Why would a Spanish Lake be found on Dartmoor? In fact prior to 1588 you could not have found a Spanish Lake on Dartmoor, so what event gave birth to the Spanish Lake? – all will become clear later.
On the western slopes of Shell Top on Lee Moor the headwaters of a small brook rise sullenly out of the peat. These can be found at Ordnance Survey grid reference SX 592 641 sitting at an altitude of some 420 metres. Prior to the sixteenth century this brook was known as the Easter Brook which incidentally had nothing to do with chocolate eggs or bunnies. To find the root of this name we need to look to the nearby Great Trowlesworthy Tor which was once known as East Tor. So, now if you take that place-name and pronounce it very quickly in the Dartmoor vernacular you end up with Easter, the ‘ter‘ being tor. As the brook runs very close to East Tor (Great Trowlesworthy Tor) it simply took the tor’s name and became the Easter Brook. During the seventeenth century there was also a tinwork in the vicinity of the brook called Yeaster Hill. In a document of 1625 one of the boundaries of these works was the ‘Yeaster Brook’. Brown, p.11 In both cases the name had mutated from Easter to Yeaster probably due to the writers poor spelling abilities.
Having hopefully sorted out the place-name there is not an awful lot to say about the Easter Brook as it wends its way just over 2.25 kilometres down to join the River Plym. On the first kilometre the little brook winds and weaves its way down a descent of around 100 metres. Just as it passes the north-east flank of Great Trowlesworthy Tor it meets with the bottom end of a prehistoric reave known locally as ‘The Wall’ or more precisely as ‘Willings Walls Reave’.
Over time various leats have made their presence felt on the brook and today a sluice gate bears evidence of this. Additionally the warrening activities also left their mark on the brook which was once spanned by various small footbridges. The warreners took advantage of these and often sighted their vermin traps near the bridges as these were used by various unwanted furry guests to cross the brook.
The brook also acts as the western boundary of Hentor Warren and the eastern boundary of the neighbouring Trowlesworthy warren.
It can be said that the Easter Brook in terms of Dartmoor’s water courses does not rate that highly on the spectacular scale. In fact apart from a couple of dells through which it flows one could say it is quite a boring brook. So why bother with this page? As hinted above in the seventeenth century some event occurred which lead to the Easter Brook being known as the Spanish Lake. Firstly how can a brook transform itself into a lake? That part is easy, in normal landscape terms a lake is an area of water, varying in size and which is surrounded by land. In normal Dartmoor terms a lake is basically another name for a stream or brook.
To explain the Spanish connection we now need to go back in time to 1588 and travel to Spain where a fleet of some 130 navy ships have gathered. Their purpose was to escort and invading army from Flanders to England, their mission was to overthrow Queen Elizabeth 1 and the protestant church. On the 19th July of 1588 the Spanish Fleet was spotted just of the Lizard in Cornwall and the English Fleet was in Plymouth Harbour. Immediately a chain of beacon fires was lit warning of the imminent invasion. One by one the hilltop fires blazed the message across the west country which would have been seen by numerous people. Quickly the dire news spread amongst the populace that an invading army was approaching which more than likely meant rape, pillage and mayhem.
Tradition would have it that either by spotting the beacon fires or by word of mouth the local inhabitants of Trowlesworthy and nearby Cadover prepared themselves for what was coming. Back then there was no such thing as banks or safety deposit boxes in which to securely entrust your valuables. The only option was the time honoured method of stashing it away somewhere until the threat had passed. In this light the folk gathered up their prized possessions and carried them up the moor to the Easter Brook. Here they found some convenient spots and buried their wealth deep down in the peat. Now what tradition does not tell us is that after the threat had gone did they manage to find where they had stashed their loot? So it could well be that somewhere up on that moor are either hoards of valuables or empty holes. This tale was relayed to Eric Hemery by Bob Giles of Trowlesworthy who had been told it as a child. Hemery also adds that Giles and his son had on occasions unsuccessfully, “looked about a bit” in the vain hope of finding a hoard or two. pp. 205 – 206.
It was after this event that the Easter Brook became known as the Spanish Lake, the Spanish word being associated with the Spanish Armada and the threat it once posed. Above you can see some letterbox stamps found around the Spanish Lake. It is interesting to see how many people used an image of a flamenco dancer to represent the word Spanish. Is this synonymous of Spain in general or memories of a Spanish holiday?
Brown, M. 1999. Dartmoor Field Guides – Vol. 7. Plymouth: The Dartmoor Press.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale Publishing.