Second visit (30.8.2010), after a quick stop-off at the remains of Cantrell stone row. The walk up from the row through deep bracken is hot under a blazing Bank Holiday sun. Visibility is much better than my previous trip back in June and there are plenty of folk up here enjoying the weather.
We stop for a while to take in the views south off the moor, where patchwork fields eventually give way to sea and sea meets sky. Beautiful.
But we have a long way to go, if we're to make it to Corringdon Ball today. The main aim of the trip is to visit a few of Dartmoor's (comparatively rare) Neolithic monuments. It's with this in mind that we head off north-eastwards, to find the Cuckoo Ball chambered tomb.
The OS map simply notes "cairns", so I am a little unprepared for the number of cairns that are actually crowding the top of the Beacon. I pass what I take to be one next to the path on the climb uphill, but the better-preserved ones are out of sight until the top is gained. These are similar to the ones I am becoming used to from trips to the Brecon Beacons, proper rubble-constructed summit cairns. They are in pretty good condition, except one that has a mini-shelter built on its top (I learn from TMA when I get home that these cairns were restored after earlier walker-damage).
From the top of the Beacon, views open northeast to the higher Ugborough Beacon, also topped with assorted barrows, and north to Butterdon Hill, which is the site of my first Burl-guided sites of the day. The route to Butterdon is marked by a very handy row of post-medieval boundary stones, the first of which start in the midst of the Western Beacon cairns. At these southern reaches of the moors, there are a few folks about and although the sky is overcast, it doesn't look like it will rain. Nevertheless, this is an expansive landscape and it's reassuring to have a helpful navigation aid as I head downhill and northwards in the company of these markers.
These photographs, of the seven cairns, were taken on the 18th August 2005 while I was returning from a circular walk from Cantrell taking in the Cuckoo Ball , Glasscombe, Corrindon Ball, Butterdon Hill area.
The grid references I have used were taken from Jeremy Butler's Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities. I approched the Cairns from the north following the boundary stones from the top of Butterdon Hill down past Black Pool.
Behind the village of Ugborough is the impressive bulk of Western Beacon topped with a system of five large cairns. Its the Southern most hill on Dartmoor and the cairns are aligned so that they have a stunning view over the South Hams and, on a clear day, the English Channel. A nice place to spend eternity. I always approach this site arse about face because the cairns are just up the hill from my back garden. On reaching the site there is an impressive stone row which leads roughly northwards. The stones are on average 4ft high and spaced at about 90 paces apart. They lead from the cairns down the Beacon then up the next hill called Butterdon. On top of Butterdon is another impressive array of cairns. To the right hand side of the summit there appears to be a collapsed stone circle. Its weird looking, if it was a circle then all the stones have fallen inwards, suggesting to me that it was deliberately but not very comprehensively wrecked. The stone row continues Northwards but the stones are much smaller and only a couple of feet apart. They go on for a long way. Any amateur anthropologist could guess that the rows were used as part of a burial procession ceremony leading from the heart of the moor, up hill and down dale ending at the summit of Western Beacon. Sat on top of Butterdon's biggest cairn one day (feeling myself deliberately but not very comprehensively wrecked) I was checking out the alignments with the stone row, and other distant Tors. I had a thought. If you don't know what a Tor is then look at Mr Copes photograph of Bowermans nose on Dartmoor. A Tor is a natural rock formation but it looks completely artificial. Huge flat stones piled on top of each other by nature not by man. So what would an ancient people make of these things ? They would probably think they had been put there by giants, or by gods. So why not imitate them by building their own burial mounds on hill tops ? A stroll across to nearby Ugborough beacon seems to add weight to this idea. That big Tor is in places nearly buried under the remains of a large cairn. Some of the chambers of the cairn look like they have been rebuilt in more recent times but I would guess by the amount of stones up there that the Tor would have been completely covered. The view from Ugborough Beacon also looks out across the South Hams but is somewhat tamed by a golf course. Tossers.
Mr Crossing has this to say about Western Beacon (from "Crossing's Guide To Dartmoor" (2nd edition, 1912):
"The view from this fine border height, the southernmost of all the Dartmoor eminences, is one of great beauty. The estuary of the Erme is in full view, and we are placed so high above it (1,088 ft) that it looks quite near. The West Pigedon of an older day, it forms a conspicuous landmark from numerous points in the South Hams. Eastward rises East Pigedon, now represented by the hill crowned with the Beacon Rocks. Most of the tor has been detroyed by quarrymen, and the six cairns that are to be seen here has been despoiled. One of these was placed on the rocks, but very little of it now remains. The foundations of a small square building are to be seen upon it. It is not possible to obtain a correct measurement of all of these cairns, but one of them is 85 yards in circumference, and another 67 yards."