The 365 square mile granite moorland between Exeter and Plymouth is often described as Southern England’s last great wilderness.
It’s a place known for its prehistoric remains, ponies, tors, quaint villages, beautiful river valleys and above all its bleak, desolate landscape that inspired books like ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.
There’s a stark beauty to Dartmoor which has left a lasting impression on me from the very first time I saw it, and no matter how many times I come here I never tire of it.
This upland area rises to a height of 2039 ft (621m) at High Willhays and has more than its fair share of rain, creating a boggy mass on the high moorland which becomes the source of many of Devon’s well-known rivers, including of course, the River Dart.
The most famous natural features of Dartmoor though are undoubtedly the ‘Tors’ which are weathered granite outcrops that rise above the surrounding landscape in a variety of different shapes.
Rain may be responsible for Dartmoor’s mires, and ice and snow for the formation of its tors, but fog also seems to have an effect on people’s minds too, which is why there are so many tales and legends that seem to have occurred up here. On the road between Postbridge and Two Bridges for example, there are stories about how a pair of ‘hairy hands’ have suddenly appeared and taken control of a car’s steering wheel to try and force the driver off the road. There have been numerous accidents along this stretch of road resulting in fatalities and the nearby bridge is known as ‘Hairy Hands Bridge’.
Not all of Dartmoor National Park is Hairy Hands country, there’s also a more gentle side to it as well. The northern part of the moor is the most remote, and a fair portion of the southern moor is pretty barren also, but the fringes, and the eastern part in particular, has a much softer side to it, where trout streams feed the rivers that tumble down from the moor, and the hedgerows full of wildflowers lead to picturesque villages with thatched cottages.
There are many authors and poets that can sum up a place far better than I can, and one such person is Eden Phillpotts. He lived to the ripe old age of ninety eight but when he died in 1960 he was largely unknown even though he had written some two hundred and fifty books, poems and plays, many of them about Dartmoor.
He used to avoid being in the spotlight, and maybe his unnatural liaison with his daughter had something to do with it, but his words could be very profound, and with thanks to Legendary Dartmoor, I’m reproducing some of them here.
Where My Treasure Is
Eternal Mother, when my race is run,
Will that I pass beneath the risen sun,
Suffer my sight to dim upon some spot
That changes not.
Let my last pillow be the land I love
With Fair infinity of blue above;
The roaming shadow of a silver cloud
My only shroud.
A little Lark above the morning star,
Shall shrill the tidings of my end afar;
The muffled music of a lone sheep-bell
Shall be my knell.
And where stone heroes trod the moor of old;
Where ancient wolf howled round granite fold;
Hide Thou, beneath the heather’s new-born light,
My endless night.
Eden Phillpotts – 1905