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Dartmoor 1867

1867e

 

Dartmoor 1867 – it could well be the name of a strong beer but in this case it is the story of one man’s expedition over Dartmoor in 1867. It is a delightful article which was published in the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette on the 10th of January, 1867. The gentleman’s name was Mr. Horace Waddington and as you will see his journey provided him with many insights into Dartmoor during that period. I will now let him tell his lengthy story in his own words, if nothing else it’s a good lesson in Latin, I don’t mean to be patronising by including the various Latin translations but they were for my benefit as much as anything else. You can also take it as read that things like the two Pig and Poker inns are fictitious names along with some surnames.

He that will not merry be
With a pretty girl by the fire,
I wish he was on top of Dartmoor,
A stugged in the mire!

“Government work had brought me to Exeter, and a desire, strong and sudden, came over me to see Dartmoor – Dartmoor, which I had heard of since my childhood, but which I had never yet visited. The long drought offered, as I was well aware, an exceptionally good chance for penetrating into the heart of that grand but desolate region of mountain and morass. Maps and guide-books were, without delay consulted, and, with two friends agreeing to accompany me, we decided on prolonging our excursions to Plymouth. The village of Chagford was to be our first mark, and as a time-table informed us that Green’s omnibus would start for that place at five p.m., from the Pig and Poker, we at once inquired our way to the hostelry. Finding there were two inns rejoicing in the aforesaid uncommon and euphonious (pleasing to the ear) title, we tried first the one in St. Stidwell’s. The only vehicle thence to Chagford was, it appeared, a small cart at five a.m., and a most obliging waiter assured us that no other conveyance whatever ran from Exeter to Chagford. Nothing daunted us by this disheartening intelligence, we strolled off to the other end of the town, and discovered Pig and Poker No. 2 in a small public house of the humblest class: this did not look promising, but we learnt, on inquiry, that Mr. Joshua Squale’s van would call here en passant (pass quickly) at five o’clock; as for Green’s omnibus, it had been defunct these two years. Should we see Mr. Squale, and secure places? No, not unless we went to the Silver Toasting Fork, in Mint Lane, whence the van started, so thither at length we somewhat dejectedly repaired; nor were the spirits of the party raised on finding that the van would be loaded principally with luggage, and drawn by two cart-horses would probably consume about four hours in accomplishing the sixteen miles of road. However, after due consultation, the van was accepted as cheaper than posting; and into this bargain, it would be a new experience. Some ale before starting was absolutely necessary after the fatigues of van hunting. These little preliminaries adjusted the horses were put to and the passengers took their seats, and off we set down High Street, across the bridge, and so, after calling at Pig and Poker No. 2, we fairly launched on the Okehampton turnpike-road.
But here our fellow travellers and our conveyance deserve a line or two. A huge tarpaulin-covered van, loaded with at least half a ton of miscellaneous goods, groceries, harness, ironmongery, casks, spades, fish, hoes rakes, a scythe or two, flour sacks, lump sugar, and boxes and bags of every description; in front there was a kind of bench arrangement, which would accommodate five persons (?) , that said parties should require no room to speak of for disposal of feet and legs; while two more unfortunates might sit on either side of the proprietor, and share with him the jolting shafts by way of footstool. Opposite myself sat a stout and comely Devonshire lass, ‘a maiden of (not) blushing fifteen’ exactly, but of much self possession and considerable communicativeness. “What are the objects of the passion of love?” demands the querist in an old fashioned play. “Youth, beauty, and clean lined,” is the quaint reply. I am bound to admit that my vis-a-vis was wanting in this latter particular, and so not likely to be detrimental to the peace of mind of any fellow voyagers. Next to her was a hale, ruddy old man, apparently a well to do labourer or small farmer, with cheek wrinkled and rosy as the apple he was munching. My two comrades, one tall and exceedingly thin, the other remarkably short and stout, completed with myself a quintet, who occupied the ‘inner circle’. An elderly dame, with brilliant eyes and dark iron-grey hair was perched upon the front seat, her back to me, a large basket on one arm, and a small bag or sack over the other. This old lady and the farmer were respectively addressed as Miss Chicksey and Mr. Drills by our driver, who was evidently well acquainted with all his fares, excepting only ourselves.
We hadn’t long started, when Robinson (my tall friend) complains to me in private of the smell of the stale fish pervading the vehicle, “so very strong, you know, my dear Jones, it’s really quite distressing;” but shortly discovering that the cushion to his right arm consists of a bundle of bloaters, none of the freshest, he summarily ejects the parcel and tosses it into the Cimmerian depths of the luggage behind, after which the smell becomes slightly less intolerable. On we jog, the horses managing a lumbering trot whenever the ground is level, but so heavy is their load that each downhill necessitates a locked wheel; each uphill, however slight, again reduces them to a walk; and as the road after the first couple of miles becomes a mere series of ridges, progress is but lamentably slow. The sun sets in a right gorgeous and golden splendourful fall in our eyes as we tend westwards. Half an hours interval of dim religious light – the ‘gloaming’ – and then the earth’s ‘silver sister world,’ a bright harvest moon, rises silently and slowly behind, shooting weird and fitful gleams of cold light upon us, through the chinks and crannies of our rugged tarpaulin.
Finding my legs cramped some while before, I had essayed to share with elderly Miss Chinksey and the driver the doubtful honours of the front seat, but had desisted on the old party’s betraying extreme wrath at my proposal, while she had ever since retired into seclusion, by holding before her her face a confectioners paper bag, which she manoeuvred after the fashion of a sulky Spanish belle with her fan. My comfreres (colleagues) now in whispers adjured me not to let slip so golden an occasion for hearing a little pure Devonshire from our young neighbour; so I took an opportunity to inquire of her sotto voce (under the breath) whether the old lady was at all queer, or how I had offended her. Here was evidently some deep and mysterious joke, as the stout young woman whispered to me, amid hardly suppressed laughter, that Mr. Drills and Miss Chicksey, were not; “over an’ above good friends,” (not that I  can eye to this day why she should have have poured out the vials of her wrath on innocent me): but it was not until the next day that we were accidentally enlightened as to why the belli teterrima cassa (act of war). No wonder that Mr. Drills and Miss Chicksey were not over and above good friends, as it came out that the spinster had muleted (fined) Mr. D. of “forty pounds, as ai’se a heared tell,” on a breach of promise in a marriage case.

It wasn’t until eight o’clock that we reached the hamlet of Cheriton Cross, not ten miles from Exeter. We were very cold, and as the van was to halt there for half an hour while the remaining six and a half miles, were Mr. Squales declared, “a dawn right benefut,” of bad road for carriages, we declared nem. com. (all in agreement) on preferring our own legs to the cart horses; so, after one nip of cognac all round, we started off at a brisk pace. A mile more on the turnpike road, then sharp to the left at Crockernwell, up and down sundry appallingly steep hills, and up the worst hill of all into the ancient village of Drewsteignton, by some derived from Drogo and Teignton, lord of the manor, temp, (at the time of) Henry II., by others interpreted as Druid’s Town on the Teign, “who shall decide when doctors disagree.” Moonlight enabled the tall Robinson to decipher a signpost; and after a few minutes spent in contemplating the picturesque village place or green, with an old church tower standing out black and solemn against the night sky, we resumed our road. A fresh succession of hill and dale, an occasional pause to view over gate or through hedge gap, some exquisite picture of the vast undulating land, which stretched away into the shadowy distance, doubly vast and grand and mysterious, seeming beneath the dim glimpses of the moor.

As we wended our way, pace gradually slackened as feet became sore, under the influence of roads which seemed to have been last mended before the flood: roads three inches deep in sandy dust, freely mingled with loose round stones the size of a walnut, too small to avoid in such uncertain light, and troublesome enough to make it a trial to keep the third commandment. But everything has an end, and right glad were we at length, about a quarter past ten, to reach a long straggling street of whitewashed cottages, terminating in a quaint marketplace, flanked by the venerable church, opposite which – happy sight! – stood an inn of inviting appearance; an old fashioned tenement, with granite mullioned windows, and spacious ivied porch, with purvise room over it. Gladly we rang for admittance, and, after a little delay, for half past ten is still late at night in Chagford, bolt and bar were unfastened, and we were shown into a snug little guest chamber. A hearty supper was demolished by each, and by half past eleven the van had arrived and our modest knapsacks with it, on which we beat a hasty retreat to our rooms.

Viz Aurora diem,” (see the day dawn?), when I sprang up, and rushed to the old latticed window. What sort of day should we have? and, bright through it was then the fast-scudding fleecy clouds, and a dim look about the horizon, convinced me that rain was not very far off, we must hope for the best. Our inn had been built by Judge Whyddon, in James I.’s reign, as a dower house to Whyddon Park, situated some two miles off: and, as I dressed the immense thickness of the wall, the up and down oak floor, the low ceiling, all made me reflect how many and varied scenes this old house had perchance witnessed. Here had many a widow retired from the ‘big house;’ some mayhap, to end their days in thoughts of past happiness, and hopes of future reunion with a well-loved lord; others, as likely, to live a gayer, merrier life than ever, to angle for, and perhaps secure a second love, nothing loath to risk the chance of “declining on a lower range of feeling;” here in the porch, had died the young, the brave, the handsome Royalist, Sydney Godolphin, “a young man,” says Claredon, “of impeccable parts.” But a truce to these dreams, as a shout from the adjoining guest room summoned me to breakfast; and our trio fell to work on a pile of unexceptional mutton chops, backed up by tea and coffee, hot buns and honey, and choicest bread and butter, provided by mine host of the Three Crowns.

Ten o’clock had been fixed for our start, but it was just twenty minutes past ere flasks had been replenished, a most trifling bill paid, and we sallied forth, accompanied by James Perrott, wheelright by trade, by profession a guide, who had been engaged overnight to convey us as far as Cranmere Pool, and, in case of thick weather, right across to Lydford, which was our mark on the other side of the moor. A miles pleasant walking through narrow Devonshire lanes brought the party to Holy Street, once, says tradition a Via Sacra (Holy way) of the Druids. Our path, bordered by a clear rapid mill leat, swarming with troutlets, and running through a long avenue hoary oaks, brings us to a rustic bridge and water-mill, so grand a picture that we wondered not to find a couple of artists at full work, and greatly I envied them so lovely a subject and the time to bestow on it; but our guide bade us on (this was Holy Street Mill). As we breasted a steep hill, he pointed out, built into the wall, the remains of the old village cross of Chagford, which some former vandal lord of the manor had thus appropriated. At Lee bridge, the South Teign was crossed, emblossomed in woods, not twenty yards from its confluence, with the North Teign. Both streams rise in Dartmoor, the one near Sittaford Tor, the other close to Cranmere. Presently we turn to the right, and crossing the North Teign by a dilapidated bridge, enter the woods of Gidleigh Park: close by is a cavern said to be connected by subterraneous passages with the old castle on Gidleigh Hill above. As  we debouch on a green lawn, sloping to the riverbank a pretty villa comes into view: but alas! a glance shows that desolation reigns around; even the French windows have been left open, and, cattle entering the once elegant drawing room, have defaced walls and floor, knocked about the moudlings, and smashed to pieces the white marble mantelpiece! What marvel if we turn round gladly to gaze over the more distant scene, across the green lawn, river-fringed, to the grand mountains beyond; while close beneath us, three huge granite blocks cropping out of the turf, one of them supporting another transverse mass of stone, gave tokens of Druid worshippers of old. Traversing the park, we obtained a glimpse of the Puggie or Puckie Stone (query Pixy Stone), another vast granite rock, rising up near the Teign side; next, at a little distance, we sighted the ruined keep, and the church of Gidleigh; a little further, and our rough lane opened by a gate upon Dartmoor…

Leaving behind us the gate and last enclosure (an unpoetic turnip field) we march almost due west, the least shade of southerly intermixed, over the undulating moorland; pausing again presently to glance back over the varied panorama eastwards; in the far distance Haldon Hill by Exeter, and Exmoor more northerly; nearer the jagged outlying redoubts of Dartmoor, and nestling under one of them the vill and grey granite tower of Chagford, as foreground, the steep birch-fringed slopes of Gidleigh, while on our right rises Castor ( Kes Tor) – grim, dark desolate. As we descend Scorhill Down, our guide points out the wondrous ring of stones known as Scorhill Circle. This is a an admirable example of a Druid hypæthral temple; its diameter is one hundred feet, and some twenty of the rude granite blocks are still erect, varying in height from eight to four feet. Hard by, to the left, overhanging the South Teign, lies a singular granite block, thirty feet long, and so perforated as to present the appearance of a cylindrical trough hollowed out in the stone (The Tolmen Stone). Some have supposed is a Druid lustral basin, others class it with those sacred Tolmens, or ‘holed stones.’ possessed of marvellous curative powers, the most celebrated example of which, at Constantine, near Falmouth, which I have visited.

Onwards! the Willy Brook (Walla Brook) is crossed by a primitive bridge, one ponderous slab of moorstone fifteen feet long and nearly two thick. Onwards! and the rounded but towering outline of Cawsand Beacon (Cosdon Beacon) is disclosed on our right. Onwards still! at a right good pace, and well against collar, we must mount the steep shoulder of Watern Tor, which for some while has been looming straight ahead. “Ah! that was a breather! the sharpest bust we shall have today,” say Perrott, and all somewhat breathless we vote a brief halt under the lee of one of the towering piles of granite, which mount guard over this lonely and isolated peek. Time 12.20; distance a good six miles; not bad walking in two hours over such ground!

Snugly sheltered from the now violent south-easterly gale, we took the minutes for a social pipe and a trifling ‘wet’. Perrott’s flask met with general approbation; not for its contents (I had brandy of my own) but for the ingenious device by which you could drink without stopping, and without trouble, or danger of spilling. Through the cup a slender silver tube descends almost to the bottom of the flask; when the cap is screwed tight, no liquor escapes up the orifice of the tube, which is too small to admit air to take its place; but unscrew the cap, air can then enter, and an imbibition may be made, either momentarily or prolonged, with much comfort and satisfaction. I would strongly recommend these flasks to sportsmen but, unluckily, I know not where they are to be bought; our guide’s had been presented to him by a gentleman.

Watern Tor is one of the most remarkable on Dartmoor. The granite here crops out in two principal masses, the most northern of which, rising to a height of twenty or thirty feet from the turf, appears at a little distance to be pierced by a large hole, whence it is known as the Thirlstone. On closer inspection, however, it is seen to consist of two separate piles, almost touching near their summits, but with bases far enough apart for a horseman to ride between. The rock here is horizontally weathered, thus giving a semblance of stratification, or of narrow level courses of masonry. Our guide’s mind was perfectly made up on the geology of the place: “Theu du tell I as how them meurstones was set up laike by a gert faire fro’ inside o’ th’ earth, but I do know better, ‘twadna jist noa sich thing, fur ye see them marks was mead by water, when the fleud did wach all over th’ meur, an th’ crumbly bits of th’ stoan was washut dawn th’ hullside an’ th’ hard bits was lef’ stanning, but thai was all knockut an’ brackut about like them here. That’s haw it was, sur!”From this point a noble assemblage of Tors is visible to the north: Wild Tor, Rifle Tor (not Rival Tor, as erroneously entered on the Ordnance map), Steeperton Tor, and further off, Belstone, so named, sat antiquarians, from the Oriental god Belus, or Bel.

Making a fresh departure, we quickly descended, still westwards; recrossed the Willy Brook, here a mere rill, and mounted the opposite slope, known as White Horse or Newtake Hill, which unlike its neighbours, is unmarked by a tor. Here we found ourselves among the turf-ties, as they are here called. In the turf cutters’ headquarters, but it was too late in the year to find men at work there. A low turf-hut was left on one side, and, the hill fairly surmounted, we were on the edge of that extensive bog which surrounds on all sides, for a radius of about a mile, the mystic pool of Cranmere, a spot which, owing to this marshy isolation, and its small size, is most difficult to hit upon. Many the disappointed tourists who have turned away unable to discover it; but we had an excellent guide, and, following him, commenced the most toilsome part of our day’s march, the transit, namely of this dreary bog. The long-continued drought here stood us in good stead; many spots which, in wet weather, would be anything but locus standi, (capacity to bring an action) gave us now good smooth walking for a few paces, though, it must be confessed, that the usual method of progression was a half jump, or a long stride from one hummock of heath or reeds to the next. In strict Indian file we threaded our way, following closely on our guide, though not exactly in his footsteps; to do that across a bog is suicidal, for then the treacherous soil soil, still quaking across a bog the predecessors feet gives way entirely under poor No. 2; the correct method is to plant your feet on fresh ground close to your guide’s tracks, not in them.  Advancing along an elevated ridge or watershed, we passed between the springs of Dart and Taw, within two hundred yards of each other: and after a mile of fatiguing and dreary floundering, “Thar ut be, sur,” said Perrott suddenly: and there indeed it was – the famed Cranmere Pool, the Lake of Cranes, a dried up hollow in the black bog, some two hundred yard round, with a miniature cairn of stones on its edge, to which we walked dryshod through what should have been the Pool. This little cairn our guide had dubbed his post office: here, for no less than twelve years, he had kept amongst the stones a bottle into which all visitors to the spot were requested to drop their cards, and he enumerated, with some pride, a bishop, a lord, several artists, whom he had guided thither. But not even in this seclusion had the poor bottle been safe – it had actually been stolen!

From Cranmere Pool rises the West Okement, which flowing north by Okehampton, afterwards joins the Torridge; and the desolate bogs surrounding it, no less than for well-known rivers have their sources – the Dart, the Teign, the Tavy, and the Taw, all within a mile from the tarn… It was a grand and impressive, thoroughly desolate scene. Not a living creature beside ourselves, bird, beast, or even insect to be seen! The sole token of life, where a fox’s track in the black soil betrayed his recent visit. Meanwhile heavy laden clouds, descending in a thick mist, were stealthily and silently enveloping the moor around. We seemed banished from the world. We plucked a fern or two, and some lycopodium, (Club Moss) or “Cranmere bogs,” as our guide called it, and resumed our march across the morass. As soon as we were fairly quit of it, luncheon time was proclaimed, and all, throwing themselves on the heather, brought out their several stores; bread and cold meat quickly disappeared; after which Perrott produced cake, homemade and heavy, befitting the ilia dura messoram (you’ll have to phone a friend), while a bottle of claret was both light and refreshing. How heartily the refection was enjoyed. The mystic pool had been found, and was now a fait accompli (woo, woo  I know that one – accomplished); and what with the keen pure exhilarating air, the vigorous exercise, and the grateful sense hunger appressed, all were in jovial spirits. Pipes were lit, and some good stories went round…

Before starting afresh our cards were inserted in the empty claret bottle, which was placed in such a position as to invite the attention of the next passer-by. Thence forward our mark was Hare Tor, bearing due west, of which a momentary glimpse was obtained. Directly after, the mists closing in thicker than ever, made us thankful we had engaged a guide; some portion of confidence was owing also to my faithful companion and inexpensive guide – a good pocket compass. Passing under Great Kneeset Hill on the right, and crossing a tiny nameless beck (the Brim Brook), we ascended Amicombe Hill, two thousand feet high, on whose slopes were visible some Dartmoor ponies, rough, wild, and shaggy. Amicombe is surrounded by a fine group of tors, which disclosed themselves one buy one, a grand sight as the envious mists again rolled off; to the north Links Tor and Dunnagoat (Dun-a-coet Saxon for “underwood”); to the west Sharpton Clatter, and Hare Tor; southwards, on our left, the infant Tavy winding through Tavy Wane, and bound for ancient Tavistock; beyond it, Watern Oak, a solitary tree, backed by the abrupt crags and lofty peak of Fur Tor; while in the far distance were the jagged summits of Cocks Tor and Mis tor, overhanging the dreary prison at Prince’s Town.

From Amicombe the traveller descends to cross Rattlebrook, a tributary of the Tavy, whose waters are stained a deep coffee colour from the soil; and then in turn he must ascend the lofty ridge crowned by Hare tor and Sharp Tor; in fact the nursery rhyme; “Here we go up, up, and – Here we go down, down, down!” is a first rate description of Dartmoor walking. After a pause on the wild boulders of Sharp Tor, we commenced our descent on the Vale of the Lyd, which now, like the Promised Land, lay stretched beneath us, while beyond were seen the lofty ranges of the Cornish Moors. A deserted tin mine (Wheal Frederick) was passed, and some ancient workings ascribed by our guide Perrott to the “old men,” for so the miners of Phœnician and Saxon times are called by the present natives. A row of lower tors ensued -Arn Tor (Arms Tor), Brae Tor (Brat Tor) and Doe Tor – after which a still deeper descent, strewn with blocks of broken granite, “facilis descensus Averni,” (its easy to take the downward path) says the poet; but after four or five hours of Dartmoor walking this sort of downhill is not such very easy work. Huwee! Huwee! and a leash of golden plovers rose suddenly close to me, and skimming along for thirty yards again settled among the rocks; how I longed for my trusty old double-barrel, and old friend that has served me these fifteen years; but “want must be my master,” as the proverb says.

As we go along, I chat with our guide, a shrewd and careful observer of nature, of men, and of manners; among other subjects we get on the cultivation of the moor. “Does it ever pay?” I asked. “Well,” said he, “there be many a foolk ha’ traid ut, but ‘ceptin ’bout the edges o’ ‘th moor, ut don’t mostly pai. The moor her do’ant laikes to be cut up, a’ ploughed upon, an’ then her du sai ‘Thee ‘et scratchut mai fasce, ai ‘s scratch thee’s pockut; an her moastly du scrath a hoale in th’ pockut of un.” With this we had reached the Lyd, here dividing the granite from the adjoining metamorphic slates. A water wheel some thirty feet in diameter, ruinous buildings, and perilous old shafts, here mark another shaft abandoned by miners (Wheal Mary Emma). We crossed a stream, and traversing Highdown, entered once more by a gate upon the civilised world, sitting down somewhat weary in the clean little parlour of the Dartmoor Inn We had done our distance, fourteen or fifteen miles, in four hours and three-quarters (not including forty minutes consumed in stoppages), which considering the ground, was not bad: Perrott thought it well walked when done in five hours. The Dartmoor Inn is a mile from Lydford, but is a better hostelry than will be found in the village itself. We had two large jugs of freshest milk; for this, with bread and cheese, and a bottle of lemonade, the large sum of one shilling was demanded, a charge which we recommend to the imitation of landlords, the envy and astonishment of travellers in general.

After half an hour’s rest we resolved to visit Lydford village, bridge and cascade, and so to find our way to the station, on the newly opened line between Tavistock and Launceston. Lydford castle and church you see in passing; the former a solid square keep, with walls of enormous thickness, a ruin for two hundred years past. Though Lydford itself was an important town so early as under the Heptarchy, possessing a mint, which worked in the reign of Ethelred II, yet the castle was not built until after the conquest. By a charter of Edward I, it was constituted the Stannary prison, where alone offenders against the Stannary (or tin miners) laws were to be confined; and Edward II bestowed it on his favourite Peirs de Gaveston. The proceedings of the Stannary Court were so arbitrary and unjust as to give rise to the proverb; “First hang and draw, Then hear the case, is Lydford Law.

A quarter-mile more brought us to Lydford bridge, which, by a single arch, spans a gloomy cleft or crevasse seventy feet deep. At the bottom of this may be just descried the river, whirling and eddying along almost in darkness betwixt closely overhanging rocks. Some terrible incidents have occurred in connection with this chasm; among others, the fate of Captain Willaims, many years ago quartered at Exeter, who rode down by night to this spot, and destroyed himself by leaping the bridge. A less dismal anecdote is told oh a horseman arriving at  Lidford from Tavistock one dark night, to the astonishment of the natives, who clamorously inquired how he had come, as their bridge had been broken down that day by a flood. The bewildered traveller could only recall to mind that his horse, a spirited hunter, had taken a sudden and violent spring as he rode along in the dark. Imaging the man’s sensations on being shown next morning the abyss over which his steed’s strength and pluck had safely borne him in the night. (see the Lydford Leap). To obtain a really good view of the bridge, one should clamber some way down the deep sides of the ravine; but we were in a hurry, and therefore fain to hasten on another mile or more to visit the celebrated cascade. Crossing the newly made line, and passing by an old mill, we were brought up by a toll-gate which was, however, speedily opened by an aged crone of unpleasing aspect, on the magic “open sesame,” of a silver coin. Threading our way through a picturesque copse, we came suddenly on a little spot, a veritable coign of vantage whence to whence to view a scene exquisite indeed. We were looking down on the foaming Lyd, roaring and tumbling along the wooden glen below, while on the right a tributary rivulet sprang down over a ledge of slate, more than one hundred feet in depth (the White Lady Falls). Beyond the sleeping woodlands were Lydford church and the ruined keep, backed by the ragged outline and towering peaks of Dartmoor.

1867f
The End, Lydford Station

But we had to quicken our departure, for time, tide and trains wait for no man – at least in most parts of the country, though ’tis true I have heard of West Cornwall railways where the train stops on occasion to enable the stokers and guards to gather mushrooms, to pick up one passenger’s stray hat, or to drop another “handy” to his home; but this by the way. Suffice it that we duly reached the newly built station, perched on the very edge of Blackdown, a lonely pet moor, where a solitary light gleamed through the now rapidly-deepening twilight. A prolonged shriek and the vapour god is upon us; in humbler words, a very wheezy engine appears, dragging after it our wished for train. We enter, and at Mary Tavy, the next station our excellent and amusing guide wishes us good ‘een, and starts to walk back the same night solus cum solo, (alone with the alone), via Prince’s Town and over the moor to his home at Chagford. Tavistock comes next famous as a stannary town, famous for its abbey, famous for the glorious scenery around it all sides. An hour’s run past Horrabridge, and through the lovely vale of Bickley (which, however, it was too dark to see), brought us safely to Plymouth by seven o’clock, just as the threatened rain began to fall heavily. There  Harvey’s Hotel shortly received three travellers, tired indeed, and footsore, but entirely agreed that they had seldom,, if ever, in their lives, more heartily enjoyed an autumn’s day walk.” – The Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, January 11th, 1867.

Clearly to make this trip today things would be much different; try getting a meal and bed at the Three Crowns at ten thirty any night, fancy mutton chops, hot buns and honey for breakfast, and forget all thoughts of catching a train from Lydford. However, much of the landscape through which they tramped would have changed very little, admitted there is now evidence of the military’s use of the northern moor. I would also add that the chances of not seeing a soul around Cranmere Pool are pretty remote.

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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