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Royal tramp

Royal tramp

As much of Dartmoor is and has been owned by the Duchy of Cornwall it will be no surprise that various Princes of Wales have visited their lands. The present Prince of Wales regularly visits the moor but seldom does this make the national press. This however has not always been the case and in the past a royal visit was a notable event in anybodies calendar. It would be fair to say that in the main Dartmoor folk are royalists at heart and proud of their connections with the royal family. Visit any Duchy farm at Christmas and see Prince Charles’ card proudly displayed in the centre of the mantle piece. The following newspaper article dated the 20th of May 1921 was taken from the Times and describes the visit of Edward, The Prince of Wales.

SETTING THE PACE – The Prince of Wales today had a holiday, but as those who know him best expected, the holiday was spent in a vigorous way. According to plan he was to go hunting in the morning and see the Duchy tenants at Fernworthy. This left him with a free afternoon, so he thought he would like to have a walk over Dartmoor. Some of us who shared that walk envied his youthful energy before we finished the tramp. The day began with bright sunshine, air like a tonic – Princetown is 1,370ft. above sea level and the highest place of any size in Great Britain – and the lightest of breezes.

By 8 o’clock the open place before the Duchy Hotel – see ill. 1 here, was unusually animated, and the hotel staff was busily engaged serving a hunt breakfast. Motor-cars brought people from Tavistock and every town and village around Dartmoor, and there was a continuous clatter of hoofs on the grey road as riders gathered for the meet. A start was delayed, owing to a change of arrangements, until half past 9. Shortly before that time Captain Babington brought nine couples of the Lamerton hounds along. When the Prince came out of the hotel he received a rousing welcome from the company, which included many members of the Dartmoor Lamerton, and South Devon hunts. His Royal Highness was well mounted on Mr. Clarence Spooner’s famous jumper Satan. Hounds hit a strong line of what looked like a moved fox on the middle of Tor Royal newtake, and ran well. Stone walls and stone-faced banks did not appear to disconcert the Prince, though it was stated that this was his first acquaintance with this kind of fence, and more than one rider who followed the hounds was unseated during the run.

Several miles were covered across the Dart, by Dennabridge plantation across the Ashburton road, and over the Dennabridge enclosure to Bellever tor. Here there was a lengthy break, and the Prince changed to his second horse, Commander Davey’s Jupiter. Hounds eventually hit the line again close to Naked Hill (a new one on me? unless the Devon accent confused the reporter and it is Lakehead Hill!), and running on to Postbridge crossed East Dart beyond the village. From there the run was by Roundhill up to Merripit and Stannon, where hounds were running very fast, and there were some big banks. Near to Fernworthy scent failed, and the Prince rode on to the Duchy farm, Fernworthy being in South Devon country, Captain Babington crossed back over the East dart to his own district, and soon found on the White Tor Ridge above Wistman’s Wood, and after a nice hunt put his fox to ground on Bear Down Hill”.

A MOORLAND GREETING – Fernworthy – see ill. 2 here, lies in a green cup among the rolling brown expanses of the Moor, and the slopes down which his Royal Highness rode to the farm were golden with gorse in luxuriant bloom. Hundreds of people had gathered in the dip to give a greeting. Some of them had motored to the spot along stony lanes, some had come in dog-carts and traps, and many had walked for miles over the moor. There were farmers on sturdy hacks, and rosy cheeked girls mounted on ponies. The little crowd included quite a number of children. As the Prince on Jupiter splashed over a ford he received a chorus of calls of “Good morning Sir!” and girls and children gave an eager cheer. His Royal Highness rode into the farmyard and, dismounting, shook hands and talked for some time with his tenants. He also inspected a score of ex-service men who are engaged on the estate in afforestation work, made friends with several tiny girls whose flowers he accepted with a delightful combination of smiling surprise and the politeness which children expect, and had a look at promising new plantations of larch, beech, spruce, and fir seedling”.

AT THE SOURCE OF FOUR RIVERS –  At 1 o’clock he set out with Sir Lionel Halsey, Lord Clinton and Mr Peacock for companions, and Mr Raleigh Phillpotts, who knows every inch of the moor, as guide, for a walk a walk to Cranmere Pool, a lonely spot among the bogs where four Devon rivers – the Dart, the Tavy, the Taw, and the Okement have their source – see ill. 3 here. The tramp was over the open moor, and everything in the nature of a path was abandoned. At first the going was fairly easy up a steady slope, with course grass and heather underfoot, and his Royal Highness set a swinging pace to the party. Soon he was looking over a great sweep of Devon, which began with the grey-green and brownish wastes of the moor, fell away to fair pasture lands and dark red squares of tilled fields and faded through deepening shades to the blue horizon. After three-quarters of an hour the moor became sterner and wilder and green turf gave way to black oozing bog, with only a multitude of grassy or mossy hummocks to provide a foothold. Progress to the pool consisted now on in a trying succession of jumps from patch to patch, alternating with scrambles over tiny girlies. I for one was not sorry when the first objective of the walk was reached. Cranmere pool has long been drained, as it was considered a danger to sheep, and is now little more than a boggy hollow marked by a distinguishing cairn. The Prince sat for some minutes on the heather and post-cards of the spot were addressed by the party and delivered to the moor postman, who obliterated the stamps with the Cranmere postmark and placed them in a tin for dispatch in due course. The Prince also signed a visitors’ autograph book.

At half-past 2 the walk was resumed and another stiff four miles were covered to the Rattlebrook peat works, which are 1,700ft. above the sea. On the moor near to the factory his Royal Highness had a look at some acres of cut peat, and met Mr. William Rich, who is known as the old man of the moor. Mr. Rich is 76 years of age, has been on the moors for 41 years, and says that he has only known one week’s illness. The Prince spent half an hour at the works, which can now deal with 100 tons of wet peat a day, and subsequently returned to Princetown”, The Times, May 20th 1921, p.10.

All in all this was a busy day for the Prince and it certainly seems that the reporter had a baptism of fire as far as the High Dartmoor goes. During the day the Prince had travelled a minimum of 24 miles (as the crow flies) either on horseback or foot – see ill. 4 here. If one takes into account the Prince’s agenda, it seems mighty convenient that the fox appeared to run around a bit and then head over to Fernworthy where the next Royal engagement was to take place. Maybe somebody had trained it especially for the occasion or perhaps the hounds were deliberately steered in that direction? Incidentally, a photograph of the Prince’s visit to Fernworthy Farm can bee seen in the High Moors Visitors Centre at Princetown, it is the centre picture of the Duchy display.

This visit occurred 85 years ago and boy does it show how much things have changed, today it would be illegal for the Prince of Wales to go hunting with 9 couples of hounds. The Duchy hotel is now the High Moors Visitors Centre, Fernworthy Farm has disappeared to make way for the reservoir and the peat works and the peat cutters have faded into the realms of history. On the other hand some things don’t change, Cranmere pool is still, “little more than a boggy hollow” and the area around it continues to be a, “black oozing bog”. The other thing that hasn’t changed is people’s inability to leave things alone that don’t belong to them, a few days after the above report was published this item was printed:

“The visitor’s book at Cranmere Pool, Dartmoor, which was signed by the Prince of Wales last Thursday week after a long and tiring tramp to the place, has been removed. Visitors from Okehampton could not find the book on Thursday. The Prince wished that the book should remain at the pool, and Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey, who accompanied him, appened the request that no one would remove the page which the Prince had autographed and dated”.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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