Setting out from Dartmoor Expedition Centre.

Dartmoor Expedition Centre,

Dartmoor, Devon

22nd - 24th June 2007



Generally speaking, the standard of accommodation on Xerox hiking trips has always been pretty good. This is in no small part thanks to Martin Lighten's organisation, having been at the helm in recent years. There are occasions where the accommodation doesn't quite live up to expectation. The Dartmoor Expedition Centre near Widecombe just off the A38 is one such example. Consisting of a several 300-year-old thatched-roofed barns which have been fitted out as bunkhouses, detached from the ablution facilities a short walk up an incline, the dining/kitchen area consists of a sloping stone floor. It's very basic, very primitive and not very comfortable, this being the general consensus of the group.


Looking back towards Dartmoor Expedition Centre.


Across the Dartmoor landscape - hedgerows as far as the eye can see.



For this trip I had invited two colleagues from Xerox, Song and his wife, to come along. Song is from Singapore and his wife Korean.  Not hikers at heart, Dartmoor Expedition Centre was perhaps not the best venue to have chosen as an introduction to the activities of the hiking club. They came wholly unprepared, having been advised to ensure that they have proper footgear, what with the weather conditions and terrain. Walking opportunities abound as far as Dartmoor National Park is concerned. I had taken a half-day's leave from work.  We left Xerox around 12h30 Friday, taking the obvious M25/M4/M5 route, arriving around 07h30 in the evening and going down to the pub in the evening. Our walk on the Saturday covered roughly ten miles, taking us across the moor and through a section of forest near Cator Court. Before that, we encountered heavy rain around lunchtime but as soon as this spell passed, the sun came out and shone brightly. In the evening we returned to the pub for a meal.  

Dartmoor is an area of moorland in the centre of Devon. Protected by National Park status, it covers 954 square kilometres. Dartmoor is managed by the Dartmoor National Park Authority whose 22 members are drawn from Devon County Council, local District Councils and Government. The granite upland dates from the Carboniferous period of geological history. The moorland is capped with many exposed granite hilltops (known as Tors), providing habitats for Dartmoor wildlife. The highest point is High Willhays, 621 m (2,037 ft) above sea level. It was some years ago that I had climbed one of the its tors, Yestor, along with Kavida, a friend I met shortly after arriving in the UK. Yestor, only just the second highest tor at 619 m, was also used as a location for one of the album covers of legendary progressive rock band, Yes, Tormato to be exact. Images of the various members of the band taken through a blue filter were superimposed on Dartmoor background and as rumour had it, the band were so disenchanted with the cover that someone took a tomato and threw it at the cover, hence the obvious title. Regarding myself as one of its most loyal fans, it was probably no major surprise that I chose to do this walk. More than 160 of the hills of Dartmoor have the word "Tor" in them but quite a number do not. However this does not appear to relate to whether or not there is an outcrop of rock on their summit.

Medieval Dartmoor burial stone?


Approaching the remnants of a tin mine on Dartmoor - markings on the hillside show how the terrain has been scoured


Dartmoor includes the largest area of granite in Britain, with about 625 square kilometres (241 sq mi) at the surface, though most of it is under superficial peat deposits. Dartmoor includes the largest area of granite in Britain, with about 625 square kilometres (241 sq mi) at the surface, though most of it is under superficial peat deposits. The entire area is rich in antiquities and archeology. The majority of the prehistoric remains on Dartmoor date back to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Indeed, Dartmoor contains the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the United Kingdom, which suggests that this was when a larger population moved onto the hills of Dartmoor. The large systems of Bronze Age fields, divided by reaves (long and generally straight boundary walls made of stone), cover an area of over 10,000 hectares (39 sq mi) of the lower moors.

The climate at the time was warmer than today, and much of today's moorland was covered with trees. The prehistoric settlers began clearing the forest, and established the first farming communities. Fire was the main method of clearing land, creating pasture and swidden (an old English word for slash and burn) types of fire-fallow farmland. Areas less suited for farming tended to be burned for livestock grazing. Over the centuries these Neolithic practices greatly expanded the upland moors, and contributed to the acidification of the soil and the accumulation of peat and bogs. The highly acidic soil has ensured that no organic remains have survived, but the durability of the granite has meant that the remains of buildings, enclosures and monuments have survived well, as have flint tools. 


What remains of an old tin mine and dwelling on Dartmoor.


Andy and Maeve stop for a tea break and to get out of the rain.


The rain pelting down en route to Dartmoor Forest; Road signs at an intersection just outside Dartmoor Forest.


Dartmoor farmhouse.


Numerous menhirs (large upright standing stones or longstones, found singly as monoliths or as part of a group of similar stones), stone circles, kistvaens (a burial tomb from the Neolithic age), cairns and stone rows are to be found on the moor. Kistvaen is derived from the Cornu-Celtic word meaning a stone chest. The climate worsened over the course of a thousand years from around 1000 BC, so that much of high Dartmoor was largely abandoned by its early inhabitants. It was not until the early medieval period that the weather again became warmer, and settlers moved back onto the moors. Like their ancient forebears, they also used the natural granite to build their homes, preferring a style known as the longhouse (a type of traditional home) – some of which are still inhabited today, although they have been clearly adapted over the centuries. Many are now being used as farm buildings, while others were abandoned and fell into ruin.


Public rights of way exists on Dartmoor, with many kilometres of permitted footpaths and bridleways where the owner allows access.


Lyn, Mick, Steve, Sandra, Maeve and Andy at farmhouse gate.


Scenic Dartmoor country lane.


  Some of the bogs on Dartmoor have achieved notoriety, the most notable being Fox Tor Mires, supposedly the inspiration for Great Grimpen Mire in Conan Doyle's novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Some way into the moor stands the town of Princetown, the site of the notorious Dartmoor Prison, which was originally built both by, and for, prisoner of war from the Napoleonic Wars.

The Dartmoor landscape is scattered with the marks left by the many generations who have lived and worked there over the centuries – such as the remains of the once mighty Dartmoor tin-mining industry, and farmhouses long since abandoned. Dartmoor abounds with myths and legends. It is reputedly the haunt of pixies, a headless horseman, a mysterious pack of 'spectral hounds', and a large black dog. During the Great Thunderstorm of 1638, Dartmoor was even said to have been visited by the Devil. Many landmarks have ancient legends and ghost stories associated with them, such as  Jay's Grave, the ancient burial site at Childe's Tomb, the rock pile called Bowerman's Nose, and the stone crosses that mark mediaeval routes across the moor.

Over half of Dartmoor National Park (57.3%) is private land; the Forest of Dartmoor being the major part of this, owned by the Duke of Cornwall. The Ministery of Defence owns 14%, 3.8% is owned by water companies, 3.7% by the National Trust, 1.8% by the Forestry Commission and 1.4% by Dartmoor's National Park Authority. About 37% of Dartmoor is Common Land.

Dartmoor differs from some other National Parks in England and Wales, in that since the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985, much of it has been designated as 'Access Land', which, although it remains privately owned, has no restrictions on where walkers can roam. In addition to this Access Land, there are about 730 km (449 mi) of public rights of way on Dartmoor, and many kilometres of permitted footpaths and bridleways where the owner allows access.

The moor takes its name from the River Dart, which starts as the East Dart and West Dart and then becomes a single river at Dartmeet. It leaves the moor at Buckfastleigh, flowing through  Totnes below where it opens up into a long estuary, reaching the sea at Dartmouth.

Sandra and Mick seem to be having fun, along with Andy and Maeve taking up the rear.


Dartmoor hedgerows along the roadside are typical; It only takes a bit of sunshine to put a smile on everyone's face!


Ancient Dartmoor trees line this picturesque lane.


Remnants of ancient Dartmoor forest; Is this the right way, someone seems to be asking?


Old farmhouse near Cator Court - local Dartmoor granite was used to build 'longhouses' in medieval times.


Dartmoor hedgerows and country lanes create an exceptionally scenic landscape; Bright pink trumpet-shaped wild flower.


Kicking off the boots at the end of a 10-mile walk - where's the tea?


Sunday saw us leaving Dartmoor Expedition Centre around 11h00 and after a visit and walk around nearby Widecombe in the Moor, we headed towards Dartmeet via Ashburton on A38 to Exeter. On the road between Ashburton and Two Bridges lies Holne Bridge, a Grade II listed medieval Bridge constructed of local granite, with four arches, three of which are semicircular and the other segmental. It was rebuilt in 1413. The narrowness of the bridge permits only single-lane traffic. With lunch beckoning, we stopped for tea and scones at a restaurant near Two Bridges and it was here that I introduced Song and his wife to the famous local delicacy known as Devon cream tea, designed to tickle the taste buds whilst simultaneously push up cholesterol levels. It began to rain quite heavily. This was also the weekend of Glastonbury's 2007 rock festival and so rain here meant rain at Glastonbury too. We arrived home around 19h15. My old car had for some time now been getting a bit long in the tooth and at some point whilst travelling on the highway, my speedometer decided to give up the ghost.


View near Widecombe-in-the-Moor.


A local Devonshire farmer perhaps?; Song and his wife enjoying the Devon countryside whilst salivating at the thought of a local cream tea!


Holne Bridge, crossing the River Dart.


Ancient forests at Holne Bridge, Devon.


Two Bridges, Devon.



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