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Mists of Time

Mists of Time

A while back I received an email from a lady in the Netherlands, she was researching prehistoric burial sites and rituals of Britain and wanted to visit some Dartmoor examples. She asked if I could suggest some places and somebody who could show here around the moor. There was a slight problem insomuch as she only had one day to accomplish her task which considering the large number of prehistoric sites dotted around Dartmoor was kind of difficult. It just so happened that for ages I had been meaning to revisit the Lakehead area and in particular the kistvaens. So to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ I offered to guide her around some sites. As time was a limiting factor I decided that the best course of action was to visit the Merrivale Complex and also Lakehead Hill with its associated kists etc. The rationale being that both places were close together and had some good examples of virtually every prehistoric burial and ritual monument.

So the date was arranged for yesterday (July 18th 2012) and all boded well, the weather forecast was, for once, quite reasonable with no mention of rain or any other adverse weather conditions. After the mist and torrential rain of my previous Dartmoor visit three days previous this was good news. The trip down to Dartmoor lived up to all that the ‘Boys from the met’ had promised, a bit cloudy but dry as a bone which considering all the rainy days we had experienced seems totally alien. We met up as pre-arranged and headed off up to the moor but upon reaching Okehampton we were greeted with a thick blanket of mist and the sickening patter of raindrops on the windscreen. My heart sank, it was definitely not was what required, this poor lady had travelled all the way from the Netherlands to see Dartmoor’s finest and I knew only too well what was waiting ahead. Sure enough, by the time the top of Pork Hill had been reached the mist was down as was the rain. At this stage I was seriously considering finding a new interest like indoor bowls or some other hobby that was not weather dependent and far away from Dartmoor. Luckily, Linda (the lady from the Netherlands) was made of sterner stuff and was quite happy to go stumbling about in the miasma and rain in search of the monuments that were somewhere out there.

Anyone who has visited Merrivale will know that navigation is easy, just follow the leat and it will take you to the stone rows and then simply head south until you meet an enclosure wall where nearby will be the stone circle and menhir. I had previously mentioned that it might be a good idea to bring a waterproof coat and footwear just in case of the unlikelihood that it should rain – yeah right! Unfortunately it seems that Linda’s new waterproof boots were two different sizes one of which was too small, at this stage I was beginning to think whether or not things could get any worse? But to same any embarrassment keep that bit to yourself.

Off we slopped across the sodden moor to the stone rows which without warning loomed out of the dense mist. I was hoping to point out the surrounding landscape and the possible associations the monument shared with it. No hope, it was even impossible to see even halfway down the 600ft stone row. Did I say earlier that things couldn’t get any worse, well it was at this point that Linda’s camera decided not to work. Now bear in mind this camera has been all around the world taking fantastic shots, even in the arctic-like conditions of Lapland, without a hitch. I think the problem was that it had never been introduced to a Dartmoor mist and it’s best mate – the rain. Even the local herd of cattle came ambling down the row to see what was going on and the mist did it’s usual trick of greatly exaggerating their size, much to Linda’s alarm. Having reached the two blocking stones that stand at the very western end of the rows we were discussing their purpose when a large cow and a couple of sheep appeared on the scene. For some strange reason they reached level with the blocking stones and simply stopped dead in their tracks, neither beasts would venture any further for quite a while??? This was kind of weird as we had just been saying that maybe these blocking stones were a prehistoric form of sign which said, ‘go no further’. From the stone rows we then headed off to find the circle and menhir which didn’t take long. The next port of call was over to the hut circles and the famous ‘apple crusher’ which lay forlornly upon its blocks where it has sat since its mysterious abandonment.

Mists of Time

Merrivale Stone Row

Mists of Time

Merrivale Stone Row

Mists of Time

Merrivale menhir

Mists of Time

Merrivale Apple Crusher

As there are only a few ways to view Dartmoor in the mist and we had used up that one option it was decided to drop into Princetown for a coffee. Bad mistake, it seems as if everyone else plus two bus loads had the same idea so needless to say it was a fleeting visit and a drive up to Bellever. Now, here’s the thing, the closer to Bellever we drove the thinner the mist became and by the time we arrived there were even patches of blue sky – Groundhog Day or what? It didn’t take long to get up on Lakehead Hill and the oddly named ‘Kraps Ring’ settlement. Not only had the sun decided to put in a late appearance but Linda’s camera began working again. She did have a very matter-of-fact explanation for this; “sometimes prehistoric ritual monuments don’t want you to take their photograph.” If that morning was anything to go by I think I would agree because as can be seen above, my camera had no issues. Just on the crest of the hill we met up with the gang of ‘Bellever Browsers‘ or in other words the herd of Dartmoor ponies put there for the purpose of conservation grazing. This arrangement is thanks to the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust who offer this excellent service to landowners. I must say the sight of this herd contentedly grazing amongst the heather was a marvellous sight. Linda was really taken with the ponies and unlike earlier I was proud to show her this aspect of Dartmoor, especially as the sun was out, a gentle breeze was whispering through the conifers and the skylarks singing high in the heavens. Every now and again I arrange, through Virbac, to supply the DPHT with free horse wormer because as a charity they are always looking for much needed help and money. Having seen this herd I can say that the small bit of assistance we give them is so worth while. Without their efforts nobody would be able to see photographs like those below so if you would like to help the DPHT visit their website at the link opposite to find out how.

Mists of Time

Bellever Ponies

Mists of Time

Bellever Ponies

Mists of Time

Bellever Pony

Mists of Time

Bellever Foal

I don’t know if you remember but it was mentioned above that one of the purposes of this visit was to get some photographs of the kists on Lakehead Hill. There is one particular kist that has an associated stone row and this was the one that I really wanted to a) show Linda and b) photograph. So imagine the disappointment when on reaching the site we found a group of girls cooking a meal beside the kist and drying their clothes on all the stones in the row. Now some may say; “well, so what?” but I have this very selfish trait that when photographing anything I don’t want a sign of any human being in it. Over the years this has caused many confrontations and there was another about to happen. I think Linda had sensed a slight air of tension and tactfully stepped in, previously she had mentioned how polite she found the British people and so as not to spoil her illusion I let her manage matters. After a very convivial female chat the girls at least removed their coats etc from the stone row which I suppose was something. Now what gets my goat is that this is a scheduled monument and although nobody was actually breaking the law treating it like a ‘kist kitchen’ come launderette is not the best idea. However, Linda informed me that this scenario was nothing compared to the Netherlands where often you might find people actually inside such monuments smoking ‘herbal’ cigarettes. Having got some photographs of a kind we moved on to locate some of the other kists etc that are to be found in the area and to also take a final peek at the ponies who by then had moved on giving jus ust a glimpse through the trees.

As the weather was still on its best(ish) behaviour a quick trip around to Soussons provided a very convenient last chance of another monument in the form of the ‘Ring-a-Stan‘ kist and retaining circle. For once this visit was the first ever where there was no encounter with the belligerent swarm of midges.

Mists of Time

The Kist Kitchen

Mists of Time

Lakehead Kist

Mists of Time

Lakehead Kist & Circle

Mists of Time

The Ring-a-Stan

Having finished the mission it was time to head off the moor, no sooner had we reached Princetown that the mist came back in along with its best buddy – the rain. Yet again this visit started in thick mist and rain, cleared up for a short spell and then returned to the typical ‘summer of the long rains’. Now perhaps you can see why I called this little Xploration – ‘Through the Mists of Time‘, because in both senses that was what it was. Hopefully Linda got a good idea of prehistoric Dartmoor despite the fact that it was not on its best behaviour. Apparently its all the fault of the Jet Stream, maybe they should put Sir Stelios in charge of it because if it’s anything like his Easyjets it would never have taken off.

Mists of Time

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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