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Three Stone Circles

Three Stone Circles

August the 23rd, 4.30am, Fernworthy Forest, yes that is correct 4.30 in the morning, following a 90 minute, 90mph drive and getting up at 2.00am. In theory the parking bay should have been empty but no, three other cars and a camper van were there, bet I was popular with them. The reason for the eye-blinking early start was that I was going out to the Grey Wethers stone circles with Adrian Oakes, the celebrated landscape photographer who was going to give me some tips on digital photography. The first one being that you need to be where your subject is at first light which in this case was 5.57am, hence the early start. On the way to Fernworthy I passed my old cottage which brought back fond memories of log fires, howling winds and a thick goose-down quilt. Approaching Fernworthy it became obvious that the open moor was nearby, the small road was littered with dozing sheep who were reluctant to stir and when they did the acrid aroma of ammonia was eye watering. As I was early I took the opportunity to once again gaze into a totally black sky which was studded with flashing stars and not the slightest disturbance from the hand of man, not even as much as a flicker from a candle flame. At the cottage I always loved going out to the log shed on a frosty night and just staring at the huge, dark moorland sky, sprinkled with glistening stars, often with an old owl hooting in the distance.

At this point I was thinking that for the purposes of this web site I should start classifying the lengths of these occasional walkers other than a stroll. Therefore an ‘amble’ is a walk of less than 1 mile, a ‘stramble‘ is between 1 and 3 miles, a ‘stroll‘ is between 3 and 5 miles and anything over that is a walk, therefore in this case we were off on a 5 mile stroll.

Just as the dark skies were being nudged gently into the blue-grey of dawn we set off through the forest and headed up to the Fernworthy stone circle. It was a good few years since I was last up this way and I was astounded at the deforestation that has occurred, so much so that at one point I had to consult the map on what was once a well known route. By the time we reached the circle the light had not quite roused itself enough for any photographs but none the less they had to be inspected. It seems that somebody had recently held some kind of rite in the ring’s centre as there like an unexplained echo from the prehistoric age was a small altar adorned with various feathers, stones etc. Yeah, whatever, at least this one hadn’t damaged the circle or the encircled ground in any way. Just makes one wonder, was this the result of hedgerow magic or that of the more darker and sinister kind?

Having gained the crest of the ridge the landscape was beginning to become lit by the first light of the day, somewhere in the distance a deer could be heard barking. A few moments later the ‘barker’ made itself known as it casually strolled through the nearby brash. This red deer was a proper tease as it had judged its pace so as we had a good few seconds to watch it but not quite enough time to get the cameras out before it dissolved into the trees.

Within a short distance it became clear where some of the occupants of the deserted cars back at the parking bay were, fast asleep in a small tent just inside a section of trees. A huge cloud of gnats were busily wafting around the small tent which I am sure the ‘happy campers’ would be only too pleased to meet when they get up. On arrival at Langridge Gate there was another tent slung between two trees, once again nothing stirred not even after we had clattered through the gate.

Once out on the open moor the first pink tinges were beginning to smudge across the eastern landscape which Adrian informed me looked promising for some atmospheric shots. By the time we had reached the Grey Wethers the wind was blowing a low mist southwards across the moor which along with the scudding clouds was playing hide and seek with the rising sun. Ironically there was definitely grey weather at the Grey Wethers, maybe that’s why they are so called, no not really. Now normally if I needed a photograph of the stones I would have arrived, snapped a few shots and moved on to the next port of call. But Adrian demonstrated that with a bit of patience and being aware of the clouds, sun, mist etc there are some superb effects that are conjured up by the moorland light. One example being how at a certain angle the sun puts a silvery sheen on the wet vegetation which when combined with a cloudy background adds that bit extra to the shot. The deal of the day was that Adrian would give me some photographic tips and in exchange I would swap some Dartmoor history, I am sure I got the better deal. I will not give away any further tips because if anybody is interested in perfecting their landscape photographic skills then he runs some excellent courses as detailed on his website (follow the link above).

Having ‘shot’ the circle to death we then quickly moved up to nearby Sittaford Tor from which there are normally some good all round vistas to be seen. Unfortunately by the time we got there the mist was back down and its accompanied burden of fine drizzle spoilt any hope of decent photographs. Those who walk the moor will know that in these conditions there is always a couple of hard decisions to make, is the mist and cloud in for the day or will it blow out? Do I decide it is in for the day and go back only to find that an hour later it has cleared up or do I stay out in the hope that it will clear up and simply get a miserable soaking? We opted for the former and risked it not clearing up – wrong.

By the time we got back to Langridge Gate the happy campers were just awakening and a cheerful young girl smiled and said, “good morning”, yeah right, wait until you get out on the moor. The fine drizzle was still with us by the time we reached Fernworthy Circle, I looked at Adrian who was making no attempt at getting his camera out, hmm, did that mean it was a waste of time attempting a shot in those conditions, having now seen my efforts, yes it did.

On returning to the cars two families emerged from the nearby woods carrying armfuls of camping equipment which one of them placed in the back of the camper van – have I lost the plot here, surely if you have a camper van you sleep in that as opposed to a gnat invested wood? As I sat on the car taking my boots off, soaking wet, one of the campers smiled and said, “hope you have a nice day out there.” No, I’ve just HAD a nice day out there and am now going home to dry off.

On the drive back to Chagford the hedgerows were emblazoned with masses of bright, blood red rowan berries which if the old wise saws are to be believed is a sure sign of a bad winter. Heavy berry crops are said to be nature’s way of providing food for the wildlife when the harsh moorland winters descend.

Three Stone Circles

Dartmoor Dawn

Three Stone Circles Three Stone Circles

The Grey Wethers

Three Stone Circles

Dartmoor Mist

Three Stone Circles

Fernworthy Circle

Three Stone Circles

Dartmoor Rowan

Adrian, if by any chance you happen upon this page, I know you would never believe it from the above results but I was listening, honest, will do better next time.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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