kitty Jay, a young servant girl who was seduced by a local farmer’s son. On discovering her pregnancy she hanged herself in shame and, in keeping with the practice of the time, her body was excluded from the churchyard and buried at a cross-roads between the parishes of Manaton and Widecombe – home to Widecombe Fair. The tragic tale does not end there; the grave was re-discovered in the mid-19th Century, and upon investigation was proven to contain the remains of a young girl. The bones were re-interred in the same spot, and since that day an unknown hand places flowers and coins on the mound each morning, summer or winter. Could this mystery be linked to the shadowy figure often seen kneeling at the graveside with his head in his hands, full of despair. . . It is easy to imagine how these traditional stories of fairies and folklore have remained a strong factor in Dartmoor’s image today. The villages and moorland are at the mercy of the elements, and on a damp, cool day with the mist rolling in, even the silent movement of sheep or ponies takes on an eerie quality! The moor is home to many historical and archaeological antiquities including prehistoric fortresses, long abandoned railways, ancient earthworks and several 13th and 14th Century clapper bridges. Examples are found at Dartmeet, Blackabrook and Walla Brook, but arguably the most wellknown is at Postbridge, in the centre of the moor, where four granite slabs weighing eight tons each span the East Dart River. Postbridge is a great starting point to follow one of the many local walks, perhaps passing the attractive waterfall near Winney’s Down or even through Bellever Forest, a plantation of managed conifer woodland offering accessible walking and cycling. In classic news | Dartmoor page 3
complete contrast to the lofty heights of Bellever is Wistman’s Wood, on the edge of one of the Army firing ranges, so check the local paper to ensure all is quiet before you visit! This stunted and misshapen ancient oak grove, blanketed in moss, is reached on foot from Two Bridges. One of the few remaining areas of the medieval woodland that formerly enveloped Dartmoor, it is surrounded by an air of ‘otherworldliness’ – indeed it is supposedly the ‘kennel’ of the ghostly Whist or Yeth hounds that hunt the moor, perhaps the inspiration for ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’? For those who prefer a less windswept stroll, the National Trust’s Lydford Gorge provides a beautiful valley walk (either via the ‘short and steep’ route or the ‘long and easy’ version). This popular footpath runs for a mile and a half down through the gorge from the Devil’s Cauldron whirlpool to the spectacular White Lady waterfall – and there is a tea-room at either end, ideal for some timely refreshment! East of Tavistock, the road winds up past Great Mis Tor towards Princetown, rattling over the numerous cattle grids that prevent free roaming stock from wandering too far. The austere Dartmoor Prison on the village outskirts is an unnerving and formidable sight – huge, discordant with the dramatic backdrop, but a renowned landmark and surprisingly popular with visitors. Princetown itself is a thriving community and houses the High Moorland Visitor Centre, which occupies the old Duchy Hotel – formerly the prison guards’ mess! There is an interesting exhibition of Dartmoor life, and those less experienced can buy a range of leaflets that guide you to popular walks and landmarks. It can get busy here (as the large coach park testifies) but a brief respite visit to one of Princetown’s
three pubs is always possible. There are many other ways to enjoy everything that Dartmoor has to offer; cycling is permitted on all public roads, byways, bridleways and most forest tracks, but visitors should be aware that cycling is not allowed on the majority of the common open moor – access here is restricted to those on horseback or on foot to minimise erosion. Numerous equestrian facilities offer hacking for all levels and can be found in virtually every parish in the area, allowing riders to choose between high moor, country lanes, peaceful woodland or heather spotted slopes. For those who prefer a round of golf, there are several courses around Dartmoor, some of which do not require a handicap certificate. Coarse and fly fishing is available and for more adventurous guests, there are opportunities for canoeing, orienteering and even hang-gliding! Many traditional coaching inns are scattered around the moor, a good chance to enjoy an open fire and a hearty meal after a day’s exploration. It is impossible to share the diversity and beauty of this awe-inspiring and incomparable area in just a few words. You can choose to visit river valleys bathed in spring sunlight, filtered through velvet-mossed trees; conquer the commanding tors, blanketed in snow in the wilds of winter; share the open moorland, blazing with gorse popping during the hazy summer days or relish secret autumn breaks when the windblown trees are still dressed in copper, bronze and burnished gold. The appeal of Dartmoor is unique and individual to each person who experiences it. So whether it’s your first introduction to this breathtaking part of Devon, or a chance to rekindle a long-standing affection, spoil yourself with a stay in this beautiful and overwhelming region.
Walking: Dartmoor National Park Authority Bovey Tracey, TQ13 9JQ Tel: 01626 832 093 www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk
Devon Guild of Craftsmen The Riverside Mill, Bovey Tracey, TQ13 9AF Tel: 01626 832 223 www.crafts.org.uk
Horse Riding: Skaigh Stables Belstone, Okehampton, EX20 1RD Tel: 01837 840 917 www.skaighstables.co.uk Shilstone Rocks Trekking Centre Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Newton Abbot, TQ13 7TF Tel: 01364 621 281 www.dartmoorstables.com Cycling: Devon Cycle Hire Sourton Down, Okehampton, EX20 4HR Tel: 01837 861 141 www.devoncyclehire.co.uk Dartmoor Cycles Atlas House, West Devon Business Park, Tavistock, PL19 9DP Tel: 01822 618 178 www.dartmoorcycles.co.uk
Tavistock Pannier Market Tavistock, PL19 0AU Tel: 01822 611 003 www.tavistockpanniermarket. co.uk Pennywell Farm and Wildlife Centre Buckfastleigh, TQ11 0LT Tel: 01364 642 023 www.pennywellfarmcentre. co.uk Becky Falls Woodland Park Manaton, Newton Abbot, TQ13 9UG Tel: 01647 221 259 www.beckyfalls.com Lydford Gorge Lydford, Okehampton, EX20 4BH Tel: 01822 820 320 www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Pubs, Cafés and Restaurants Browns Hotel and Wine Bar 80 West Street, Tavistock, PL19 8AQ Tel: 01822 618 686 www.brownsdevon.co.uk The Dartmoor Inn Lydford, Okehampton, EX20 4AY Tel: 01822 820 221 www.dartmoorinn.com The Peter Tavy Inn Peter Tavy, Tavistock, PL19 9NN Tel: 01822 810 348 Jack and Jill’s Fish and Chip Shop 36 Brook Street, Tavistock, PL19 0HE Tel: 01822 613 311
The Garden House Buckland Monachorum, Yelverton, PL20 7LQ Tel: 01822 854 769 www.thegardenhouse.org.uk
Buckland Abbey Yelverton, PL20 6EY Tel: 01822 853 607 www.nationaltrust.org.uk
South West Tourism A variety of useful information from the region’s tourist board particularly good for local events. Tel: 0870 4420 880 www.visitsouthwest.co.uk
Stone Lane Gardens Stone Farm, Chagford, TQ13 8JU Tel: 01647 231 311 www.mythicgarden.com Winsford Walled Garden Winsford Lane, Halwill Junction, EX21 5XT Tel: 01409 221 477 www.winsfordwalledgarden. co.uk
Castle Drogo Drewsteignton, EX6 6PB Tel: 01647 433 306 www.nationaltrust.org.uk Okehampton Castle Castle Lodge, Okehampton, EX20 1JB Tel: 01837 528 44 www.english-heritage. org.uk Buckfast Abbey Buckfastleigh, TQ11 0EE Tel: 01364 645 550 www.buckfast.org.uk
The Terrace Café The Riverside Mill, Bovey Tracey, TQ13 9AF Tel: 01626 832 223 www.crafts.org.uk
classic cottages The specialists for coastal and country cottages of distinction throughout the West Country Leslie House, Lady Street, Helston, Cornwall TR13 8NA Telephone 01326 555 555 Facsimile 01326 555 544 Email firstname.lastname@example.org www.classic.co.uk www.classicguide.co.uk
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Copyright © 2005 Classic Cottages
In this edition Tanya, one of our property team, relates her experiences from days spent trekking across Dartmoor. This wild landscape reall...