Monday , July 15 2024



If you down to Burrator Reservoir today you’re sure of a big surprise … well that is unless you have been there in the past few weeks and I certainly haven’t – hence this visit. The plan was to have a look at the newly opened ‘Burrator Discovery Centre’, take some photographs of what was Longstone Manor and Wembley Walk and basically have a bimble around the reservoir and see what comes out of the bushes.

I do not intend on covering the history of Burrator Reservoir here but below you will find a list of recommended reading for anyone who would like more information. Similarly if people want to know more about the work of the ‘swlakes trust‘ then this can be found on their website at the link opposite. However, needless to say this Lottery funded project has included converting the 100 year old Iron Store into  the new ‘Burrator Discovery Centre. Additional projects include the restoration of the arboretum which was re-opened in April 2014 and much needed consolidation work to the remains of Longstone Manor and Lowery Barn is ongoing. Since March 2014 the Devon Wildlife Trust have held various family activity days at Burrator with several more yet to take place, these can be found by following this link. If you want to know anything, and I mean anything, about the numerous features of Burrator and its surrounds just ask the lady at the newly opened discovery centre – she is the font of all knowledge.


I don’t believe it ! For weeks we have enjoyed glorious sunshine but the on day we visited Burrator all changed with dreary clouds and damp drizzle – hey ho, that’s Dartmoor for you. Rhys and myself rocked up to the Burrator dam at around 8.00am and set off in search of the outcrops from which the area takes its name – Burrator. Mike Brown suggests that originally the name was Buttertor which he considers the first element ‘butter’ alludes to some rich grazing pastureland nearby, p.5. With regards to this notion Harold Fox noted; “The authors of The Place-names of Devon conclude that, where it (Butere) is compounded with a topographical term, butere may refer to land which provided good pasturage.”, p.151. But how about this for an option; the first element Butte has derived from the old Anglo Saxon word būr which basically means a peasant farmer, Clarke Hall, p.60. Could this allude to peasant land near the tor hence būrtor ?

It didn’t take long to find the tor and it didn’t take much longer to leave it – not the most picturesque of Dartmoor tors. By the time we had rounded the first bend in the road we began to meet the early morning runners and riders so not wishing to feel inadequate it was decided to walk around the edge of the reservoir where hopefully we would see some bird life instead. No sooner had we come to the first stile than we saw heaps of doggy pooh bags along with their contents (a feature which we would see on many occasions) – what we did not see were bins in which to deposit them. I know at the end of the day it’s the fault of the dog owners and one which is nationwide but maybe a bin or two might tempt these mindless and  irresponsible owners to use them?

Onwards, I must say, it was a surprise to see in places what could easily be mistaken for patches of beach, very reminiscent of Crete. Here we discovered patches of mauve flowers that smelt as if they belonged to the mint family and which we would encounter all along the edges of the reservoir. Now, flower identification is not my strong point and after hours of thumbing through plant identification guides the nearest match could find  was Water Mint??

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By the time we had reached the Sheepstor Dam the bird life began to appear in abundance with a large flock of mallard ducks, a gaggle of Canadian Geese, two Embden geese and a lone Muscovy Duck. Talking of Muscovy Ducks, they have to be one of the most ugliest creatures imaginable, was the Creator having a laugh or bad day when these came off the design board? Having said that they sit pretty well on a roasting dish along with some orange sauce. Further on we spotted a pair of Cormorants but these two were obviously camera shy as they never let us get up close and personal, hence the zoomed view below.

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The next port of call was to the old manor of Longstone which was one of the day’s prime objectives. Luckily the water level was low enough for us to see some of the relics that lie on the water’s edge just below the manor. On July 20th 2104 it was reported that the water level of the reservoir was 63.7% of its full capacity which is 4% lower than 2013. It is fair to surmise that since that date the hot weather has lowered the levels even further. Good news for anyone seeking the normally submerged features but maybe not so good for the water supply. As mentioned above, the manor house is undergoing some extensive consolidation work which should be completed in the very near future. I do not intend on expounding on Longstone Manor as more detail can be found on a separate Legendary Dartmoor webpage – HERE

What do you call the edge of a reservoir? Is it the bank, shoreline, water’s edge. either way we continued all along the south eastern edge until we neared the eastern end of the reservoir. Near there a section of an old road and bridge was exposed and which presumably ran from Norsworthy towards the village of Sheepstor. Again some of Burrator’s avian life put in an appearance with another gaggle of Canadian Geese and more interestingly three Grey Herons plus some more Mallards for good measure.

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The halfway mark of the bimble was the impressive headweir and its lake which is where the River Meavy is joined by the Newleycombe Lake before the united waters first enter the reservoir complex. It was around this point that things got a bit confused as we followed a stone trackway then  a path through the woods and ended up at a padlocked gate. Our arrival here coincided with members of a rambling club assembling, some of which appeared a trifle disgruntled as we clambered over the gate. Just by the gateway is a splendid, new information board which the swlakestrust had recently installed. A whole host of information is displayed here and any visitor starting their walk at this end of the reservoir will be in no doubt of where to go, how to get there and what to see on the way. It is at this point where our bimble took us back towards the Burrator Dam. However, had we of turned right and walked down the road a piece we would have come to the Burrator Arboretum. A great deal of work has gone into establishing a nature trail through the arboretum which was re-opened in April 2014. On this occasion we decided to forgo the opportunity of a visit, a decision made slightly easier as the threatened rain finally decided to make an appearance.

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Having seen enough of sandy beaches and strewn boulders we decided to head back along the road to our next destination – the Burrator Discovery centre. Along the way there were some splendid views of Sheeps Tor who had finally decided to take its head out of the clouds.

The sound of chainsaws soon heralded the fact that we were approaching Lowery Barn. This is yet another restoration project undertaken by the swlakestrust and is due to be completed in September 2014. Originally the threshing barn was built in the 1870s by local landowner Sir Massy Lopes. As the majority of the building was covered in scaffolding the photo opportunity was wavered until a later date when all the work would be completed.

Just down the road we came across various sections of land enclosed by very new looking deer fencing. My initial thoughts were that maybe these were designed for deer paddocks which were awaiting their new occupants. However, I was late told at the Discovery Centre that it was quite the contrary, they were designed to keep deer out not in. The reason being that once cleared they would be re-planted and so the saplings would need protection from any grazing animal – fair enough, I’ll get me coat then.

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Finally we came to the Burrator Discovery Centre which was officially opened amongst great pomp and ceremony on the 6th July 2014. Inside are various informative displays and interactive boards and as mentioned above, if you wish to know anything just as for Emily.

The reason for this visit was to see the nearby Wembley Walk and take some photographs for a webpage. What I didn’t know was that public access to there was prohibited due to health and safety concerns. However, having explained to Emily the fact that I would like some photographs for a webpage on Wembley Walk she very kindly allowed us a visit. Please Note: this was special dispensation and visitors will not normally be allowed access. For the results of our visit to Wembley Walk further information can be found on a separate webpage – HERE.

Probably the not to be missed stars of the show are the various granite artefact dotted around the outside, these include; a mortar stone, various troughs, and example of tare and feather slit rock and a millstone. What really catches the eye is the fabulous totem pole which stands tall and proud at the front of the building. On it are numerous carvings of various aspects of Burrator amongst which was; a trout, a fisherman, a dragonfly, Burrator dam, a steam train, a bat, a stone row, a stone wayside cross, the head of a Dartmoor pony and at the very top what appears to be a tor.

Currently The University of Birmingham’s Human Interface Technologies Team are involved in a project called  ‘Virtual Burrator’. “This includes 3D reconstructions of the dam and lake, Burrator Lodge, the Yelverton-to-Princetown railway line at Burrator & Sheepstor Halt, the old Yelverton Reservoir and the temporary suspension bridge (constructed during the 1920s whilst the dam was being raised to increase the Reservoir’s water capacity). Visitors to the event will be able to explore these simulated environments using Xbox hand controllers, large-screen displays, even a virtual reality head- mounted display.”, online source at webpage link opposite. Even more exciting, in September with the help of a boat, GPS and a high definition echo sounder they intend to map out the structures and features that now lay submerged under the waters of the reservoir.

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So, after a very informative visit to the Discovery Centre we decided to head back to the car, not before admiring the adjacent Burrator Lodge. This incidentally is due to put up for auction by its owners South West Water in the very near future. If anyone has a huge amount of money they don’t want please email me, it would make a superb hotel.

The final port of call was the Burrator Waterfall, a most impressive cascade that can only be comparable to those of Lydford Gore or Canonteign Falls. Well, that is until one notices a bloody great pipe at the top from which the water spews forth. Apart from being rather artificial it’s amazing how many photographs it appear on Google in different formats and sizes.

Amazingly it seems that recently the dam wall of Burrator Reservoir was/is being used as an abseiling wall, as a result South West Water have issued dire warnings and increased security patrols in the area, they ask that anyone seeing such activities should report it immediately. Imagine being halfway down your ascent of the dry wall when someone decided to turn the taps on?

Having completed the mission we decided to tootle on back to Princetown for some liquid refreshment – BIG MISTAKE! I forgot the holiday season was in full swing and we arrived at the same time as a convoy of campervans, loads of grock.. sorry not allowed that term – visitors, three coach loads of foreign visitors who I think came from somewhere in Sweden called ‘Ooop t north‘ (only joking, I get the same when I’m up in Cumbria).?

By now it was raining quite heavily and due to the large numbers of cars in the car park I thought for once it may be wise to buy a parking ticket – I am sure the inspectors would not miss such a possible harvest of fines. What really ‘did my nerves’ was the fact that I only had a pound coin which I knew would buy a 24 hour stay and the machine conveniently gave no change. Having reached the meter I expected just to fire in the coin, push the button and get the ticket, but no, the mumping thing wanted to know my number plate. So as I had not bothered with the reading glasses it was another trip back to the car in order that I could read the minuscule keyboard and enter the registration number. I would hope the reason for the registration number was to stop people handing over part expired tickets – which is bad enough because having bought the ticket it’s their property to dispose of how they wish like any other purchase. But then the thought crossed my mind as to exactly how the data was stored inside the machine and if so to what uses it could be used for?

Anyway rant over, well that one anyway, whilst there I wanted to take the opportunity to have a look at the newly refurbished Visitors Centre. Hmmm, apart from some extra stuff for kids it seemed very much same old, same old. One bonus, at least they have dropped the admission charge. I did pick up a new leaflet about Uppacott House which was another mistake as paying for it was not easy. In front of me were a German family whose daughter wanted to see some Dartmoor ponies – fair enough. But then the only  person on the counter proceeded to relate every possible pony peeking spot on Dartmoor which along with directions took about 10 minutes. For Christ’s sake, turn left out of the car park, follow the road until the next junction, turn left and you can’t miss the sodding things, herds of them all different colours and sizes – next please. No matter from whence these visitors came to Princetown I fail to see how they did not spot a single pony on their journey?

I can tell you I was glad to get to the prince of Wales and imbibe in a couple of relaxing Jail Ales which I must say was in tip top condition. So much so that £14 for a nights bunk was a tempting prospect in order to down a couple of more. But hey ho, homeward we went, sober as judges.


Brown, M. 1998. Dartmoor Field Guides – Vol.5. Plymouth: Dartmoor Press.

Clark Hall, J. R. 2004. A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. London: University of Toronto Press.

Fox, H. 2012. Dartmoor’s Alluring Uplands. Exeter: Exeter University Press.

Suggested Reading on Burrator Reservoir;

Hawkings, D. 1987. Water From The Moor. Exeter: Devon Books.

Keene, P. 2001. The Evolution of a Dartmoor Landscape – Exploring Burrator. Devon: The Dartmoor National Park Authority

Nature Conservancy Council. 1987. Burrator – Dartmoor Landform Trail. Peterborough: NCC

Rendell, P. 2007. Exploring Around Burrator. Okehampton: The Dartmoor Company.

Walsh, P. T. & Byng, B. A. 1985. Burrator – A Pictorial History. Published by Walsh and Byng.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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