Saturday, 13 June 2009
My third and final day in Dartmoor, after a full English breakfast and lots of fresh fruit, we checked out of the hotel and headed for Hound Tor. This is of course famous because it is said to be the devil and his hounds which are turned to stones. Some rocks do indeed resemble the heads of large hounds. When we visited it was enshrouded with mist. Although some intrepid tourists had still come to see it. On the way we stopped to visit Kitty Jay's grave.
The story of Kitty Jay is that she was a farmer's daughter who committed suicide and was therefore buried at a crossroads, probably with a stake through her heart. Her grave always had fresh flowers appearing on it, a phenomenon that took place until a couple of years ago and was said to be the work of an invisible hand.
After this we walked to the Bowerman's nose, also enshrouded in mist. The Victorians believed this to be a rock idol, an artificial carving of a pagan god. It is now generally considered to be a natural rock feature although it does closely resemble a human figure, the 11th century hunter, Bowerman, who was according to legend turned to stone by witches.
We finished the day by a visit to Grimspound, this is a prehistoric settlement used for farming not defensive purposes, it was enclosed by a wall and contained stone huts. It in a very special and peaceful setting. We walked back to the Warren Inn from here and I bought the guidebook about Grimspound and the Inn itself.
On my second day in Dartmoor, I did a 10-miler from the Two Bridges hotel. This meant I didn't have to do much driving and also out hotel is in the centre of the moor so we could do a circular walk from there and see lots of scenery. Within about 10 minutes of walking north we arrived at Wistmans Wood. I have seen this before on the Nature of Britain documentary, where Alan Titchmarsh said it is supposed to be haunted. I have also read that Wistmans Wood is supposed to be the most haunted place on Dartmoor. Its real interest is that it is a SSSI. The lichens on the trees are very rare, and some grow nowhere else apart from this wood. Many are hundreds of years old. The trees are pedunculate oaks which are small and stunted, and very gnarled, partly because of the high altitude. It is thought that Wistmans Wood is part of a truly ancient forest and is what Dartmoor would have looked like in prehistoric times. The lichens grow so well on the rocks and trees because of the lack of air pollution.
On leaving Wistmans Wood, we admired the views from Bellever tor. We saw a rare orchid and walked down towards the ruins Powdermills. This is an eerie and haunted site because it is reputed to be the death on an Italian worker in an explosion there which resulted on the ghostly phenomenon of the "Hairy Hands". These Hairy Hands are said to grab the steering wheel from the drivers or motorcyclists at Cherrybrook Bridge, and there have been many accidents (one including a police officer) which have been blamed on the hairy hands. This is a uniquely modern 20th century ghost phenomenon which has only been happening since the 1920s.
On crossing the road we walked through a stretch of pine trees, but shortly before this we nearly got stuck in a bog because the signs warning about it were the wrong way round! I blame this on the hinkypunks or pixies. It was very interesting to see a bog up close nevertheless.
The next part of our walk took us towards the River Dart, and a landscape opened up that was almost like Middle Earth. A distant view of the sparking river over a dry stone wall where there were still many bluebells. Eventually we had to cross two sets of stepping stones, this was the only way across the river. The stones do look like something out of Middle Earth.
We saw some more Dartmoor ponies and followed the route over another clapper bridge and the sparkling River Dart back to the hotel.
This week I arranged to stay in the heart of Dartmoor, a place called Two Bridges. This is a luxury hotel and was a favourite place of Vivien Leigh the film star. Apparently her room still retains her presence. The hotel is said to be haunted by her. On my first day I went to Okehampton Castle, on the edge of Dartmoor. This was quite picturesque and is said to be haunted by one of the ghost of Lady Howard, who is doomed to drive a spectral coach made from the bones of her murdered husbands. However it is thought to be untrue that she murdered her husbands. Although I think the idea of a coach made from bones is rather fantastic.
I then went to visit Lydford gorge, on my way to check into the hotel. Lydford gorge was amazing. It is however slightly dangerous in places and on the way to the Devils Cauldron - a pool where the waterfall makes lots of noise coming down on to the rocks - you have to hold on very tight to the railing while walking along slippery stones. The waterfall was very beautiful and was a great way to start a visit to Dartmoor. Lydford gorge is said to be the haunt of a white lady, hence the name of the White Lady Waterfall. Although personally I think perhaps the name of the waterfall comes from its appearance, which does look a lot like a white lady?
After we had checked into the hotel, we went for a drink at the Warren Inn. This pub is almost in the middle of nowhere and is possibly the model for "The Slaughtered Lamb" in the film American Werewolf in London. It has a fire which has been burning continuously since 1845.
Close to the Warren Inn is Bennets Cross. The views of the moors from the cross are superb. The weather changed very suddenly, and we were able to appreciate true moorland weather, which can be sunny one moment then heavy mist the next. It very atmospheric to see the way the mist shrouds the tops of Dartmoor's stone tors. This was very eerie and fascinating. We followed the GPS up to Merrivale stone rows, and walked around in the fog, the ground was waterlogged although not dangerously boggy and it was hugely eerie. Merrivale is the second most important prehistoric site on Dartmoor after Grimspound. I was extremely glad I was able to see Dartmoor in the mist because this enhanced the atmosphere and enabled me to appreciate its sublime beauty.