Photographs of the Forest and Commons

north-east dartmoor


Taw below Knack Mine

The next river valley east of Halstock Woods belongs to the Taw, which two miles from its source mire is already a lively stream as it crosses Knack Mine Ford, at the foot of Steeperton and Oke Tors. Knack was an unsuccessful nineteenth century venture, by the side of a path that now reaches turf ties higher up on Hangingstone Hill. It can be easily approached from the military ring road, where this ascends the north-east shoulder of Okement Hill: a well-stoned but untarred track branches off at SX609884 and heads downhill, to meet the miner's path coming up from Watchet Hill Gate, SX616933.

Irishman's wall near Belstone Tor

Below the ford Steeperton Gorge begins, but unlike Halstock Cleave there are no woods here, only a handful of Rowans that have stubbornly rooted between the boulders. Through the gorge's lower half runs a broken drystone wall that has no obvious purpose. It was part of an unsuccessful newtake attempted, so local tradition has it, by Irishmen. Barefoot and without any consents or permission, they began enclosing a large area of common pasture. The local worthies looked on, so the story goes, until they could stand it no longer; whereat they fell upon the wall in force and tore it down, after which the Irish departed.

Ponies, Taw Marsh

Various small groups of ponies, each with a stallion in charge, roamed here in the 1990s. When two such were near each other, one stallion happily poached mares away from another that was smaller. Whilst thus preoccupied, one of his own wives wandered away and he rushed to collect her, head down and squealing with fury. His smaller rival seized the moment, dashing in to cut out double the number he'd just lost, before wisely removing his enlarged remuda a very safe distance away.

Steeperton from Taw Marsh

When Falcon [his page xxxix and plate 96] took his photograph of Taw Marsh he wrote "The Taw . . . . flows through a stretch of singularly level moor, rich with contrasting heather and marshy growth." It is almost a century since then and the basic topography has not altered: a short distance south of Birchy Lake Gate, SX621929, a great flat-bottomed valley opens out and extends to the foot of Steeperton Tor, a mile or so away. However the flora is very different now; most of Taw Marsh has disappeared as the area is now drained by a Water Authority extraction scheme.

Dotted around the valley floor are various boreholes, their presence marked by mounds with concrete entrances that make them look like underground military bunkers. There is also a sunken aeration plant and pump station, with skylights punctuating a turf roof now burrowed by rabbits; it is less than a mile up the service track from Birchy Lake, downhill on the left, just as the ruin of Irishman's Wall running up to Belstone Tor is reached. But despite being done by an act of parliament, the water sprites never delivered the quantity decreed. The whole sorry tale is given a good airing by Somers Cocks S, in Gill 1970; Dartmoor a New Study, page 266.

The further end of the Water Authority's track runs along the valley floor, where shallow pools collect round it after autumn rains. They freeze in winter's colder spells, forming sheets of shining ice. One fine January afternoon, when all were gleaming white, the dog rushed at them. He was a Tibetan and mistakenly saw snow, in which he loved to play. Confident in the traction his four-legged drive provided, he instantly discovered that claws and ice can be a tricky combination when instant manoeuvrability is desired. Sliding inelegantly on his belly into the middle, he stared about in furious disbelief. Getting him back on terra firma took considerable coaxing.

There are still some colonies of bog plants, but they have retreated to small areas further up the valley and are now replaced by grass and heather, cropped to short turf by constant grazing. Even after all these changes flocks of golden plover still come here every winter, their white undersides flashing as they wheel and weave, while their lonely, mournful piping echoes along the valley sides.



 The Hanging Stone

From the plains of Taw Marsh Steeperton Tor looks an imposing height, but it is really nothing of the sort. Continuing along the track from Knack-see above-will put it in perspective; this climbs the tor's southwestern flank, crosses Ockside Hill and ascends the ridge beyond, which rises to 1983 feet above sea level and is Dartmoor's third highest point. Crossing calls it Newtake Hill and adds it "is sometimes called Hangingstone Hill, but that name is usually considered . . . to belong only to the N.W. side of it, where there is a small outlying pile of rock" in Crossing 1965, page 238. The older name of Newtake refers to an aborted attempt to enclose the hilltop and make it part of Teignhead Farm, an Improver's holding that lay southeast of Whitehorse Hill. The rocks in question are an almost insignificant group and can easily be missed; they are west of the track and below the summit. One used to move, hence the name, but alas it does so no longer. The view from them back downhill is impressive.

On the summit above there is no tor, but a flat mirey ridge extends half a mile to Whitehorse Hill, which is its southern end. Running up to the ridge is a route that comes in two halves. Firstly, southwest above Walla Brook Head is a raised causeway called the Sand Path. It is tricky to find, but lies almost due west of an opening in the newtake wall, SX627854; it is shown as dotted lines on the OS map. Further on uphill is a peat pass. Bulldozed out by the army in 1963, this is a dramatic cut through the peat, marked at each end by Phillpotts' posts.

All the old peat cuts, used by moormen on horseback for their passage through the northern fen, were cleared by Frank Phillpotts, the posts that mark them being provided as a memorial to him. Unless their location is known in advance, they are difficult to find. Searching for them is often a wet and dirty business; but despite this, posts routinely go missing, presumably removed by trophy hunters.

Looking south on Watern Tor

East of the peat pass lies Walla Brook Head, a marshy hollow that is best avoided. Above it rises the curiously layered formation of Watern Tor, which with its many close horizontal joints looks quite different from the big irregular blocks of Great Hound or Vixen Tors. The two most northerly piles are so close to each other that they look like a single group, with a hole through the middle, so they are called the Thirlestone, or holed stone.

Thirlestone on Watern Tor

The view north has Wild Tor and Cosdon, with Belstone Tor in the background. East a wide prospect overlooks lesser heights like Kennon Hill and Scorhill Down, together with the border country. South lies the long whaleback ridge with a further group of outcrops, which for me makes this one of Dartmoor's more photogenic tors. It is a fine place to visit, but have plenty of time, for the shortest approach is from the military ring road, Knack Mine and the Hangingstone Hill track, leaving the latter for Watern where its final incline steepens. As the Walla is crossed, preferably immediately below the neck of a mire - Watern Combe - there is a striking example of Mediaeval or Elizabethan tin working: the brook's banks are walled, to facilitate draining and streaming along the river above.

tinner's walling, Watern Combe, Walla brook

All around the summit there is a heather moor where red grouse can still be found, crying "Go Back Go Back" as they fly away. Dartmoor once had a good resident population, but no more. Overstocking sheep and cattle and especially too frequent swaling have contributed to their decline. Another reason might be Louping Ill, a virus that kills newborn chicks; it is carried by a parasite and research in Wales has shown that on the Berwyns there, this can be passed on by sheep depastured on the mountains. Yet it would not be right to blame everything on sheep; there has been little keepering done on Dartmoor since the rabbit warrens closed. Vermin have flourished and the ground-nesting grouse are vulnerable to their predations. Foxes are a particular hazard, but in the 1990s they had a bad attack of mange and now are nothing like so plentiful.




The great oval hill of Cosdon (some older maps may call it Cawsand) rises abruptly from the north-eastern moorland and dominates the landscape in a way few other Dartmoor heights can manage. There are fine views over much of north and east Devon from its summit, which has for centuries done service as a beacon. Fires lit on top told of the Armada, 1588, when Devon mustered four thousand fighting men. They are still lit on special occasions today; one such was for fifty years of peace, VE day 1995.

Twelve knights started from here and beat the bounds of Dartmoor Forest in 1240. They called it a Perambulation, which is the earliest known record of the Royal Forest boundaries: "perambulationem ad hogam de Cossdonne et inde linealiter usque ad parvam hogam que vocatur parva Hundetorre. . .". Parva Hundetorre is Little Hound Tor (OS Hound Tor) and between it and Cosdon is a low hill that Crossing calls Brook Hill; Hemery disagrees and says it is Little Whit, in Crossing 1965, page 211 and Hemery E, 1983; High Dartmoor Land and People, page 82; lastly, OS call it Little Hound Tor, though there is no obvious tor there at all. I consider at least two of them must be wrong!

White Moor Stone

The 1240 Perambulation curiously makes no mention of the next landmark, White Moor Stone, though today both Throwleigh parish council-who have carved TP upon it-and the Duchy with their DC use it as a bound stone. Because the knights were silent there has been some debate about its standing as a Bronze Age monument, though most writers now accept it as contemporary with a nearby stone circle (here just cresting the skyline, centre). Not far west is the peat-cutter's track from Hangingstone Hill which, on its way to South Zeal, climbs to a contour line on Cosdon and there skirts round Raybarrow Pool, a wet depression complete with withey bushes. It may be that peat is still accumulating in this bog, for it is spreading and sections of the path are now permanently under water.

Here I once watched a crocodile of young schoolchildren pass by, their mistress driving from the safety of the rear. They were going in a straight line that took them directly to the marsh, which was surely a mistake. Yet each warning shout was studiously ignored and only managed to disturb the resting ducks: everyone marched determinedly forward until the bog itself took a welly-wrenching grip upon proceedings. Any moorland place with waterfowl should be treated with great caution, a point no doubt impressed upon the mistress, as she hastily retired her charges back to firmer ground.

On the other side of Cosdon the peat track passes over Balls Hill - which is unnamed by OS - east of Cheriton Combe Water. Later it crosses beside the stones of a triple row sometimes called The Cemetery. The rows are terminated at their western end by a double cist, from which there is a fine panorama. All of Dartmoor's eastern border country is overlooked, right round from hills that flank the Teign at Fingle - where the square shape of Castle Drogo stands above the gorge - past Moretonhampstead and Chagford, to the conspicuous twin humps of Hey Tor. Northward the view extends to Exmoor, rising blue and purple with the haze of distance above intervening hills of patchwork green. Those whose bones rest here were given quite a vantage on eternity.



Shilley Pool Blackaton Brook

After a sedate reach under the the southeastern flanks of Cosdon, Blackaton Brook begins a rapid descent through the confines of a narrow defile crammed with willows. Here there are small cascades and pools, even miniature islands that are ungrazed by sheep and thus have lush vegetation, rich with the scent of Bedstraws in July. The place is called Blackaton Hole and at sometime it has been much worked by tinners, who in places have left their untidy heaps upon the valley floor. Downstream, before Clannaborough Down curves away southeast and the valley opens out, there is a long water slide formed from dipping granite strata that shines in the sun of summer afternoons. Directly below this is a large pool, called Shilley, that has been artificially deepened by boulders heaped into a rough dam. In the hottest months it is a popular place with bathers, who hijack the slippery smooth rock slide above to use it as a water-chute.

Willows and bedstraw, Blackaton Hole

Blackaton Brook leaves the moor in a generally northeastern direction, only to turn abruptly southwest and join the Teign below Gidleigh. Before it does so, it is crossed by a county bye-road over Highbury Bridge, a small, low single-arched span of granite, typical of many around the northeastern border country. Beside it a wood runs along the brook; owned by the Woodland Trust there is a path through it that reaches another county bye-road on the other side at Blackaton Bridge. The wood is mixed with both broadleaf and conifer, making the path a very picturesque and peaceful walk beside the gurgle of water that is always nearby

Oak in Blackaton Wood


North Teign breaching a tinners' spoiltip

South of hills that overlook Blackaton's source mire lies a great bowl that is drained by the waters of three streams. The area becomes a marsh as Gallaven and Walla Brooks join, one that extends a mile or so until the latter meets North Teign. Crossing referred to the western extension immediately under Watern Tor, beside Teign's tributary of Hew Lake, as Battery Meres and wondered whether Batworthy Mires was a more authentic name, in Crossing W 1965, page 240.

Teign-e-ver clapper

It could once have been a shallow lake: at Teign-e-ver, SX655871, the riverbed has been deliberately lowered, its banks secured with rough-hewn blocks. Perhaps like on the Walla higher up, this was done for drainage. Today the area shows signs of extensive tin streaming, where the flood-plain has been worked in successive trenches, their excavated spoil heaped beside them in long, snaking parallel pebble ridges, most now overgrown with heather. Many of the lower-lying trenches are now just soggy hollows, full of peaty pools, soft rush and mosses. They regularly dry out in summer droughts and in so doing record the footprints of everything that passes across them. All were completely covered in cloven hoof marks in the 1990s, made by sheep and cattle that graze here all year round. Ground-nesting birds like curlew must find it very difficult to breed, for their nests are in constant danger of being trampled underfoot.

Walla Brook Clapper

Between Teign and Walla,a footpath runs between two clappers, winding through tinner's spoil tips where heather and bilberry are now recovering after years of overgrazing that prevented them from growing properly. It was here I met the retired Commoner mentioned in the Introduction. Although he had said swaling caused no damage to the flora, he fell silent when his view was challenged. The single span with its iron clamp, called Teign-e-ver has served everyone for decades. Admittedly its approach is a little rocky, but scrambling up the far bank in this picture is not difficult. Upstream and with flatter banks is a more ostentatious clapper, recently built for the Park Authority, as befitting no doubt their more delicate feet.

Tolmen on the Teign

Below the confluence of Teign and Walla there is a large boulder covered with water-cut rock basins, one of which has completely worn through and pierced the stone. Called the Tolmen stone, it has been the focus for some extreme C19 ideas. Rowe (1985; A Perambulation of Dartmoor, page 44) happily adduced stories of magical cures and mystical oracles, which perhaps more properly belong to Cornish monuments, like the Men-An-Tol, SW426349. There children were supposedly cured of rickets by climbing through its central hole. It is interesting to note that the Teign at this point is a very popular summer spot ; most people who visit the stone also climb through it.

Around the mire's eastern edge runs a leat. Some such artificial watercourses once powered tinners' mills and blowing houses; others were made for corn mills and some supplied drinking water. They may have begun their lives as simple ditches, lined by no more than the peat from which they were cut. Many have fallen into disuse long age, becoming dry channels that resemble sunken tracks, like that on the hillside below Broadun. A few still work today; water loss from seepage is a fact of their existence, a problem that is not a nuisance where wet ground is crossed: more water can be expected to drain in than out, always provided that the integrity of the downhill bank is maintained. Gidleigh leat draws its water from the Gallaven [called Headon River in Hemery 1983, page 788] and starts out round the south of Rival Tor, SX643876. Originally used by tinners, Bartholemew Gidley diverted it in 1653 for use in his new mill near Gidleigh village, see Brewer D, 1992; The Gidleigh Mill and Bradford Tinworks Leat, in Dartmoor Magazine 28, page 24. Today the water does not reach as far: it goes no further than the farms of Berrydown and Creaber, higher up the hillside.

Gidleigh Leat crossing Batworthy Mire

At one point the leat passes through a proper marsh, but one that has no special name : it is just the flood-plain of Gallaven as it approaches Walla Brook. Here in June there are white plumes of cotton grass waving in light summer breezes, with bog asphodel's short spires of yellow complementing carnivorous sundew's tiny rounded leaves of orange. The whole area is wet enough to attract grey herons; they come to hunt for frogs and can spend long periods standing absolutely still. Shy birds, they are only bags of very hollow bones: despite their six foot wingspan they weigh extremely little. Further on the leat passes over drier ground as it doubles back around Scorhill; overlooking all from across the valley are Kes Tor's hump and the windbreak trees at Batworthy Corner.



Grey Wethers

Dartmoor's north-eastern side boasts seven Bronze Age stone circles. The most southerly, Grey Wethers, SX639831, is unique on Dartmoor in that there are two, side by side. Crossing tells a story concerning their name: they were once sold in the Warren House Inn by a man named Debben. He duped a hapless farmer into believing the stones were really hefted sheep, or 'grey wethers' that never strayed, and were best approached by following the newtake wall to Siddaford Tor. See Crossing 1965, page 244. Perhaps an easier way today is to reach the open moors at Langridge Gate. Go to the end of the metalled road beside Fernworthy Reservoir, then turn left and uphill beside some old beeches; this is the packhorse route to Teignhead, SX655842, which is still a bridlepath. On reaching the gate, Grey Wethers lies hidden behind the left-hand hillside's newtake wall. Their striking feature is a uniform shape; all the stones are markedly rectangular rather than the usual column shape and there is no obvious gradation in height. Set in a desolate place, they are not especially photogenic.

Scorhill's tallest stones, autumn 1995

The next north is Fernworthy, set in amongst the conifer plantation; then there is a much ruined one beside the stone rows on Shovel Down, west southwest of Kes Tor. Further along is Scorhill, above the confluence of Walla and North Teign, which locals pronounce "Scorril". Unrestored and with twenty-three stones still upright, it is astonishing that so much remains, since a well-used and deeply rutted cart track goes straight through the middle. Some early writers however mention a stone row in connection with the circle. It may have run towards two much damaged cairns, either side of Gidleigh leat. The tallest stone left standing measures over eight feet high, but originally it may not have been the largest. Stone cutters have been busy here; two prostrate megaliths have been prepared for splitting by tare-and-feather for they have had holes drilled in them, whilst yet another has telltale jumper grooves plainly visible in one end, showing that a piece has been removed. In addition, local tradition says the downhill bank of nearby Gidleigh Leat has been repaired with stones that once formed part of the circle.

Following on from Scorhill is Buttern at SX649845, but it is difficult to find. The few standing stones are small and not much shows above the heather; I have frequently been nearby without a map and failed to even see it. Most northerly of all is one already referred to above on White Moor, near the longstone there; it is the loneliest one, but easily reached by way of the peat-cutters track from Cosdon. The stones are small and the tallest one does not make it to four feet high. At the start of the millennium one had toppled over; its socket was all but non-existent and its trigger stones were lying free upon the surface.

The purpose of stone circles will never be known with certainty. It has been suggested that the near regular spacing of these circles may infer some uniformity of planning, see Butler J, 1991; Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities, Vol II page 192. Both Fernworthy and Grey Wethers were investigated by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee, which found interior surfaces covered in charcoal, which may have had some ritualistic significance. Burl A, 1976; Stone Circles Of The British Isles, page 109, says this "may be the remnants of sweepings from bonfires or pyres outside the circle". He later conjectured the rituals may have concerned exhumation, in Burl A, 1989; The Stonehenge People.



Crown Hall Stream, Fernworthy

To augment water supplies from their reservoirs at Hennock, Torquay Corporation built another one at Fernworthy, which they commissioned in 1942. Submerged under its waters is the old road to Fernworthy farm, together with a small bridge and an older clapper across the South Teign River. These re-emerged with almost monotonous regularity in the dry summers of the 1970s and 1980s. In 1990, when both bridges were yet again in full view, South West Water opened their big new reservoir at Roadford, in west Devon. Everyone was told the severe drought that year came only once a century. With Roadford full, the water people said with gusto, nobody then alive would see the Fernworthy bridges again. Unfortunately they stubbornly re-appeared in 1995, and again in 1996 and 2003.

As they top the hills of Assacombe, White Ridge and Langridge, the firs of Fernworthy are a particular landmark for this part of Dartmoor. The first plantations were begun by the Duchy of Cornwall, in response to a national timber shortage produced by the first World War. When the Forestry Commission took over in 1931 about 800 acres were under trees. The main species originally grown was Sitka, but today there is also Douglas, Hemlock, Larch and Thuja. None are native to these shores and there is something alien about their uniform, serried ranks, though their effect here is scenically not at all unpleasant.

Assacombe stone row

Various Bronze Age monuments are hidden in the trees and the Commission has adopted the same policy here that they use at Bellever: every site is marked by orange-topped posts and is left clear of trees in a small glade. There is a double row on Assacombe (OS Assycombe) Hill, which Falcon looked on with particular favour; he said of all the rows it was the most scenic. I agree, but it does not have the largest stones: that honour belongs to rows in the Erme Valley, one restored and upright on Staldon, south-west Dartmoor above, and another double, unrestored and prostrate, opposite it on Piles Hill. the picture above was taken shortly after the devastating storms of the late 80s had ripped through the plantation in the valley below. It had been almost clear-felled, the ragged outlines of a few surviving trees showing as ghostly skeletons in the mist. Miraculously the far hillside was left largely untouched.

Packhorse bridge, Fernworthy

The stonework of the packhorse bridge is in good condition and the arch quite firm to walk over, despite its sixty years of submerged neglect. The farm track is still hard and easy to follow, though do wait until the peat either side has dried out before wandering off. The small foreground stream is Lowton Brook, with Assacombe hill rising above its left bank, with its stone row on the far side Below, Crown Hall Stream. This is on the other side from the entrance car park, across the water; normally both the bubbling brook in the foreground and the field wall are under water.



Teignhead Clapper, trees in middle distance mark the farmhouse

The bridlepath over Froggymead, that enters the moors at Langridge Gate bound for Teignhead farm, goes by way of a clapper over the North Teign. Teignhead was an improver's holding, carved out of duchy lands in the late 18th century. A Mr. Rogers started it in 1780; he built a two-storey house and remained living there until 1817. Originally less than a thousand acres, its most notable feature today is the huge newtake of 1808, whose western boundary wall stretches high along a ridge immediately west, all the way from near Watern Tor in the north to Quintin's Man in the south, a distance of two miles or more. This enlargement unhappily encroached on Gidleigh Common and so caused its Commoners great offence, resulting in an action resembling the ransack of Irishman's Wall. The ensuing territorial argument between Duchy and Commoners resulted in no clear winner, the claims of both being eventually compromised by an enquiry, held only decades later.

A picture of life at the farm is painted by Page, who was writing his guidebook at the end of the nineteenth century. He tells of a visit when a tea of bread and cream was served, with the children sitting on a settle by the fire, some chickens pecking round beneath the table and a front door left wide open to the weather outside, in Page 1895, page 199. Finally abandoned mid-way through this century all the buildings are now razed to their foundations, the house having been burned down shortly after it fell empty by an injudicious fire, lit by scouts who were camping overnight. Its sad ruins are located just beside a little shelter-belt of conifers.

Manga Farm, with squatters' tin roofing in the foreground Manga falls

Teignhead occupied an isolated, desolate place: Crossing said it was "one of the most solitary on all Dartmoor", in Crossing W, 1974; Amid Devonia's Alps, page 131. Nearby Manga farm was perhaps more isolated: it is almost on the same contour as Teignhead, but out of sight over the northern hillside. It is in better condition: the house was a three roomed, single storey stone and thatch cottage. At its southern end was a turf house that in the 1980s served as a tin-roofed squat. Below the house North Teign's valley suddenly narrows, its riverbed descending in a series of steps. There are much more spectacular falls elsewhere on the moors; but these are still a delight to sit beside and watch the Dippers play.



The narrow valley of River Bovey, called North Walla by OS, is on the northern side of the Moretonhampstead to Tavistock road as it passes over Bush Down. A tiny stream emerges from springs on Water Hill, amidst deep scarring left by opencast tin mining. The later Bush Down mine, set high on the eastern bank, still has open adits worth a look, but do not stay: in them are high concentrations of the radioactive gas, radon. Without breathing apparatus more than ten minutes inside will exceed the current recommended safe dose.

River Bovey at West Vitifer workings

Further downstream the track to West Vitifer mine passes over a ford. Beside it are ruins that date from sometime in the nineteenth century; but this was no El Dorado and mining here was never prosperous. The enterprise's main achievement lay in sinking shareholders' funds without any record of a return. Soft rush and bracken now cover the spoil heaps, whilst the ford's slow waters support Lesser Spearwort and Marsh St John's Wort. It is all very peaceful on hot, lazy summer afternoons.

Shapley Common, looking towards Cosdon

Due east of Bush Down lies Shapley Common. There is a car park that affords good views of the in-country around Chagford, conveniently placed just before the Moretonhampstead road leaves the moors. Below hills like Meldon and Mardon Down it is a green and settled land, one that has been farmed since prehistoric times. Reaves and hut circles from the Bronze Age exist on Shapley and almost every moorland hill between it and the great dome of Cosdon, on the skyline six miles further north. Half way between, at Kes Tor, beside its hutted settlement ancient remains of iron smelting have been found at Round Pound. Nearby villages such as Throwleigh began in Saxon days and a drive through the lanes around it will pass many fine Devon longhouses, some in places occupied as long ago as Domesday.



Fingle Bridge on Dartmoor

Between the parishes of Dunsford and Drewsteignton the River Teign flows through a beautiful valley. There are no roads running beside the river, but there are three bridges. At Dunsford, Steps Bridge is famous for its wild daffodils in the spring; next is Clifford, where in the woods nearby there are purple orchids. Finally near Drewsteignton there is Fingle, which has long been one of Devon's beauty spots and is set in a steeply sided, deep and wooded valley. In 1905 an omnibus-one of the first available-ran between Exeter and Chagford, stopping at Crockernwell for Fingle Bridge. The return fare was 4s 6d. Today there is ample car parking round the bridge itself, on both sides of the river.

view downriver from the packhorse track above Charles Wood

Fingle was built for packhorse traffic in the sixteenth century. Sturdily made of dressed granite blocks, each pier is buttressed with a triangle or cutwater, to help part the floods that assail them every winter. The tarmac road ends with the bridge, but the original track continues on and goes uphill. Climbing it is a steep, heart-thumping zig-zag between the trees, with only here and there a glimpse of the valley, mostly provided by recent felling. On the hilltop lies an Iron Age hill fort called Cranbrook Castle. A second fort, Prestonbury Castle, is also Iron Age and lies on the opposite side of the valley, immediately above Fingle. This latter lies on private land above the Anglers Rest; locals used to race up it from bottom to top each year, but sadly they do so no longer

From the car parks there are footpaths west along both river banks as far as Hunter's Tor, where an iron footbridge connects them. It is a round trip of about four miles, lovely in the early spring and autumn when russet coloured leaves are reflected in every pool. Above the northern bank stands Castle Drogo, owned by the National Trust. A Lutyens design, it is only part of the original plan, built between 1911 and 1930 for Julius Drewe. Sadly, the granite used is slightly porous and it lets in the damp, which has proved expensive to the Trust.

The Hunters Path runs alongside Drogo's grounds. Called after its namesake Tor, this footpath climbs high up along the ridge and goes on all the way back to Fingle. Throughout the woods on the opposite side of the valley are stands of larch and firs-some of the latter recently clear-felled-but everywhere oak is the chief tree planted and there are signs it was once coppiced. Each bit of timber was used: the best poles were reserved for building, the next best for fencing, then hurdle making and finally anything left over was slowly smoked for charcoal, or was bundled into besoms, or made into faggots for fire lighting. Even the bark could be used: it went for tanning, in what was often a foul-smelling process.

River  Teign below Sharp Tor

The woods were not continuous in Falcon's day and Teign's Sharp Tor was visible from across the river; but now it lies hidden behind a narrow belt of trees. The river passes underneath it in a series of picturesque rapids. Further along and on the right bank is Whiddon Park, which is now owned by the National Trust. It was originally made for deer and still has high surrounding walls. Inside are many fine trees, including a short avenue of beeches: they must have been planted as a deliberate feature, for there is no driveway to any house nearby. Beside the last pair of Beeches at the top end are two pieces made by Peter Randall Page; they were put here as part of a Common Ground project in Devon.

Sculptures in Whiddon Park
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