One personal goal of this trip was to walk among pre-historic stone remains. Dartmoor National Park contains the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the United Kingdom in it’s 368 square mile area and is home to 15 stone circles.
Reflecting, at the time, I had scant knowledge of what I was walking amongst.
Once home, I fell down the rabbit hole we call the internet and learned a lot.
We found one – and a stone row, and a standing stone (menhir).
The first village in the park we passed was Merrivale. Just a wee handful of buildings, it once served an old granite quarry that closed in 1997. You can see the quarry in the right of the photo below.
My Lonely Planet book noted a pullout just past Merrivale and vaguely described a walk to a stone circle. We stopped.
Striding across the soggy ground, cloaked in drizzle and rain, the wind buffeted us.
The vista was stunning!
Merrivale in the distance:
We crossed a stone-lined Leat, an artificial watercourse (they often led to mills) with a hefty clapper bridge or stone bridge.
Two stone rows parallel to each other run on either side of the Leat.
Fortunately, the Leat’s been repaired and doesn’t leak much. I read that some have mucked up and destroyed ruins this way. Had I walked up the leat, I’d have seen remnants of these other rows. Not knowing the extent of this site, we did not search out the kistvaen (or burial chamber), a more modern, abandoned mill grinding stone, many cairns or the crossing point of a section of the Great Western Reave, a Bronze Age stone wall that stretched 6+ miles running roughly NW-SE. This Website provides many photos of each notable remain in this area, a map and much background info, too much for me to relay so if your interested, I encourage you to click the links and join me in that vast rabbit hole of information.
The first stones I noted were a sort of gate with a line of stones stretching away from them. The are directly in the middle of the picture. I believe this is the southern end of an avenue and a cairn may have been housed here. Note the reading told me these parallel rows were not more than 1 degree off from perfectly parallel.
And here’s a tid bit of trivia, the Merrivale stone rows were once known as the Potato Market or Plague Market. Provisions for a town were left here during an outbreak of plague or so they say.
Stone walls delineate pasture. The heavy, grey clouds softened the lines.
I wonder if the foundations of some of these walls/parts of them are pre-historic as well?
See that rocky knob at the top in the photo below?
It’s called a tor.
A tor is a hill topped by bedrock. Dartmoor has the largest concentration of granite in England. Most is exposed, some is buried under peat. Coming from a land made of mostly sedimentary and volcanic rock it was a treat to see so much weathered, old granite. The highest tor in Dartmoor is called High Willhays at 2,037 ft above sea level.
A little further on past the Leat the circle appears. I was dumbstruck.
This one is notably unusual for the uneven placement of the 11 stones, some up to a meter off from true to the circle.
The true purpose for these circles is unknown. This location had evidence of fires. It’s speculated some circles, including the Merrivale circle may have been used for cremations, feasts, or celebrations. I read it’s thought the British Isle’s circles are from 2500-1300 BCE corresponding to the rise of farming and the late Neolithic to early Bronze Age. The kistvaen (or burial chamber), has been looted of its contents as have the cairns. I saw mention of flint shards.
Farmers and road builders have taken stones over the years. Imagine the temptation of pre-shaped granite stones to them? The roof of the kistvaen’s been broken in half, reputedly a part of a gate post somewhere. Fortunately, grazing animals and not wide-scale farming is the norm here which undoubtedly’s helped these sights stay as intact as they are.
Just past these stones a little gully passes by and a farm sits in the distance.
Swaths of fall colors paint the landscape. It was gloriously beautiful!
Though a temperate area, Dartmoor’s weather varies greatly depending on altitude. Some of the higher places get 79+” of precipitation per year (leaving bogs that rarely dry out). Cold, snow and wind make some parts quite harsh.
There are sheep everywhere much to my amusement. I could not find local wool yarn anywhere until I got to York, and then just a tiny bit. Wild ponies roam as well but I do not remember seeing any.
The village of Postbridge is home to a medieval (thirteenth century) clapper bridge. Four, ten foot long slabs sit propped on stacked stone columns over the Dart River.
Oak trees, which make me weak in the knees, abound in England. This one was a fine specimen and marked a trail that begs for a stroll.
Public walkways abound in England and here in Dartmoor we saw many signs to mark them though I hear map and compass skills are needed. This is a wonderful concept! Walkers have a right of way through farms as long as you respect the critters, close gates and keep to the paths. We’d love to return and hunker down here and walk and walk and walk.
I was stopped in my tracks by the beauty here over and over. And I can’t wait to return. I’d gladly hunker down here for weeks.