Photographs of the Forest and Commons

north-west dartmoor


Langstone Moor circle

It is said that Langstone Moor is so named because there is a tall, or long (lang)stone that stands at the end of a Bronze Age row. Not far away is a stone circle, which in Falcon's day had lately been restored; but during World War II it was used for target practice by troops in training and is now ruined. In 1894 there were sixteen stones in a circle of about sixty foot diameter, all of epidiorite; Falcon's plate shows what an imposing sight it once was, in Falcon 1900, plate 75. When this picture was taken some galloway cross cattle had been grazing nearby; their droppings were all around and one conspicuous heap lies freshly shining in the near foreground, left. There had been some debate in the 1990s about the side-effects of giving cattle antibiotic medicines as a matter of routine, a practice that certainly made their dung sterile and so less biodegradable. On the moorland edges I have sometimes come across badgers' loos, near to droppings from cattle. Whereas deposits from the badgers are usually moist and heaving with dung beetles, all those from the cattle are dry and lifeless. Since no lush grass grows through them, I heard that one unkind critic considered their value as a soil conditioner was heavily reduced; he called them armour-plated cow-pats. They certainly always take their time to disappear.

The circle is within an army range and care should be taken not to touch any metal object seen lying on the ground. Areas in the ranges - there are three - can be visited only on days when no live firing is taking place. Firing schedules are regularly advertised locally and are available on an answerphone service: ring 01837 52939 for details. Live firing is happening when red flags are flying from prominent heights (replaced by red lanterns at night) and range boundaries are marked by a line of red and white striped poles.

All photographic sites within the ranges are marked by an asterisk (*) in their respective headings. Please remember not to touch anything looking metallic: some children did so a few years back at Fur Tor. They thought they had discovered a Dartmoor postbox, but it was a piece of live ordnance and tragically one was killed. So be careful out there: if you see something you consider shouldn't be there, report the location to the police and keep away.

Colossi, Great Staple Tor

One good way to reach Langstone Moor is from the Moreton to Tavistock road. There is good walking on the ridge between Staple and Roos Tors, with some fine rock stacks at Great Staple, a great photographic favourite. So good, in fact, that a photographic colleague fancied a picture. He erected the latest word in wonder tripods, affixed his expensive camera and turned away to get his exposure meter. Alas, in his excitement he had neglected to adjust the legs and tighten his nuts properly, forgetting to eliminate a most unstable list. The god of Sod's law was by now paying him very close attention: a sudden heavy wind blew everything over. It dutifully landed upon the nearest rock, shattering more than just his fancies.



Beardown Man* Full frontal Beardown Man

Situated about three miles north of the Moretonhampstead to Tavistock road, this standing stone is nowhere near its namesake farm, hill or tor, but a good deal further on, close to Devil's Tor. Over eleven feet tall by about three feet wide and one foot thick, it has statistics which make it the archetypal Dartmoor menhir, an extraordinarily enigmatic monolith set up in glorious isolation. In the first , big picture Great Mis Tor is on the skyline right of the standing stone. From another direction, the smaller picture, there is more breadth to the menhir, but not so dramatic a backdrop, as the stone was set up below Devil Tor, an undistinguished low rocky ridge.

Nearly three hundred yards away is a cairn, first recorded by Hansford Worth, see Worth 1953 page 265, which is easily the closest contemporary remain; otherwise the Cowsic itself has no large pounds or settlements: just some huts, but few enough for one writer [Butler Vol II 1991, page 6] to consider it underpopulated by Bronze Age standards. Even today this is a bleak place and few cattle graze close by. The best view is looking roughly southwest, towards Great Mis Tor. Northwards it is less inviting: a long and gently undulating ridge of peat fen extends over two miles to Fur Tor and Cut Hill, both fine places to visit, but a tiring walk from this direction if the weather is at all wet.

Beardown Man, Like Fur Tor and Cranmere Pool, is one of those places that most Dartmoor walkers seem to visit. For me the most scenic route lies by way of Wistman's Wood. Walk past the final, northern spinney and down to West Dart, reaching it where Devonport leat's headweir allows a crossing; then ascend Lydford Tor. This essentially follows the Lich Way, which then continues westerly to Broad Hole on the Cowsic, SX592787. On reaching Lydford Tor, strike slightly uphill and just west of north, about a mile. There is some peaty fen to negotiate on the way, but it is not too difficult to cross. One experienced Dartmoor walker told me the best routes were not always straight lines. He was right. I once tried a more direct line along the Cowsic from Holming Beam, but cannot recommend it as there was far too much wetness underfoot.

Conies Down Tor

A much better route lies further up the valley side, beside Long Plantation and the Prison's land. Keep its boundary enclosure on your left and continue north, aiming for Conies' Down. After a short wet stretch of russet, there is ahead the green promise of firm walking on good turf that, with occasional interludes of rougher grass, lasts until the tor itself. Beardown Man is always visible on the right horizon, a tiny pillar that lies just below the Cowsic side of the ridge near Devil's Tor.



"Cleave" is a local word for deep, steep sided valleys. Many are wooded, such as Moor Brook in Halstock Cleave, see the last heading below; this is not and of all the river exits made from open moorland, it is my favourite. The first Dartmoor book I possessed was Harvey and St Leger-Gordon, which contained an atmospheric colour picture of the river seen from one of the cleave tors [Harvey and St Leger-Gordon 1953, plate 3 opposite page 23]. That was over forty years ago; but although my map-reading skills, aged 12, were insufficient to allow an immediate exploration, once getting badly lost and nearly ending up stugged in The Meads, nonetheless I was hooked. There is an apocryphal story of a rambler who chanced upon a fine hat, apparently mislaid on boggy ground. He lifted it, only to find a head underneath. "What you be doin' there?" he asked. "Sittin' on me 'orse" was the reply. Stugged means stuck.

Hut circle above Tavy Cleave

Bronze Age man also found the area special and built three villages along the Tavy, between Watern Oke and Standon Hill. However, one curiosity is the paucity of ritual monuments in the immediate vicinity. Apart from cairns on Nat Tor and some on Standon and Hare Tor there are no recorded stone rows nor any circle yet extant. Given the remoteness of Watern Oke's "village" - at SX566835 - this is most surprising: had there been some Mediaeval settlement nearby one might have expected despoilation, but none such is known. It is in dramatic contrast with the eastern side of Dartmoor, where seven stone circles, some with stone rows and cairns besides, litter the landscape in the short distance between Siddaford - OS Sittaford - Tor's Grey Wethers and White Moor. In an examination of Bronze Age settlements elsewhere on southern Dartmoor, D. G. Price offered a possible explanation: he argued for prehistoric tinning communities existing alongside their pastoral counterparts. See Price D G, 1982 ; Report on an Investigation of Prehistoric Settlements on South West Dartmoor, TDA No 114 Pages 17-29. It is a view that seems entirely reasonable, even if hotly contested: given that extensive river tin deposits were exploited in Mediaeval times, perhaps these might have been worked in earlier times too. There is however little evidence from metal analysis that the scanty bronze finds from Dartmoor were made of local ores.

This stretch of the Tavy is an easy place to visit. There is a small car-park where the metalled road ends at Lanehead, SX537823. Shortly uphill from it runs a leat, the nearest bank of which provides a level path around Nat Tor. Leats, or miniature canals, are an important part of Dartmoor's scenery. This one was built for a mine called Wheal Jewel, which closed just before the First World War, but the water is now used to provide power for generating electricity. Walking along it late one summer evening in 1996, on Standon's side across the valley a flock of sheep passed by. They made two long lines of one following another that lasted fully half a mile, ending back at fields above a nearby farm. It may be they had been brought in for shearing or for dipping, and after that was done were returning to what the Commoners call their "lear" or moorland pasture.

Cleave Tors and River Tavy

The leat ends just before Tavy's most scenic stretch begins. Round the next river bend are small rock piles that hang above clitter-covered slopes. The best time to see them is late on an August afternoon just as a setting sun throws shadows down to the river. Grouped together as the Cleave Tors, only one is named: Sharp Tor. Walking upstream underneath them is a rough scramble over large boulders with much tiring, up-and-down knee-bending. Rewarding all this effort are granite shades of pink, brown and grey, often covered up by lichens patterning the rock in yet more unexpected hues.

Sharp Tor, Tavy Cleave

Thirty years ago there was a riot of colour here in late August. Gorse and heather blended yellow with purple; dark greens hid the blue of whortleberry, whilst up and down the cleave rowans were speckled red with berries. But by the mid 1990s there was scarcely any yellow to be seen and, except in the steeper places, no purple either. Throughout the moors a lot of shrubby growth does not now flower, for it has been eaten flat. Much of Dartmoor's heather is in decline and I have heard this blamed on some "Heather Beetle". On the local television news a while back, one enthusiastic supporter of the beetle theory bent down somewhere and shook a poorly-looking bush. His efforts finally produced only a solitary sorry specimen, which was promptly greeted with a gleeful "I told you so". My cynical mind considered that one beetle did not a plague make; that perhaps its occurrence was more likely because the heather was already ailing and vulnerable, rather than the only cause of its condition.

Along Tavy Cleave, several of the rowans have died since the 1960s ; those that remain berry well enough for there to be plenty of saplings, yet there appear to be none. Perhaps they too had been eaten by the beetles.



Wheal Frederick mine

Set amongst heather-clad tinners' hummocks near to Doetor Brook, Wheal Frederick - or Foxholes - is not named by OS; but its site is marked as a tiny rectangle. The ruins pictured here are 19th century and wonderfully preserved. There is a small building of two rooms, each of which has a fireplace. Power came from water that was leated via an overhead launder; it was made mostly of stone, with only the final stage being wood. The wheelpit lay on the building's northern side. A circular buddle track, traceable now only as a shallow indentation, was built immediately in front. The area has been extensively streamed, with evidence of tinners' stony spoil heaps either side of Doe Tor Brook, now mostly covered in heather.

High Down ford on the Lyd

Foxholes lies just outside Willsworthy military range and on firing days is best visited from Noddon Gate and the car park there: leave the Okehampton to Tavistock road at the Dartmoor Inn, where a short, untarred lane ends in a car park through the gate, SX524853. Follow the left-hand wall to the Lyd and cross over; the ford is called High Down and there was a clam, but in autumn 2005 it had been set aside. Thankfully there are still steps. In this picture two walkers are leaving the moors in the late afternoon; Great Noddon is on the left-hand skyline.

Gert at Dick's Pits

Once across, use the peat path that goes to turf ties on the Rattlebrook. Walk uphill, aiming just right of Widgery Cross on Brat Tor immediately in front, about one and a half miles, with quite a stiff climb from the Lyd in between. On gaining the ridge, Dick's Well and its gerts are easily seen immediately due east. Its gerts are easily as deep and impressive as those of Vitifer or Ringleshutes on Holne Ridge. In this picture the impressive skyline tors are Lydford Sharp and immediately right is Hare; Great Mis Tor rises behind them. Follow the gert downhill and Foxholes lies a short distance south, on the right bank of Doe Tor Brook.



Making money out of peat has had a long and most unhappy history on Dartmoor. The first venture was at Bachelor's Hall in 1844, but it was no more successful than any of others that followed it. On Amicombe Hill and round the Rattlebrook's head mire there are deep peat beds. The first industrial attempt to make money out of them involved producing fuel briquettes by a process of compression. In 1877 a company was incorporated and operations began in earnest soon after. Turf ties on Amicombe were leased from the Duchy of Cornwall and a processing plant was built nearby. The company also constructed a tramway from Bridestowe which wound past Great Noddon and up around Great Links Tor, and a house for their manager; but despite all this investment the venture did not last.

Dunnagoat Cottage in 1995

Dunnagoat Cottage - popularly called Bleak House because of its situation - is not actually beside the works, but a little way south, on drier land below Green Tor. This picture was taken in 1995, when the walls were crumbling fast; only a part of one gable end was left standing to any height. Appropriately enough the background hillside in this photograph (and along which the best path runs) is Higher Dunnagoat Tor. Alas,this was the only building left standing; nothing but foundations, some piles of smashed masonry and rotting metalwork remains of the peat works. All was blown up by the army at the behest of local commoners, who considered that falling walls might kill their stock.

The most scenic approach is from Prewley, SX547912; climb the hill ahead, keeping the waterworks enclosure on the left; then turn south where there is good walking on short turf along the old King Way, which pre-dates the turnpike connecting Okehampton with Tavistock; it is mostly traceable across the open moors between Prewley Moor and Noddon gates. For the last two miles or so it runs beside Rattlebrook's peat tramway, which is the "road" seen opposite and now used as such by local farmers. Once past Sourton Tors it becomes a recognisable track, sunk in a small depression that in places is often waterlogged in winter. Walking along it is easy and provides extensive views over the Tamar valley and west Cornwall. After Coombe Down there is a fine prospect of a marvellously smooth round shape, where the peaks and crags of granite tors are suddenly replaced by metamorphic slate.

Great Noddon

From its source on Corn Ridge a tiny stream, Lyd, flows downhill and west amongst many tinners' burrows; it then turns abruptly south and carves a hillside into curves of unexpected steepness. Crossing calls it Noddon and Hemery adds that it is a corruption of North Down, a name it might have had when the King Way was still in use. Photographed on a warm spring afternoon, with sunshine playing over an as yet tiny river, Lyd, in the middle foreground. Out on the hillside there is a vehicle, well left of the tramway, which despite a horsebox hitched on behind looks no larger than a little dot. At its junction with the King Way, Rattlebrook's tramway bends east and continues to a hairpin with a siding set beside; use it to climb past Great Links, but do not continue on over the Rattlebrook. Peat cutting on Amicombe has made long, deep gullies that are very wet and best avoided; a convenient sheep's path leaves the tramway where its final embankment begins and heads south on firm ground, directly for Bleak House.



Lydford was once important as a fortified Saxon burgh; some of the original encircling banks still remain. It even had its own mint and later was a royal manor. The church is dedicated to Cornwall's St Petroc: dumpy, grey and Mediaeval, inside it has a fine, modern rood screen and a rood-loft stairway fit for a contortionist. Outside there are ugly, incongruous central heating vents which, seen from the churchyard entrance, produce a roof line that will never be photogenic.

Lydford Church and left, Stannary Gaol

The parish boundaries include all of Dartmoor Forest [however in 1260 the parishoners' bishop, Bronescombe, had taken pity on those who made long journeys from places like Hartyland. He transferred the Ancient Tenements' ordinary Sunday service to Widecombe though their parish church for all else remained as Lydford], but despite this enormous hinterland - claimed as the largest parish in England - Lydford was not a well-attended Church in the nineteenth century. Its congregation sank once to three women, seven boys and a man. The parson only came to conduct services every first Sunday of the month. Once he mis-timed his visit and arrived a week early, to be met by a distraught parish clerk who told him he mustn't conduct any service that day. On asking why, he was told the clerk's goose was nesting in his pulpit, and her goslings were not expected to hatch until well into the next week. It is as nice a tale of priorities as was told of the nearby castle, whose only inmates today are snow-white Rock Doves, roosting in square holes made for long-gone timber floor joists. Its past incumbents were not so innocent, as it was infamous under a charter from Edward I as the tinners' stannary gaol. In the words of William Browne:

  • I oft have heard of Lydford Law
  • How in the morn they hang and draw,
  • And sit in judgement after:
  • At first I wondered at it much;
  • But soon I found the matter such
  • As it deserved no laughter.

Browne was writing in the 17th century, well before the modern court system was established. His rhyme echoed an earlier couplet: "First hang and draw, /Then hear the case is Lydford Law", which referred to the vagaries of special Forest courts. One explanation for this notoriety is that in Mediaeval times lower courts would pass sentences that needed authorization from a higher court; but instead of waiting for some peripatetic circuit judge to arrive and ratify a hanging, they would carry it out anyway.

Devils Cauldron in 1986

Southwest, just beyond the Saxon bank is a bridge, underneath which a true gorge begins. Fast-flowing acidic moorland waters have removed soft slate, in a series of rounded basins shaped like giant cooking pots. A large and particularly claustrophobic one is known as the Devil's Cauldron, approached by a narrow, rock-cut pathway. As the camera was being set up for this picture, a man approached and kindly agreed to pose, right at the very end. When he walked along the plank, it began a gentle swaying, so he stood at the edge very, very still. The plank has since been replaced by a more robust walkway and some of the rock overhangs have fallen. Downstream from it the steep and narrow wooded valley extends one and a half miles and has a car park at each end. Owned by the National Trust, only a small part of the southern end is open all year, a practice that was the same in Falcon's day; otherwise it opens at Easter and closes again in autumn, when rain and falling leaves combine to make walking here extremely hazardous.

Lydford Gorge in spring

There are two paths: one close to the river and another higher up that is nonetheless still in the trees. The lower one goes round and over river-cliffs that interrupt its route; it is often narrow and has only a guide rail on the inside. Definitely not for sufferers of vertigo but otherwise well worth the walk, there is nothing else quite like it within the National Park. Erosion to the original paths - which were cut into the rockface - has produced wooden walkways with substantial guard rails. They may be more safe, but photographically they add no charm at all. Most of the trees are oak and in spring their new season's growth does not always photograph too well in black-and-white; however beside the river grow some beeches whose fresh, bright greens are a different matter. Spring sunshine dances through their half-formed canopies, bouncing round as a myriad tiny lights that shimmer in the breeze. Unhappily this magic does not last: the first heat of summer will swell each leaf and turn them all a darker, sombre hue. Once that happens there is always the river to watch: it runs crystal clear and has dippers bobbing on its rocks, catching flies.



Lints Tor from Foresland Ledge

This little tor overlooks West Ockment as it flows between the higher hills of Amicombe and Foresland Ledge. It is in Okehampton's army range. One of my favourite walks for a late summer afternoon passes nearby: each year, all the ranges are usually clear during the school holidays. Leaving the car at New Bridge - SX596903 - walk back up the road and turn first left, along an un-metalled track. Shortly uphill this connects to another running across the hillside, which is also well maintained and stoned. Turn left and continue on to its termination at Dinger plain, a favoured patch of good green pasture on a gentle southerly slope, surrounded on all sides by fen. The nearby tor of the same name once had a stone artillery observation post, now demolished.

Lints Tor

The summit of Lints, a little over half a mile further on, with mostly firm ground all the way, is very strange. Although many tors have a stack or two beside their main rock piles, here there is a broad, low ledge from which rises just one tower-shaped outcrop. Hemery reports that a "letterbox" is hidden on it, an idea which began at Cranmere Pool in 1854 by the best guide of his day, James Perrott of Chagford; though the modern practice is very different from his original intent.

Initially calling cards were left in an unconcealed container, and sometimes also stamped letters which the next visitor would take away and post in the Royal Mail. Today there are many hundreds such letterboxes made up of a rubber stamp and inkpad, suitably kept in any weathertight container. Each one is well hidden and their stamps all have different designs: collecting a full set has its devotees. Sadly not all respect their fragile surroundings, for near one there was a most frustrated 'boxer, angrily swishing at the heather with his stick. At length he was unable to find the object of his desires and angrily stomped off, muttering fiercely.

Summit cairn on High Willes

From Dinger a convenient sheep track runs slowly uphill, north west to Foresland (OS Fordsland) Ledge. This small tor has conspicuous metal army cabins that resemble giant portaloos, and a magnificent view of the northern peat fen. Both the higher reaches of West Ockment and Lints Tor, which lie in the middle distance, are overlooked. To the south above them range, from left to right, the western flank of Great Kneeset at Kneeset Nose, Kneeset Foot above the tor itself and finally Amicombe Hill, on the far side of which is Bleak House. The two far horizon tors are Fur, left, and Great Mis: between them are the headwaters of River Tavy and, nine miles due south, the television mast at Hessary Tor. North and uphill is High Willes and the summit cairn, Dartmoor's highest point. The one good thing about summits is that everything else is all downhill. A broad, paved path leads on from High Willes to Yes Tor and at the col between them connects to another, well-stoned one that goes straight down and east. It ends with the Dinger track, at which junction turn right and zig-zag left, to reach the road near New Bridge



Northern outcrop of Ockment Black Tor

Since Dartmoor was first exposed to the elements and denudation, fluctuating sea levels have produced a series of erosion terraces. They are notable as broad shelves that give the higher hills and tors a step-like profile. Particularly prominent is one that surrounds Cosdon; another occurs on the western slopes of Yes Tor, ending in a series of three rock outcrops which together make West Ockment's Black Tor.

Being set about by higher hills, this is a place where weather can appear to happen very suddenly. Often on a westerly clouds will form right overhead, bringing down both mists and rain, as many frustrating hours spent waiting with a camera firmly mounted on its tripod can testify! Once, after rain and when a heavy murk lay on the rocks above, a voice in the gloom boomed out. "There's only one idiot know fool enough to set his camera up today. What ever are you doing there?" As the questioner was himself a photographer, he was naturally told the picture was useless, so I hadn't a clue. His question was hastily returned to him, before he came close enough to mark the tripod holes. He was out as the team leader of a group of youngsters, practising for the Ten Tors. "A good day for compass work" he added ruefully, as he stood there quietly dripping from head to toe.

This is the picture of Black Tor

The hillside round about is well served with intermittent springs and rivulets and there are plenty of soft rushes-a sure indicator of wet ground. During one prolonged wet spell these leaked water so fast the ground became a shallow lake. It was made more remarkable because at this point the West Ockment valley floor is a good two hundred feet below; but that year was very damp and during it a nearby water-intake weir (below Shelstone Tor, at SX560898) was smashed by floods and had to be re-built.

The quickest approach is from Meldon Reservoir: cross over the dam and climb Longstone Hill's western flank, keeping left of Fishcombe Water - see the picture of Meldon in the Introduction: the two hills across the reservoir are Longstone, left, and Homerton, with Fishcombe Water in between - there is a narrow and well trodden sheep track, which climbs up beside a small waterfall and ends in a wet hollow. The stream, now so small it is often hidden in the peat, continues on; keep near its right bank and in a little while the greener grass of firmer ground will lead on to a peat cutter's track under the flank of Yes Tor. This is paved with granite slabs, that in some places has diverted nearby springs which now flow along its course. There are many shallow pools and here in February 2004 the frogs were mating enthusiastically, which was just as well for it was the 14th - and a leap year too. The track ends just under Black Tor, with firm ground extending from its terminus all the way to the summit.



Meldon Reservoir from the dam

This reservoir was made by flooding the pretty west Ockment valley; it was opened in 1972. Meldon is the latest dam made in the National Park, but it may not alas be the last. South West Water company had wanted another, but there was doubt about the practicality of their preferred site. Had they been successful, The Swincombe at Foxtor Mires would now be under water, as well as mineshafts that yielded heavy metal ores.

Sheep feeding beside the reservoir

There is a circular walk all round the water, though it is best to start uphill from the car-park, rather than proceed directly for the dam. From the pedestrian gate above the information board, cross the road and almost opposite there is a footpath that uses the dry channel of a disused leat. Follow this and after South Down there is a long series of steps leading directly to Vellake Corner's packhorse bridge.

Cascading water, October 2005

The reservoir's western end is dominated by Corn Ridge. High, wide and heavy going, it has two small outcrops known as Branscombe's Loaf and Cheese. It is so-called after the same Bronescombe that granted the Ancient Tenement holders their religious relief. He was much given to visiting his parishioners and had crossed the moors from Widecombe. Arriving at Corn Ridge, a fog came down; hungry, cold and weary the redoubtable bishop and his companion chaplain longed for food. Bread and cheese would be good, they decided: whereat out of the mist a moorman loomed and naturally proffered both - faced with such a grand eminence, what else could the poor devil do? The bishop, his moral guard totally compromised, would have accepted, but his chaplain spotted the stranger had horned feet instead of shoes. A hasty sign of the cross made Satan vanish, but not so the loaf and cheese, which were both instantly turned to stone. Today, when breezes are northerly and light there are often paragliders wheeling on the skyline, catching draughts swirling round Corn Hole.



Okehampton keep

There has been some sort of stronghold at Okehampton ever since the eleventh century. Baldwin de Brionys who rode at Hastings as a lieutenant of William I, might have been responsible for building the basic motte-and-bailey design, as well as part of the square keep seen here; but most of the stonework visible today was completed much later by members of the Courtenay family.

Part of the bailey

They acquired the site by marriage in 1152 and remained in occupation (with a short interruption during the Roses campaigns) until Henry VIII threw them out. He had the castle dismantled and although Edward Courtenay obtained a restoration from Queen Mary, it was never re-fortified. The lower bailey has remains of a great hall inside the gatehouse, with its buttery and kitchens behind. Opposite to them are a lodge, wardrooms and, best preserved of all a chapel, where traces of wall-paintings have recently been uncovered. Today English Heritage control the site; there is a small car park near their entrance booth.

The traditional castle ghost is Lady Howard, who "survived four husbands and probably murdered them; was cruel to her daughters and hated by the community". She has to bring the grass of Okehampton's castle back to her home in Tavistock, one blade at a time: see Smith V, 1966, Portrait of Darmoor, page 128. Many guide books have the same story. Baring-Gould is more sympathetic, pointing out that Mary Fitz (her maiden name) started her marital career as a child bride, aged 12, who was cruelly used by her guardian, the Earl of Northumberland; in A Book of Devon, 1899, pages 281-3. Her labour is similar to one that was inflicted on Benjamin Gayer, a mayor of Okehampton in the 17th century. His soul was condemned to empty Cranmere Pool with an oat sieve. This he continually attempted, until one day he chanced upon a sheepskin, which he gleefully fitted over his sieve. Water was then emptied so quickly that the resulting flood drowned everyone downstream in the town below, see Crossing W, 1911: Folk Rhymes of Devon, pages 29-35. At least Benjamin Gayer was spared the fate of Sisyphus: once the king of Corinth, he tried to trick the godess Persephone, but she found him out. In punishment he must now roll a stone uphill for ever.



Moor Brook beside the military camp

The moorland part of this small stream-which mostly lies within the army's Okehampton range-provides a popular stopping place on summer Sunday afternoons. No wonder, for its backdrop consists of north Dartmoor's finest tors, which in the picture here are, left to right, the western flank of Row, then West Mil and Yes Tors and finally on the right horizon, part of Black Down. Access by car is easy for there is a tarmac road running alongside the Brook from Moor Gate, SX592931, and on up to Yes Tor's flank, where it abruptly ends: a well stoned track takes over and is the same as that which reaches Dinger Tor.

It is hard to imagine that the placid stream which flows past Moor Gate is the same one that has carved out Halstock Cleave. No sooner than it has swapped granite bedrock for slate, Moor Brook completely changes character and bustles exuberantly downhill through fine oak woods, coruscating over a long series of cascades and slides. Autumn here is a wonderful time, when the steep valley sides and their trees provide shelter from harsh equinoctial winds. Bracken fronds turn butter yellow and even a dull and soul-less November light can reach the valley floor, showing off the delicate tints of falling leaves. Moor Brook ends its journey shortly after, when it joins the East Ockment in Belstone West Cleave, which is that valley's proper name, although I have heard Okehampton people call it Halstock Woods.

There was enough water coming down in the autumn pictured here, but it had been a dry summer and Moor Brook had not yet fully recovered : its flow was still barely adequate and it only just filled all the riverbed. Some idea of what more water might look like is given in picture 103 overleaf, which shows the East Ockment soon after a very wet depression with "rain coming in fromthe south west" had passed through.

Waterfall on East Ockment

Below Halstock Cleave Moor Brook joins the East Ockment river in Belstone West Cleave. There are footpaths from the town on each side of the river as far as Fatherford, where beside the old Southern Railway viaduct a wooden clam connects them. A single path then continues on upstream-for about a mile - to Chapel Ford and another clam. Between them the boisterous East Ockment has carved a fine series of falls and rapids that echoes Lydford Gorge, though the valley and its riverbanks are nothing like as steep. Although the impressive waterfall here is next downstream to the one below, it is normally two smaller rapids separated by calm water in between. However, before this photograph was taken there had been a very wet spell for some days and it was still raining as the camera was set up.

East Ockment in Belstone West Cleave
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