Dartmoor. A sprawling wild expanse of sphagnum moss and heather and sheep and rocky tors and babbling brooks. Of mist and mud and ancient monuments. Remarkably, it’s the product of man, who cleared it of trees, mined it for metals and minerals, built bronze-age villages on it, and grazed animals upon its slopes. Without the intervention and influence of man, Dartmoor would be something else entirely…
I fell completely in love with Dartmoor. We started our driving tour at Tavistock, an ancient market town on the south-western edge of the moor. We picked up a map there, and a warning not to stray too far onto the moor, where there are bogs and the mist can come down so suddenly… Then we headed off into the moor, where the main roads are much wider and less twisty than those on Bodmin moor (a good thing), and the lack of hedgerows meant fabulous views.
Our first major stop was near the village of Merrivale, where a pair of stone rows are laid out on the moor. It was a short walk across the moor, through grazing sheep and cattle, to reach these ancient monuments. The weather was fairly overcast, with flashes of sun peeping through.
We strolled about on the moor for an hour or so, enjoying the fresh air, the random stone circle we stumbled across, the cattle, the wide open space… Then we headed for the hamlet of Postbridge, which has a 700 year old bridge across the river Dart.
We backtracked a little then to the Two Bridges Hotel, an old coaching inn, where we had lunch and then walked about 45 minutes to Wistman’s Wood, one of only three stands of original oak trees on the moor. This was a magical place of moss and lichen and mystique. So glad the lady at the Tavistock information centre recommended we go here.
After this energetic ramble, we were well and truly ready for afternoon tea, so we hit the atmospheric Warren House Inn, high on the lonely moor, all alone, for a yummy Devon cream tea (and very bad coffee). Here we gained directions for Grimspound, the remains of a bronze-age village set high on the moor between two tors, mentioned by the Lonely Planet Guide. Even with the directions though, finding Grimspound was a challenge. It’s worth persevering though, as it’s a fabulous site.
There are the remains of 24 circular huts and signs of animal pens. The compound is fully enclosed by a stone wall. This is what looks like from near the top of Hookney Tor, which had a clear path to the top from beside Grimspound.
As we were driving we saw the remains of what looked like another stone circle by the side of the road. We stopped, and discovered it seemed to be another bronze-age village like Grimspound, although in far worse condition. We were quite pleased with ourselves, and became even more excited when a near full moon began to rise over the moor. So there we sat in the remains of a bronze-age village, watching the moon rise over the heather. A fabulous way to end a magical day.