|Sunday 25th September 2005.
Dartmoor bathed in autumnal sunshine, ripe for a stretching yomp with my finest friends, taking in the Bronze Age compound of Grimspound, and the small kist-centred stone ring of Soussons Common Cairn Circle, ending with the cool darkness of the Warren House Inn.
The day was bright and blustery with intermittent slight clouds to bathe us as we gloried in this fine slice of countryside; the last purple blush of the heather was invisible until almost underfoot, and the quick leap to flight of skylarks and other small birds served to bring our heads quickly to the bright blue of the sky above.
The route from the Warren House Inn to Grimspound – a distance of around 1.5 miles - traverses the many deep gouges and scars of the Birch Tor and Vitifer tin mines, that finally ceased production in 1939. Bar the deep open gullies, little remains - only a few granite plinths remain of the outbuildings, with some ominous looking bracken-edged craters that might once have been shafts. Before reaching Headland Warren Farm, and Grimspound beyond, a stone row can be seen on the ridgeback of the rounded Hill – unnamed on OS maps – south of the path through the disused workings.
Grimspound has been well documented elsewhere, but to evoke what passed before me, I quote at length from John Lloyd Warden Page's "An Exploration of Dartmoor and its Antiquities with some account of its Borders" published in 1889:
"But from the crest of Hookner Tor* we shall look down upon an enclosure lying on the slope of Hameldown opposite, to which other circles are but pigmies. Even at this distance we may discern a number of rings of stone within its walls, marking the abode of wild shepherd, wilder hunter, or of warriors long since passed away – mighty Grimspound.
The scene is impressive, and we stand for some moment surveying the remains of these ancient dwellings, encircled by their ruined walls, which at one moment stand forth clear and defined in the warm sunlight, and the next wax indistinct as a cloud drifts over the face of the sun, plunging hill and valley into shadow. A great sweep of wild moor rolls away into the western distance, weird, mysterious, solitary. Unbidden rise the words of one who knew and loved the great upland many years ago:
"If you want sternness and loneliness, pass into Dartmoor. There are wastes and wilds, crags of granite, views into far-off districts, and the sound of waters hurrying away over their rocky beds, enough to satisfy the largest hungering and thirsting after poetical delight."
*Hookner Tor is now shown on OS maps as Hookney Tor.
We saw all of this, exploring the inorganic remnants of the small round huts, some with curved entrance passages to protect those inside from the worst of the weather, and the impressive entrance high on the southern side of the ring. An enforced diet of Ray Mears and "Time Team" means that the minds eye immediately puts flesh on these remnants, constructing high-pitched roofs, curling wood smoke etc…. As we were leaving, a kestrel slid westward across the sky, scouring the ground for signs of life.
A short walk along the minor road that runs southward towards Ashburton along the eastward valley slope, and we crossed the road to rejoin the bridlepath, crossing the slight stream at the bottom of the valley. Half a mile southwards, in fields of closely-cropped grass, we passed the ruins of the medieval village of Challacombe, thick stone walls now surrounded by strong upright trees. The bridlepath continues through the farm, the gate deep in the shade of the trees. Beyond the farm, at the bridlepath fork, we took the lower path on to Soussons Farm, skirting the edge of the conifer plantation – one of the last planted on Dartmoor in the late 1940's - to come upon Soussons Common Cairn Circle, set back from the road, hard against the plantation's southern edge.
The Circle is a sweet spot – falsely so, sadly, due to the shelter and screening effect of the 60-year old plantation – but has fine views to the south and southwest. Jeremy Butler in Volume 5 of the Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities highlights that there was a triple stone row associated with the circle, but alas it has now gone – "site only: vicinity overplanted" - vanished beneath the serried ranks of pine. The grid reference of the row is listed as SX676799; well inside the plantation proper, half a mile or so northwards up the slope of Soussons Common: we looked, but in vain. Surrounded by conifers on three sides, it's difficult to see how the Circle may have looked in a cleaner landscape, but the row would most likely have been visible further up the hill.
The circle is described as a cairn circle; a delineating ring of closely-spaced (but not touching) small stones that enclosed a cairn-covered kist. However, to me it looks more like a kerb circle; a kist burial once covered by a more shallow stone covering (see Note below). I acknowledge that this difference may be nit-picking…...
The stretch north cut straight through the plantation – a mite boggy underfoot, despite the pleasant weather, and a considerable drain on the limbs: if the pub wasn't at the end of it, I might never have made it back! The whole trip took about three hours, covered a bit less than six miles, but will linger long in my memory…….
Note: The different types of burial monuments found on Dartmoor are explained here:
and here is a good background to the span of prehistoric archaeology on Dartmoor:
Posted by Pilgrim
30th September 2005ce
Edited 26th November 2005ce