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Holne and Back


Take a winter’s day back in 1877 and a good round ramble from Holne and here you have a very evocative narrative of that trek.
“A four miles’ drive from Buckfastleigh takes us to that most comfortable of hostelries ‘The Church House’ at Holne. Our coming had been duly notified and though ’tis late at night we are made thoroughly comfortable and at home. Next morning after a breakfast which left nothing to be desired, at about 10 o’clock, we start. The morning is bright and clear, and dazzling, dangerously brilliant, indeed for December, with a long day in front, but making the views, the hills, the streams, and the tors stand out in their sombre colours most beautifully. We leave the village by the road known as the Princetown Road (and which, by the way, is marked in the Ordnance Map as a broad one leading to that place, direct post, Swincombe, and via Tor Royal, but which the unwary traveller will find singularly trying to his carriage springs should he be unwise enough to attempt to drive that way). To continue, we leave Holne by this road, and after walking some 150 yards come to a junction. Here stands a post – very destitute of information, it is true, but retaining, even at the present time, sufficient of its pristine glory to indicate that the road on your left-hand is the one to Princetown. Half-a-mile along it note a narrow turning on your right; this leads into fields through which we go, and passing Stock Farm and North Stock Farm (Fore, Middle, Seale’s, West Stoke) by a series of gates, fields, and stiles, pointing almost directly to Benjy Tor (Bench Tor), to reach the open moorland. It is true, almost the same result might be arrived at by following the along the road until the open ground is reached and where the hedges no longer hem the road, striking due north for Benjy Tor, which stands out very prominently, and therefore cannot easily be mistaken; but we avoid hedges and flee from roads whenever there’s a chance. Just as we gain the open moor, a storm cloud bursts; ’tis a fierce one and so sweeping that a friendly rock almost shelters us from its effects. In ten minutes it is over, and the sun bursts out in all its vigour just as we reach the point of Benjy Tor. What a glorious view! The Dart rushing furiously along its rocky bed through the deep gorge that the tossings of countless ages have worn, is alone a picture; but when looking downstream, you have the matchless valley of Holne Chase, Buckland Woods, with the high Buckland Beacon and the wonderful tints – the bright green holly,the dark fir, and the old fashioned gold tint of the oak and bracken – all like a picture, varnished with the shower (to use an expression of Mr. Widgery, the artist), it is impossible to give by words any idea of its beauties. Looking upstream, too, and catching the Princetown Prison in the distance, you have such a prospect that, did it exist abroad, would have its charms described most accurately in Baedicker and the other tourist books; but lying in Devonshire and in our own country, it is comparatively unknown.
It takes a long time to thoroughly take in the view and enjoy it from its numerous points of vantage, but out day’s journey is before us. Although reluctantly leaving the beautiful spot, we continue along the side of the Dart, going upstream, cross a brook coming from the Moor (Venford Brook?), and, leaving an old mine on our left (Wheal Cumston?), straight up over the hill across another stream (Aller Brook?) for Cumston Rocks (Combestone Tor), which appear distinctly in front of us. Here, too, you get most charming views, more moor-like, perhaps, than from Benjy Tor, but still beautiful. The rocks do not differ materially from those on many of the Dartmoor Tors, but on one of them is the distinct appearance of a rock basin in the process of formation. From this point, looking west, which is up stream, and in the direction of Princetown, we noticed a very curious enclosure some 100 feet in diameter, in shape of a perfect circle, the internal portion divided by a series of fences converging to the centre. An inquiry from a native gives us only the information that its name is Cold East Field, (Possibly the enclosures on the 1840 tithe map listed as ‘Five Plots at OS grid ref. SX 6586 7203?) and that it was not used in any way as a pound, but not the reason for its shape nor the date of its being taken in, beyond the fact that “’twas long before his time.” A mile’s walk soon takes us to a junction of trackways; take the turning down over the hill, and in a minute you are at the Forest Inn, Hexworthy – a small inn, curiously built on the side of the hill, and one in which the “cider tap” is proverbially good.

The Forest Inn

We are lucky getting there before another storm-cloud, more severe even than the former one, sweeps over the moorland. It lasts rather longer, but at length the sun reappears, and we start on our ramble. Now we are compelled to stick to the road, and descending the hill, cross the Dart by a boldly designed bridge known as the Huccaby Bridge. We pass a prettily situated tiled residence, with, by the way, a curiously constructed pipe chimney running – one might almost say crawling, so life like are the tiled pipes with their ringed heads – up to the roof of one of the outhouses. This house was the summer residence of the Rev. Harris, formerly head-master of the Exeter Grammar School, but now living in Torquay. The road takes us past Huccaby Farm buildings, with a cottage below on the left, and Huccaby combined school and chapel on the right. The latter is somewhat ingeniously designed building, the work of Mr. Medley Fulford, of Exeter, architect. The body of the building during the week- as a school, the chancel being shuttered off. On Sunday the shutters are taken down, and a convenient, not to say, elegant chapel is the result.
This hamlet of Huccaby forms part of the parish of Lydford, and duty is performed in the building by the Rev. Mr. Shattock, who also has charge of the Church at Postbridge where he resides. Almost immediately after passing the combination building, and just where the road widens, marks the trackway which leads you over a series of enclosures to Dartmeet. This pathway runs almost due east, and must not be confused with a broader trackway which leads back to and around the hill forming the background of Mr. Harris’ house. As you pass through the fields you may notice Brimpts on your left hand, standing prettily situated among the pines and fir trees there. It is a moorland farm, belonging to the Duchy authorities, at present unlet, but under the management of the courteous steward of the Duchy, Mr. Harrington. Dartmeet is almost too well known to need a description and being on the high road scarcely comes within the province of these rambles, which are intended more as guides for the trackless portions of Dartmoor than for anything else. Suffice it so say that at Dartmeet the East and West Dart – two rocky streams – meet: you have a bridge, you have moorland scenery, rustic cottages, and woods – fir trees and ash trees quite overhanging the river – (what more can one want?) – the wholes forming a combination of beauties not often met with, and if not known should be seen at once.
After crossing the bridge we strike up the left bank of the East Dart and the shoulder of Yar Tor, and by walking almost due north strike at right angles a trackway which leads into Sherrel’s Farm, (Sherwell) which lies a mile or so on our left. The path being crossed, Quarnian or Corndown Tor lies in front. This is a fine Tor upon which stands a beacon cairn, and, guide-books say, a kistvaen (the Money Pit) , but we leave that to our right. The view from the cairn is very sweeping, taking in Princetown, Ryders Hill, a good view of Benjy Tor, Holne, the valley of the Dart, Buckland beacon, with Torquay and the sea in the far distance, Haytor Rocks, Hamilton or Hamel Down, Staiman Hill, (Stannon) Sittaford Tor, Crockern Tor, and the whole of Postbridge and Two Bridges districts; in fact, taking in the whole country round and completely annihilating the remark often used, and accepted as voracious, that “from no Tor on Dartmoor can three miles be seen in every direction.”
Whilst here we witness two very curious effects. One was the advance of a storm-cloud which advanced almost like a white gauze veil from the Princetown district. We watch it fully ten minutes advancing nearer and nearer, and when striking the range of hills on which we were, it passed – luckily for us – some on the one side and some on the other, leaving us quite untouched in the centre. The other curious view took place while the storm-cloud was passing, and throwing, as it were, a veil over the country. Suddenly, from some unknown and unapparent cause, two rays of sun pierced the cloud and radiated through the driving mist and cloud, very much like the gleams of the electric search light. This storm soon passed over, and walking due east we strike a road, which after leaving Ponsworthy a little on the left, keeps down the right bank of the West Webburn to leusdon. Another storm appears, and passing Leusdon House (the summer residence of Sir. E. Hornby), with its charming view towards the Widecombe and Buckland Valleys, we shelter where we can. Alas, ’tis the porch of Leusdon Church which serves us this good turn. The circumstance brought to mind the anecdote of the clergyman in a city church who was so amazed at people taking refuge in his church during rain that on one occasion he said “he could not help people making religion a cloak, but he strongly objected to their making the church an umbrella>”
We are digressing. To continue our walk, we go back down the road which we have come from the church for about 100 yards, then take another road to the left, and by continuing it, always bearing to the right, we pass Spitchwick, belonging to Dr. Blackall, of Exeter on the left, then shortly after go through a gate on our right hand and through a farm known as “Aish,” passing, by the way, a very fine granite archway, and by a narrow path, which seems to savour very strongly of trespassing, pass in front of a farmhouse, through the garden and the little gate into the meadow beyond, then, continuing, through another farm onto the road, past the Tavistock Inn and some cottages, we leave the road at a large Down immediately opposite Holne Cot, which appears in the distance on the far side of the Dart, go by a tiny sheeps-path over the Down to Newbridge, over the Dart. This we cross; then taking a by-path over a stile on the right, immediately after passing the bridge, go through a wood almost up to the lawn by Holne Cot, and ascending the hill over a stile and a couple of fields beyond, reach the public road or highway. By turning right, 50 yards brings us to the crossing from which we started in the morning; turning then to the left, in a few minutes we reach Holne Village and our most comfortable hostelry, “The Church House,” just about 4.30, after a most enjoyable walk, and one which, in spite of the heavy showers, by taking advantage of shelters, left us perfectly free from damp.” – The Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, 24th December, 1877


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

One comment

  1. I very informative thank you

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