The Lakes of Dartmoor
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There are many 'lakes' on Dartmoor, in fact so many that one could be forgiven for thinking that perhaps it should have been known as the Lake District. But as always things on the moor or not always as they seem, certainly in the case of the 'lakes' or when is a lake not a lake? Why, when it's on Dartmoor of course! It may be as well to let two of the more noted Dartmoor writers explain:
'Many of the tributary streams on Dartmoor are called lakes, as Dark Lake, Red Lake, Hook Lake', (Crossing, 1990, p.23).
'Visitors to Dartmoor are often puzzled to find this term applied to running rather than standing water. I believe its use to indicate a stream of which the source was once a small lake or tarn, just as originally it indicated the source itself, for in almost every instance the physical character of the water-head is suggestive of a lake bed. These, one and all, have been drained by the medieval tinners during their streaming operations... In many cases, the tinners forsook the old names and spoke of these drained basins as Dry or Dead Lakes...', (Hemery, 1983, p.57).
Below is a list of the Dartmoor Lakes that over the years I have found in books, documents or on maps, by no means is this a complete list and I am certain that many more have been overlooked or the names lost in time. As can be seen the first element of the placenames fall into two main types; descriptive or personal. The descriptive elements often describe the physical appearance, location or other associated features of the lake. Whereas the few places with personal name elements will refer to someone's name, probably a land owner or possibly a tinner who owned a nearby sett. Just to confuse thins a bit more, quite often the streams known as lakes will also have an alternative name, ie. brook or stream.
As can be seen from above, many of the lakes have names whose first element refers to a colour. Red is descriptive of the colour of the water and is caused by the presence of limonite which during dry periods can be seen clinging to stones on the bed of the lake. It comes from the oxidation of ferrous carbonate which in turns derives from upland bogs. Dark once again alludes to the colour of the water and occurs mainly in wet periods when there is a lot of peat washed into the lake which gives a dark tint to the flow. Green suggests a lake where there is a large amount of algae or weed present which once again gives the water a green hue. Pink would describe the colour of the granite which lies on the bed of the lake such as in Pinckes Lake which flows through naturally occurring pink granite on the south moor. As Hemery noted above, any lake with a Dry or Dead prefix alludes to the fact that due to the work of the tinners its head waters have been drained thus leaving a dry or dead lake. In some cases 'dead' may simply mean that the flow of water is very slow and sluggish. Some of these will in wet conditions be rejuvenated and actually flow with water. Then there are lake names which are suggestive of the presence of local flora and fauna such as Wood, Birch, Thorn, Crane (heron) and fish.
Some of the lakes have prefixes that suggest the location with in the landscape such as East, Eastern, Western. Yonder, Left and Inner. Hook Lake may well fall into this category as the old word Hoc means 'hollow' and that certainly is where it starts life, in a hollow. Spanish Lake is a strange one, tradition has it that when news of the approaching Spanish Armada reached some of the local folk they all dashed up to the moor to bury their valuables. The area where this was meant to have happened then became known as Spanish Lake. Venney Lake is another example of a topographical element insomuch as it derived from the word Venn which meant 'marshy'. Likewise Smallacombe Lake would suggest that it starts at or runs through a 'small combe or valley' and the same applies to Bellever Combe Lake.
So there we have it, but a few of the confusing Dartmoor Lakes along with some explanations as to how they earned their names. I will, if and when I come across any new lake names add them to this list.
Crossing, W. 1990. Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor, Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor, London: Hale Publishing.