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Combes of Dartmoor

Combe

Low, the power of sunlight, After hours of gloom, Decking with all beauty, Peter Tavy Combe. – Every rock and boulder, Clad in mosses grey, Gleams with gentle radiance, In the sun today. – There the waters hurry, Sparkling in the sun. Singing, breaking, tumbling, As they onwards run.”, D. P. Alford. p.46.

Dartmoor Combes – firstly what exactly is a ‘ Dartmoor Combe’? William Crossing defines them as being; “A small valley, usually closed at its upper end.”, p.15. Eric Hemery describes them as; “As a valley closed at it’s upper end.”, p.33. Nice to see some agreement between these two Dartmoor notables. Some definitions will also add that they are dry valleys with no watercourses running through them – on Dartmoor this is not always the case as can be seen in the verses above. The actual word ‘Combe‘ derives from the old Celtic/Welsh word Cwm which meant the same as it does today. Combes are predominantly found in southern and south-western England and Wales.

As far as ‘Combe’ place-names go they can always be seen as the suffix which in some cases is separate to the prefix as in; Bow Combe and in others they are all one word as in; Drizzlecombe. Clearly the term ‘Combe’ is a descriptive element of the place-name as it describes the landscape feature. However, the suffix place-name element can also be a descriptive one such as ‘Oaken Combe‘ which roughly means the small valley where oak trees grow. In other cases the suffix element can be a personal one such as ‘Horton’s Combe‘ which suggests a small valley owned/frequented by somebody called Horton. In this case it was where Horton he gathered his cattle. There are then the Combes whose suffix adopts a nearby habitation or landscape feature such as ‘Fox Tor Combe‘ or the Combe near Fox Tor.

Traditionally moor folk tended to be wary of the Ferny Combes as these were places that the mischievous Piskies held their revels. They certainly weren’t the place to be after dark for fear of being Piskie-led and ending up God knows where in the morning. If you don’t believe in such nonsense then why is there a ‘Pixycombe’ just above Meavy, somebody must have seen them there? There is also one combe that by the sound of it one definitely wants to avoid – Evil Combe. This small combe runs down to the river Plym and was a place heavily worked by the tinners at one time and it’s here that the misleading possibly name comes from. Hemery suggests two possibilities from whence the place-names derives, both without any hint of any evil doings. Either the name derives from the old Celtic word ‘Iffel‘ which means ‘short or little water’ which certainly describes it admirably. Or, secondly the name derives from the word for a miner’s iron pick- ‘evil‘, again most apt as the combe was worked by the tinners. p.194. Another misleading name whose location can be found fairly close to Evil Combe is Drizzlecombe, this does not refer to somewhere that experiences a lot of wet weather. This name has mutated from the old one of Thrushel Combe, again probably due to the mis-interpretation of the local dialect.  A ‘thrushel’ is another name for a song thrush and in this case could well translate as the ‘Combe of the Thrush’ suggesting the birds were frequent vistors to the location.

Below is by no means a complete list of Dartmoor Combes but they have all been taken from books, magazines, documents or  maps. Without doubt there are many ‘Combe’ place-names that have been forgotten somewhere in the mists of time which is a shame. As you can see there are quite a few that have various alternative names which have basically arisen by spelling mistakes or the confusion caused by the local dialect.

BEARA COMBESX 553 679.
BECKAMOOR COMBESX 536 748.
BEEHIVE COMBESX 6660 7290 (AKA Cleave Combe, Clay Combe, Huccaby Cleave).
BELLAFORD COMBESX 651 768  (AKA Bellever Combe).
BELLEVER COMBE – SX 651 768 (AKA Bellaford Combe).
BOVEY COMBESX 765 812.
BOW COMBE – SX 618 877.
BROAD COMBESX 8003 7730.
CHERITON COMBESX 645 913.
CLAY COMBESX 659 726 (AKA Huccaby Cleave, Cleave Combe, Beehive Combe).
CLEAVE COMBESX 6660 7290 (AKA Clay Combe, Beehive Combe, Huccaby Cleave).
COUNTY COMBE – SX 628 705 (Another name for this stretch of The Swincombe).
COX LAKE COMBE  – SX 653 743.
CURLICOMBE – SX 696 835 (AKA Green Combe. Potato’s once grown here).
CUT COMBESX 592 834.
DEEP SWINCOMBE – SX 645 714.
DRESHEL(COMBE) – SX 590 671 (AKA Thrushelcombe and Drizzlecombe).
DRIZZLE(COMBE) – SX 590 671 (AKA Thrushelcombe. 72/434 and Dreshelcombe).
EASDON COMBE – SX 683 728.
EVIL COMBE – SX 605 679 (Ivel = little water).
FISHCOMBE – SX 564 908 .
FLAX COMBE – SX??? ???
FOX TOR COMBE – SX 630 702.
FOXHOLE COMBE – SX 546 854.
GIBBY COMBE – SX 686 687.
GREEN COMBE – SX 696 835 (AKA Curlicombe, Potato’s once grown here).
HEATHERCOMBE – SX 718 810.
HOLLOW COMBE – SX 623 793 (AKA Gawler’s Hole).
HORTON’S COMBE – SX 626 666 (Farmer Horton gathered cattle. AKA Horton’s Ford Bottom).
HOUND TOR COMBE – SX 752 788.
KNOCKING MILL COMBE – SX 637.
LADDERTORRE COMB – SX 569 699 (Steep sided valley headed by Lether Tor Bridge).
LOUGH TOR COMBE – SX 663 757.
MARDLE COMBE – SX 669 692.
MICHELCOMBE – SX 694 678.
MIDDLE COMBE – SX 7773 8203.
NARROW COMBE – SX 7870 7676
OAKEN COMBE – SX 679 749.
PETER TAVY COMBE – SX 5220 7770 (AKA Valley of Waterfalls).
PIXEYCOMBE – SX 5416 6757.
RED LAKE COMBE – SX 566 828.
ROUGHTOR COMBE – SX 598 913.
ROW TOR COMBE – SX 598 912.
SHADY COMBE – SX 535 656.
SHILSTONE COMBE – SX 657 898.
SMALLACOMBE – SX 554 668.
SPRIDDLE COMBE – SX 577 798.
THRUSHELCOMBE – SX 590 671 (AKA Dreshelcombe and Drizzlecombe).
TORRY COMBE – SX??? ???.
VERGYLAND COMBE – SX 595 868.
WALLA BROOK COMBE – SX 627 876 .
WATERN COMBE – SX 592 666.
WATERN COMBE – SX 625 866.
WEDLAKE COMBE – SX 542 778.
WHITTABARROW COMBE – SX 735 715 (Middle reach of Blackslade water).
YELLOWMEAD COMBE – SX 573 680.

Textref

Alford, D. P. 1894. The Tavistock Chimes. Tavistock: T. W. Greenfield.

Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale.

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