Tuesday , June 18 2024


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 place-names 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.

BELLEVER COMBE LAKE SX 648 760 AKA Cranery Brook LEFT LAKE SX 648 633  
BIRCHY LAKE SX 619 931   LEGIS LAKE SX 569 662  
BRADDON LAKE SX 624 804 AKA Archerton Brook NEWLEYCOMBE LAKE SX 599 707 AKA Wineford Brook
CALVESLAKE SX 608 677   NINNEY LAKE SX 569 806  
CHOLAKE SX 617 729   OUTER RED LAKE SX 571 820 AKA Outer Red Lake
COCKS LAKE SX 653 744   PINCKES LAKE SX 568 642  
CRANE LAKE SX 605 685   RADDON LAKE SX 506 849  
CRANE LAKE SX 629 762   RED LAKE SX 646 666 AKA Rode Lake
DARK LAKE SX 627 690 AKA Black Lane Brook REDAVEN LAKE SX 629 617  
DEAD LAKE SX 566 785   RODE LAKE SX 646 666 AKA Red Lake
DEAD LAKE SX 576 706   RUE LAKE SX 640 886 AKA Gallaven Water
DEAD LAKE SX 555 846   RUELAKE SX 628 729  
DEAD LAKE SX 677 763 Only flows in wet times SHUTE LAKE SX 671 835  
DRY LAKE SX 636 672 AKA Hux Lake/ Middle Brook SHUTE LAKE SX 677 786  
DRY LAKE SX 646 639 AKA Thorn Lake SIMON’S LAKE SX 688 733  
EAST LAKE SX 611 947   SPANISH LAKE SX 592 642  
EASTERN RED LAKE SX 571 820 AKA Outer Red Lake SPRIDDLE LAKE SX 588 803  
FISH LAKE SX 646 678   STEAN LAKE SX 568 713  
FISHCOMBE LAKE SX 572 893 AKA Homerton Brook THICKSTONE LAKE SX 570 644  
GAWLE LAKE SX 637 779 AKA Gawler Brook THORN LAKE SX 646 639 AKA Thorn Lake
GREEN LAKE SX 635 652   VELLAKE SX 551 899  
GRIMS LAKE SX 704 811   VENNEY LAKE SX 559 695  
HECK LAKE SX 536 730   VOGHILL LAKE SX 728 810 AKA Vogwell Lake
HENG LAKE SX 651 671   VOGWELL LAKE SX 728 810 AKA Voghill Lake
HEW LAKE SX 633 857 AKA Wood Hole Stream WEDLAKE SX 552 782 AKA Peter Tavy/Colly Brook
HOLLAKE SX 709 804   WESTERN RED LAKE SX 566 819 AKA Homer Red Lake
HOMER RED LAKE SX 566 819 AKA Western Red Lake WHITE LAKE SX 552 782 See Wedlake
HOOK LAKE SX 645 649   WOLLAKE SX 627 690 See Dark Lake
HUX LAKE SX 636 672 AKA Hux Lake/ Middle Brook WOOD LAKE SX 633 857 See Hew Lake

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.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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