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Beatrice at the Pool

Beatrice Chase was a well known if not eccentric Dartmoor authoress who liked to be known as “My Lady of the Moor”. Over the years she made numerous trips to the elusive Cranmere Pool and in 1929 she enlisted the aid of the famous Dartmoor guiding family – the Perrots. In this account of that visit she describes using various methods of getting there that would be impossible today. Clearly pony and cart would be virtually impossible as is getting to Cranmere from OP 15 on the old military road. Teignhead Farm today is now nought but a uninhabited ruin full of old past memories. She also explains the time honoured tradition of the ‘Cranmere Postal Service’ which was the forerunner of today’s Letterboxing tradition. However, Cranmere Pool still is there although with the aid of modern GPS systems is no longer so elusive as is the official Cranmere Post Box.

“I sped by car along the Grimspound Valley to Fernworthy, where the road ends, reaching the terminus at 9 a.m. on a day of intense white light and heat. Waiting, punctual as all moor folk, was the little Victoria with the pair of clever chestnut ponies, driven by old Mr. Perrot, the famous Dartmoor guide. I had wired him the previous day asking if he could escort me. His son was with him, and I thanked both warmly for the honour and their kindness at such short notice. The car retired sulkily into a cuddly corner for the day, and we set forth on the great adventure. Mr. Perrot drove and his son walked ahead. The way led over a moor gold with gorse and without any track. After a time, we passed Fernworthy Circle, a singularly large and beautiful round. Any other ponies would have refused the job, and any other drivers would have tipped us over. How it was done I do not know. The direction led across ever widening tracts of moor, amid grandeur and expanse no words can describe. Kestor was behind us, and in due time we sighted Teignhead Farm away in front in a beautiful hollow, above the North Teign river, with Teignhead clapper bridge spanning its shallow water. The carriage had to ford this stream there being no other bridge, and we bumped triumphantly into the farmyard. It is one of the most desolate and isolated human habitations in Great Britain. There are no tradesmen, no mail, no doctor, no schooling for the children. Food is fetched on ponies or by farm cart from Chagford. One thing they never lack is firing, for it is the heart of peat country, and they can afford to keep fires going day and night for generation.
Old Mr. Perrot took out the ponies and they settled in, while Mr. Perrot jnr., and I set forth on the walking section of the trip. Up behind Teignhead there is a view of the Grey Wethers, which makes the famous circles look exactly like a flock of mammouth black sheep on the side of the Sittaford. We crossed the Varracombe valley and climbed Manga Ridge, passing out through White Horse Gate, we saw Whitehorse Ridge ahead, and when that was reached we found an old ruined peat cutters hut, (possibly Moute’s Inn) Mr. Phillpott’s staff and tablet (Peat Pass Marker), and further ahead of this, Hangingstone staff. A splendid chain of tors was then visible – Fur, Hare, Doe Lynx, High Willhays, and Yes. At the bottom of White Horse Ridge was Dart Head, Teign Head, and the Okement Head. At this part the ground was all long coarse grass, growing in little islands on seas of black “swish.” There was no water and one did not sink, but it was a great effort to pull each foot out of a black substance apparently composed of dough, stickjaw, and glue, so we jumped from hummock to hummock. In winter this part would be impossible, and even in this hot summer it would be impossible to take a pony across. After nearly a mile of this salubrious exercise, we reached Cranmere, which is a malignant pitfall for the stranger, as it is in this vicious little hollow and quite invisible from any point till you fall into it.

We wiped our streaming brows, took long breaths of relief and rapture, and hauled out Bingie’s post box from a cutting in the bank, where it is concealed and protected from the weather. It is a large wooden box covering a large tin box containing a hefty leather-bound visitors book with pencil attached. The tin box also contains two bottles of ink, red and black, and two post-marking pads, and the little postmark stamper with which one inscribes a postcard with the mystic word “Cranmere”. Inside the visitor’s book was a very thick pile of letters and cards awaiting some honourable unofficial postman. Mr. Perrot sorted them carefully, and remarked, “Here is one for you.” Sure enough, there was – and they consider that never before has an addressee fetched her own mail from Cranmere and written the reply on the spot. Of course I wrote a card to the sender. His card was dated the previous day. Then we lunched, during which rite a party from arrived from Okehampton, having driven by the artillery road to within a mile and a half of Cranmere. They very kindly snapped for me, and then two limp but determined young men arrived, saying they had come up Tavy Cleave and had a gruesome expedition. I wrote many cards, post-marked them, and left them for the next visitor to clear and post. Then we made the return journey.
I am bound to confess that no one who has not been to Cranmere can have any adequate idea of Dartmoor. The vast stretches, the lifelessness, the sense of utter peace, cannot be told. I saw two birds all the way – larks. No rabbits, no life except millions of large gnats. Further, I am bound to confess that for complete enjoyment one ought to have the honour of native escort. For three generations have the Perrot family specialised in this trip, and it was young Mr. Perrot’s grandfather who first instituted the idea of cards at Cranmere, using at the beginning, the homely method of a bottle. Thus the custom has grown. Often I have been disappointed with the moor folk and their lack of enthusiasm and appreciation for their own wonderful heritage of Dartmoor. But the Perrots said there was no expedition, no pleasure than, like a visit to Cranmere, and accustomed though they are to it, a visit is always a red letter day. The lore I learnt would fill a volume, and for a day of sheer enjoyment, edification, and renewal of health, I recommend a trip to Cranmere with one of these famous county guides. I know no experience like it.”
The Devon and Exeter Gazette, September 12th, 1929

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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