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Cranmere 1883

There have been and are many ways of getting to Cranmere Pool but to my knowledge not many go by pony and certainly not the route Mr. Firth took in 1883 with the help of a local guide. As always I make no apologies for quoting the author’s exact words because they add a sense of ‘time’ and ‘perspective’. So saddle up and head off out from Cator Court on this Cranmere expedition with a difference.

“To many Cranmere Pool is a myth. To some who have sought it in vain, a puzzle. Nevertheless, it is a reality . Several years ago we (a party of three) started on our ponies, in search of it, at ten a.m., and had a very favourable morning for our expedition. Crossing Cator Down and riding due north, we took Runnage on our way, and were fortunate enough to obtain the gratuitous services of Mr. Coaker, a moorman, who was well acquainted with the only pony-track leading to the vicinity of the Pool as approached from the south. Crossing the old turnpike road, and passing under the New Vitifer Mine, long since abandoned, and now marked by the huge overshot wheel, we proceeded to the heights of Stannon (not Stannon Hill); thence descending we struck the junction of two leats which tap the Dart and Teign respectively, and collectively supply the Old Vitifer Mine. The volume of water taken from these sources is detrimental to the fish in dry seasons. Proceeding along the Teign leat we came upon the “Grey Wethers,” a name given to two circles of stones about forty paces in diameter, of which there are only 16 standing. Murray says these were originally 27. The 11 wanting were taken many years ago, when the wall of the Teignhead newtake was constructed. Our guide related a legend in connexion with these stones as follows:- In days of yore a farmer living at Challacombe purchased sixteen wethers at Ashburton Market, for which he paid 1s. each as earnest money. He was told to find them on Dartmoor, handy Siddaford Tor, their usual lair being accurately given. They were described as being of a very hardy sort, but, if anything, short wool. His astonishment on finding them may be better imagined than described. There they still remain, no dog discomposes their quiet, nor do the storms of Dartmoor ruffle their fleeces. Skirting the foot of Siddaford Tor we passed through a gate onto the Forest of Dartmoor (hitherto we had travelled a succession of newtakes), and now began rough work for the ponies and riders, the ground not only being very rocky, but in some places, notwithstanding the summer of 1876, very soft. Still keeping due west, we ascend Quinterman, a most interesting hill, from whence we could see the line we had thus far taken, our view northward being obstructed by that vast bog, morass or sponge, from which the Dart on one side and Okement and Tavy on the other draw their supplies. We felt how difficult would have been our progress without a guide. We were now on the ridge of Quinterman, from which large quantities of turf had in the long past been cut, and we marked the “ties” in endless number, measuring in their sides six or eight feet of solid peat, which rests on a granite bed. Traces and ruins of the turf-cutters’ huts appeared here and there, the granite walls of many still standing.

Dismounting, our guide assisted us in urging the ponies through the soft and uncertain ground. We were now without our ponies, standing, as it were, on an island, but in place of water surrounding it, a bog over which no pony would cross. Here we took up our stirrups, adjusted our bridles, and gave the ponies their liberty, knowing that they were as secure as in a well-fenced paddock of about half-an-acre. We now had to cross by foot, by jumps, this enormous bog, to Dart Head, about a mile-and-a-half distant. Not one drop of water visible; but generally, and always in winter a vast expanse of sponge, intersected by irregular channels of black mud, now baked to a thin crust of treacherous consistency; hence the necessity of exercising our jumping powers. As the name indicates , Dart Head is the source of the Dart, about 1,800 feet above sea-level. Invisibly, underground, this sponge in summer feeds the multitude of tiny streams which grow larger and larger on their downward course. Now, proceeding north-west, with “Yes Tor” (the highest in Devon) straight before us, we gain a plateau of comparatively dry ground, and after proceeding some considerable distance dropped suddenly down on Cranmere Pool.. No wonder that some are sceptical as to the existence of the pool. I have, unaided, endeavoured, but failed to find it, and this is not surprising if you can realise the difference which a slight divergence from a given line makes in striking a point on the wilds of Dartmoor, when you may be on one side of an eminence whereas you ought to be on the other, and thus you fail to find this pool, which is invisible until, as I have said before, you drop upon it suddenly. But there is now no pool at Cranmere, at any rate in a summer ordinarily dry. Some years ago, and in the recollection of the Dartmoor poet, Mr. Jonas Coaker, who is my informant, the barrier which confined the pent-up water was cut so that no great amount may lodge. The basin is fed on one side by thousands of tiny tributaries, and emptied on the other by deep gullies cut through the earth down to the granite bed by the ceaseless action of the water which feeds the Okement and Tavy. The basin is about 220 yards in circumference, and is an irregular oblong 8 or 10 feet deep, and covers an area of about two statute acres. On our return through this vast solitude (the only living thing we saw was a frog), we found our ponies in their desolate isle, nibbling, as they best could, the rough grass, and neighing a joyful welcome. One, more refractory than the rest, had to be driven into the bog before he would let us touch him. He tried in vain to extricate himself, and fought gallantly with his fore legs, yielding at last to his mater’s wishes. Mounting our steeds we returned home by the same path, the journey having occupied about nine hours. F. H. Firth, Cator Court, Ashburton.” – The Exeter & Plymouth gazette, July 24th 1883.

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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