“… Now, through the moorland wind and driving shower,
I gaze upon the Dewerstone’s upsoaring torr,
Clambering o’er piles of granite rude and stern,
That shoulder up broad wastes of furze and fern,
While, between us and the gray Torr’s steep brow,
The foaming Cad tears its wild way below,
Roaring unheard – so deep the gorge, so loud
The blast that slings the rain and sweeps the cloud !-
“A change comes o’er the spirit of my dream” –
I wander now beside my native dream …”
For centuries the Dewerstone has been regarded as one of the ‘Dartmoor Gems’, especially by those in search of the ‘picturesque’. The rocky crags have attracted and inspired numerous poets, artists, and authors whose works can now be found in libraries and galleries around the world. Below are two accounts of visits to the Dewerstone by those in search of the dramatic landscapes so much desired by the wealthy travellers of the 19th century:
“The most remarkable cliff in the valley of the Cad is the Dewerstone. This huge mass of rick rises perpendicularly from the margin of the stream to an immense height. Its whole surface is jagged and seamed in the manner so peculiar to granite which makes the beholder imaging that the stones are regularly piled on each other. It is profusely overgrown with ivy and other creeping plants which spread their pleasant foliage over its shattered front, as if anxious to bind up the wounds that time and tempest have inflicted. To add to the striking effect of its appearance, numerous hawks, ravens, &c., may be seen floating around its rugged crest and filling the air with their hoarse screams. He who has sufficient nerve to gaze from the summit of Dewerstone into the frightful depth beneath, will be amply remunerated for the trouble which may be experienced in ascending. The rocks immediately beneath the view seem as if they had been struck at once by a thousand thunderbolts, and appear only prevented from bursting asunder by chains of ivy. A few wild flowers are sprinkled about in the crevices of the cliff, – tufts of broom wave like golden banners in the passing breeze, and these, with here and there a mountain ash clinging halfway down the precipice, impart a wild animation to the spot“, Jane Loudon, 1848.
“The ascent is made easy by a tramway, formed by the granite miners; for the Dewerstone Rock supplied from a large quarry in its side, the granite of which Blackfriars Bridge is built. As we stood gazing up at it, our host told us how, in order to open the quarry, the men had to be at first hung over the cliff in iron stirrups with chains round their waists, till they had excavated a good foothold, and we shuddered at the thoughts of the risk thus run. But they made a good tramway downwards, rather winding round the cliff, and of course, when the work ceased, left it for the landlord, as well as a wooden house erected for the foreman of the works; but this last has been nearly destroyed by mischievous sightseers from Plymouth and the neighbourhood, who were allowed to visit the Dewerstone, and repaid the courtesy by breaking up everything they could.
Every step of the ascent up the Dewerstone reveals a new beauty to the eye. We look down on woods from which rises the thin blue smoke of the charcoalburner’s hut, and out beyond on the dancing river, on fertile lands and distant sea perfect landscape. We reached a broad path running round the huge cliff, where seats are placed, and gazed out with enraptured eyes on the lovely scenery; the sea distinctly visible; and from the summit (called the Eagle’s Nest), we were told the Eddystone lighthouse can be seen on clear days. We did not mount to the summit, but could quite believe what a sweep of landscape it commands“, Laura Valentine, 1899.
It has been suggested that the Dewerstone has been used by man from as early as the Neolithic period when it is thought a settlement or Tor Enclosure was located there. In 1960 a climber found a Bronze Age pottery cup on a crag known as the Crows Butress and there is evidence of a Bronze Age hut circle on the top of the promontory. On the opposite side of the river are also remains of Bronze Age field systems which suggest the area was settled at this time. Therefore it appears that the period of occupancy ran from the Neolithic through to the Bronze Age with suggestions of it extending through to the Iron Age. Several writers state that the promontory was an Iron Age hillfort but it is likely that as with White Tor the early defences have been attributed to a much later period. In much later times the area has been the scene of various industrial activities which ranged from quarrying, ferro-ceramic mining and mica pits all of which have left their marks on the landscape.
This huge crag is named after Dewer, the dreaded Wisht Huntsman who in other guises is none other than Satan. Not only does Dewer terrorise the moor at night as he hunts with his dreaded pack of phantom hounds but he haunts the lofty heights of The Dewerstone. Appearing as a tall figure dressed in satanic black he would lure or chase poor unsuspecting travellers to the highest crag and then disappear leaving them to fall to their deaths straight into the waiting jaws of his spectral hounds below. It is said that following a deep snow many years ago the traces of a cloven hoof alongside a human footprint were found leading up to the highest summit of the rock. As mentioned in the descriptions above the crag was supposed to have been the location of a golden eagle’s eerie sometime in the past, a fact born out by the edge of the crag being known as ‘Eagle Rock’. There is also the tale that during a snowy winter’s day some peasants were out rabbit hunting when they found some tracks in the snow. To their dreaded amazement they realised what they were looking at were a set of naked human footprints alongside which ran those of cloven hooves. Against there better judgement they decided to follow the tracks which led them up to the summit of the hill. Having reached the top the demonic footprints suddenly stopped, whoever or whatever made them seemed to have completely disappeared into thin air? To them the explanation was simple, the Devil had led some poor soul to the top of the hill and then sent them to their death into the depths below.
William Crossing, in his book, Gems in a Granite Setting, notes how the Dewerstone and the woods below were once the haunt and inspiration for the famous poet, Noel Carrington. After his death it was proposed to erect a monument to him on the top of the Dewerstone and an architect called George Wightwick even produced a design, but for some reason the project was never completed. Crossing does state however that there is a rock on the summit that has the following simple inscription carved on it: “Carrington – Obit Septembris MDCCCXXX“. There are also some more inscriptions on another rock which read; F. Widcer, and F. Woodridge along with W Ford, no doubt made by visitors with nothing better to do?
The crags around Dewerstone Hill are noted for rock climbs of varying degrees of difficulty. Over the years they have been the site of several tragic accidents where climbers have fallen to their deaths. In the July of 1961 a climber from Plymouth fell 200 feet to his death from Dewerstone Rock. A similar accident occurred in 1996 when a climber from Ivybridge fell and fractured his skull. In the March of 2003 a Somerset man fell to his death from the rock and was followed in the June of that year by a Brighton man who dropped 75 feet to his death. In 2008 a woman who was said to be an experienced climber was another person to end their life on the Dewerstone as was another woman on 2009.