For me Dartmoor will always be home. More precisely that S.W. corner of it where the high plateau gives way to downland, intake and steep densely wooded valleys. My childhood and adolescence spent walking and cycling the high banked lanes and open moor. Our little gang would go building sone and mud dams in the brook and stock them with bullheads and minnows. Or we’d go tickling trout and trapping elvers. Rope swings and dens in woods, climbing trees and keeping lookout….Later there were trysts with my first serious girlfriend under the watchful eye of her aged and very posh parents who lived in a big modern house on the moor’s edge. As a younger actor I’d be touring the West Country & Cumbria in plays by Dartmoor farmer Jane Beeson inspired by her long experience of upland farming life or playing native sons of the soil in historic recreations at Buckland Abbey and Cotehele for the National Trust’s Young Peoples Theatre Company. Later ‘Dartmoor and its Environs’ would be the subject that won me the semi-final competition of Mastermind in 1991.
On this return journey Kim & I only had a small window of opportunity to visit the moor and we wanted a walk that was accessible, circular and packed as much as possible into those few miles. Thanks to Peter Tavy’s excellent guide book ‘Walk Dartmoor’ (pub; Bartholomew) we found one. Parking off the Yelverton – Princetown road we struck off east to Black Tor. A huge logan (rocking) stone, now immobile but still imposing, while it’s twin granite pile boasted a sheer face and an interesting interior rock chimney. We dropped to the infant Mewy (or Meavy) river below and on crossing picked up a double row of granite stumps leading to a small ruined stone circle which in turn led us gently up to Hart Tor and some fine views over this section of the high moor. Down once more, this time to Hart Tor Brook and its eventual confluence with the Mewy at Iron Bridge. On our way we came across the remains of a Bronze Age village and put up cows and their calves, one of many herds turned out by commoners for Summer grazing, and cautiously gave the agitated beasts a wide berth. Skylarks above and butterflies at our feet fluttering over wild bilberries. Otherwise, away from any discernible path, the dried tussocky grass slowed our progress. Surprised to discover that the Iron Bridge was in fact an acquaduct and not a footbridge as I’d supposed when viewed from a distance. The cleverly engineered gated channel bears the contour hugging Devonport Leat with its rushing waters downhill to a final destination in Plymouth some 12 miles away. Another short leat fed off the conjoined Mewy/Hart Tor Brook at this point. Loved jumping back and forth across the combined crossing waterways to take photographs and look for fish and insects. Following the Mewy back upstream to just below where we’d originally crossed it revealed a hidden dell with a deep pool overhung by mountain ash – Black Tor Hole. We could clearly see the remains of its medieval tinning works. Most notably, with lintel still in place, a ruined blowing house where the precious metal was separated from ore and processed before being transported by pony to Tavistock, the nearest stannary town. From here a short steep climb brought us past the family groups of wild ponies descended from those earlier pack animals on to the lonely open road where a stream of hardy lycra light cyclists whizzed by, head down, oblivious to the ancient sites & hidden sights around them.