|2 July 2005
A long-awaited long weekend on Dartmoor found us arriving in Devon in disappointingly grey, overcast and mistly weather. But the welcome at The Ring of Bells Inn in North Bovey (www.ringofbellsinn.com) was warm and Moth and I would both heartily recommend the Inn to anyone. Dumping our bags, we headed off up onto the moor. First stop: Grimspound.
Just a short five minute walk uphill from the road brings you to this ancient village settlement. Filthy weather prevented us from exploring this site thoroughly as the fine drizzle was blowing at an angle of 45 degrees quite unpleasantly. We thought we'd try our luck on another part of the moor and began the short but tortuous drive on Devon's lanes to see Fernworthy stone circle and rows.
The huge low wall which surrounds the long-abandoned settlement maps out the extent of the compound. Despite the looming sense of abandonment it was easy for me to imagine the place in its hayday. As I walked through the ruined ground plans of many houses I imagined the bustle of women working, children playing, goats and sheep corralled, men talking - ordinary things. The layout and size reminded me very strongly of the maasai villages of East Africa today.
Sadly, no African sun here today. Indeed, so bleak did it become that we declared 'rain stopped play' and headed back to the car.
The short walk uphill on the forestry road from the car park by the reservoir took me 10 minutes (but then I don't walk fast uphill). The weather was still pretty nasty though the plantation gave us some protection. The circle and rows now lie in a clearing in the trees. This means there are no sight lines or views, but the circle captivated me, nevertheless. It is lovely here - the circle is small but not tiny and the stones are small, too, but in proportion to the diameter. They seemed to spin above the boggy ground and were watched by me and Moth and a battalion of purple foxgloves.
Another 50 minutes walking would take us to the Greywethers
, but given the climate today I had no intention of attempting it. It would have to wait.
I needed a site which we could get to pretty easily. We chose Belstone Nine Stones, which was some distance away in the car on the north of Dartmoor.
When I was 10, I remember seeing a film called 'The Belstone Fox' starring Eric Porter and Bill Travers and crying all the way through it. Now here I was in Belstone village. No tears this time.On the way towards our next site, we called in at Spinsters' Rock.Suddenly the sun came out! So reaching for my sketchbook I settled down with a cuppa and a fag and made a very quick sketch.
We'd come to see Belstone Nine Stones, a cairn circle of now only 12 stones up on the moor to the south of the chocolate-boxey village and thankfully not a long walk away. Moth had been here before and had taken a while to locate it thinking it was up near the tor. It isn't! Stay close to the field wall and when that runs out, keep walking straight and you'll eventually see it. It's very pretty and has lovely views down towards a waterfall and up towards a tor, but the drizzle was persistent so there was no chance of painting it.
It's size reminded me of a Scillonian cairn or Yockenthwaithe and it felt like it was in the 'wrong' place to be an independent stone circle. I'd guess it was a cairn.
The weather looked to be clearing, so Moth suggested we go for Scorhill.
We went back to The Ring of Bells to eat huge quantities of food and then vegetate in front of the telly and watch 'Live 8'.
A few years ago, someone sent me a postcard of Scorhill stone circle. I liked the look of its pointy stones and always wanted to see it. Thankfully, the walk is mercifully short and the impact of this monument is mighty!
Corrrrrrrrr! As you crest the hill you down onto it and it compels you completely. Severe, pointy, dramatic, free of trees, bracken and other distractions, this sky temple seems to be indelibly stamped into the landscape and has a more powerful relationship with the moor and the heavens than anything I've seen except Brodgar
From here we could just make out the Shoveldown stone rows, which we would see close up two days later. And Moth looked wistfully moorwards in the direction of White moor
stone circle, knowing that I would never be able to walk to it and he'd have to go alone.
3 July 2005
The B3212 which runs NE to SW across the moor is surely one of Britain's most beautiful routes crossing the moor with gentle determination.
As the road passes Sharpitor there is a tiny tarn and parking place and, if you didn't know to look, there's also an incredibly long stone row! Two lines run parallel about 1m apart for more than 100ms, but the stones are so small you'd hardly know. I wish they'd put information boards up about things like this, then people would notice and take an interest. I loved it up here. Right on the top. Felt like I could reach up and touch the sky!
Brisworthy stone circle reminded me a lot of Fernworthy
in size of stones, diameter and 'feel'. But whereas Fernworthy is held suffocated by trees, Brisworthy is free to breathe and today was bathed in warm sunshine. It seems to have a close relationship with a nearby tor. It's on private land and we had to climb over a fence to get to it. Liked it here!
Just up the hill from Brisworthy are the monuments at Ringmoor which unlike pure joy, we found easily. A corkingly long stone row with a rather nice cairn circle at one end. As I strode down the row it seemed to never end! We also spotted some other stuff up there, including another small cairn circle.
I was looking forward to the madness of Yellowmead
. It's not the easiest to get to though - don't expect a path and do expect to get your feet wet as you go bog-wading. And you need your megalith-antenna on maximum setting to find it- oh and an OS map, of course. It wasn't immediately clear where the hell it was, although we knew we were going in the right direction.
Suddenly it dawned on Moth that the large herd of ponies we could see had chosen it as a cool place to hang out. We approached cautiously. Though they looked cute and cuddly we were aware they are wild animals and had some very young foals with them to protect. It became clear that they weren't going to move for us and we'd just have to work round them. It meant we couldn't walk among the small stones at all but had to walk round and round to try and get a sense of what was going on between the hoofs, sleeping foals, squabbling stallions and grazing mares. Were there four rings? Was it a cairn? The ponies weren't saying.
I found the walk to Yellowmead, though not long, quite taxing because it was over such rough, boggy ground. So rather than go on to nearby Drizzlecombe with Moth, I stayed by the car so I could paint the landscape and sit in the sun. Two hours passed quickly as I painted a couple of sketches and then Moth returned triumphantly with some cracking photos, one in particular of a wheatear sitting on a stone.
Twitcher moment: The birding here is fab. Bramblings everywhere, lots of jays, a redstart (I think), larks, thrushes, meadow pipit, wagtails, wheatear, stonechat, etc, etc.
Near the great white scar formed by the china clay works at Trowlesworthy is a complex of stone rows and cairn circles not unlike those at Ringmoor. From where you park the car, you can see the rows sloping down the hill. Having sight of them makes the incredibly dull hike over to them slightly more palettable. Be careful how you go - you can access the site from either side of the canal, but there is no path so tread very carefully. The ground underfoot almost got me a couple of times! The are a couple of rows here the main one perhaps just less than 100ms long - hard to say as an artificially cut channel now bisects it. Back over the B3212 and we thought we'd take in the almost perfect cairn circle of Soussons Common before returning to shovel down huge quantities of food at The Ring of Bells.
The cairn circle is charming though and despite the fact you're overlooking an industrial landscape, I quite liked it.
4 July 2005
What a lovely place Batworthy corner is! Not only is it very very pretty, it is the nearest place to drive to to reach the stone rows and long stone at Shovel down.
The rows here seem to meander forever taking the traveller past the almighty great nearby tor and point you towards the stone circle 1km at Scorhill
. The longest stone row idles its way across the moor with two lines of small stones, some hidden under grassy hummocks. Walking the length is not an option. You have no choice but to do it. The most complete section is actually not part of the main row, but deviates off pointing back down to Batworthy.
My own personal Everest now had to be conquered. The Greywethers.
I knew I'd hate the walk which even Burl calls 'tedious'. But I did it in 50 minutes, mostly by thinking about Sir Ernest Shackleton and the fact this was surely better than being at work... wasn't it?! The weather was shite - very windy and it even hailed once we'd reached the huge circles. Damnit! They'd be no sketching here.
My notebook says: 'absolutely appalling walk which I'm not sure is entirely worth it, even though this perfect pair of large, complete circles are 'A'-list Hollywood sites.' Nevertheless, to see this pair of circles so close together, so even and so big was a real privilege. But the hike and the weather left me feeling so shitty that I couldn't even be arsed to climb the nearby rise to get some height. Moth did though and got some lovely pics.
I staggered around them like a drunkard wondering: 'why here?', 'why two?', 'why so close?' and 'how the hell am I going to get back to the car?'