“The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.”
You may have heard of the famous novel ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’, well this is the famous ‘Thirty Two Steps’ of Dartmoor’. To some they may at times have been proven to be infamous and resulted in a very uncomfortable cold bath. To what do I exactly refer? A landscape feature commonly known as stepping stones but on Dartmoor simply as ‘steps’. Along with bridges of various types and fords they are a means of crossing streams and rivers without (hopefully) getting ones feet wet. Dartmoor steps consist of a line of granite rocks and boulders of varying sizes laid in a line across a watercourse thus allowing one to ‘step’ or hop from one to another whilst crossing. William Crossing in his ‘terms’ section of Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor describes them thus; “Stepping Stones are often found on streams near the enclosed parts of the moor, and these always bear the names, as Swincombe Steps, Stannon Steps…“, p.35. As can be seen from the table below which has been compiled from numerous books, gazetteers and maps they don’t always bear locational names. From those that I have found there is one exception which is ‘Batten’s Steps’ which along with ‘Batten’s Corner’ strongly suggests a personal element deriving from a Mr or Mrs Batten? In the main they are however located on streams and rivers that run near enclosed sections of Dartmoor.
In some cases such as Kit Steps the crossing stones are naturally placed and in others they have been purposely placed by the hand of man. Hemery describes the scene at Kit Steps and thus doing so conforms that this is an instant of a naturally formed crossing place; “The crossing-place at Kit Steps is beautiful. The river twists, dividing at a tiny island and foaming around the adjacent, flat rocks that form the natural steps.”, p.535.
Quite often a ford will also be seen near to steps which meant that when the water level was/is low the stream or river crossing can be achieved on foot and alternatively when the water levels are higher the steps come into use. A prime example being Nodden Steps that span the river Lyd as can be seen from the photo below.
The list below is by no means conclusive as there will have been examples that have either been washed away or removed for one reason or another, those that once crossed the river Meavy at Marchant’s Ford being one such example. Without question they are one of the earliest forms of watercourse crossings which were later replaced by the clapper bridges. There are several problems associated with ‘steps’ as a means of crossing streams and rivers. Firstly, you can never guarantee their accessibility as in times of high water they can be submerged so just because they are show on the map does not mean they are always usable.. Secondly, it is impossible to detect a wobbly stone which can result at best in an early bath and at worst broken bones. Thirdly they can become very slippy especially in icy weather which again can end disastrously.
|Name||OS Grid Ref.||Name||OS Grid Ref.|
|BABENY STEPS||SX 6720 7470||LIZWELL STEPS||SX 7135 7456|
|BATTEN’S STEPS||SX 4850 7976||NETELHAM STEPS||SX 6080 9344|
|CATALOO STEPS||SX 5400 8112||NODDON STEPS||SX 5325 8630|
|CHURCH STEPS||SX 5364 6996||PIZWELL STEPS||SX 6696 7850|
|CORNER FORD STEPS||SX 6060 9210||PLYM STEPS||SX 6020 6720|
|CULLEVER STEPS||SX 6060 9210||RIDDIPIT STEPS||SX 5690 6996|
|DEANCOMBE STEPS||SX 579? 686?||RUSHFORD STEPS||SX 7065 8847|
|DUNSFORD MILL STEPS||SX8104 8863||SHERBERTON STEPS||SX 6476 7371|
|HECKWOOD STEPS||SX 5438 7297||SNAILY’S HOUSE STEPS||SX 6601 7629|
|HIGH DOWN STEPS||SX 5319 8570||STANDON STEPS||SX 5391 8155|
|HIGHER BOWDEN STEPS||SX 55?? 91??||STRANE STEPS||SX 61?? 71??|
|HORSHAM STEPS||SX 7593 8170||SWINCOMBE STEPS||SX 6416 7249|
|KINGSETT STEPS||SX 57?? 69??||WELLA BROOK STEPS||SX 6646 6857|
|KIT STEPS||SX 6118 8220||WHEAL MARY EMMA STEPS||SX 532? 851?|
|LEIGH STEPS||SX 6832 8787||WINFORD STEPS||SX 6626 7572|
|LITTLE SHERBERTON STEPS||SX 6390 7361||YEALM STEPS||SX 6173 6371|
My advise is to always use a stick or pole for balance when using steps especially when carrying a weighty rucksack unless you have the agility of a mountain goat. It is fair to say that I have never had the balancing skills Blondin and in many cases prefer a wet boot to a good ducking but each to their own.
Crossing, W. 1990. Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor. Newton Abbot: Peninsula Press.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale Ltd.