Monday, 29 August 2011

Black Tor

In actual fact this entry should be untitled because we don't know a name for the stone row we visited. But since Black Tor was the nearest feature, besides the River Meavy, that'll do. Even if we didn't climb the hill to get there.

Like the Merrivale example, this was a double row, perhaps better described as an avenue, but that's a little posh. Maybe a stone street. Or a lane. At the high point - the row runs down the gradient in what's close to an westerly direction - there's a cist burial, long since disturbed of course. There's no obvious landscape alignment, no tors, no low point, nothing at all to speak of which point towards a calendar type row linked to a sun set. If this is the case, then it would have to be a winter solstice or perhaps an equinox or other principle day because the sun was almost directly in line when we got there around 5.45pm. The proof of that is obvious enough in the first photo.

The twin peaks on the left of the next photo are Sharpitor - on the right and Leather Tor on the left. The sky is a white out because the sun, as indicated, was shining straight down the row.

Lastly, a more personal picture. Not the best of what was taken, but importantly, for unstated reasons, it shows three dogs.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Plaster Down

Stuff happens around Dartmoor on a Bank Holiday weekend. It's also likely to rain - our current Summer run should start any day now and will probably extend into October.

Our particular itinerary included a visit to the Sheep Dog Trials in a field bordering Plaster Down, of which more down the page. For now, here's a few action shots. Noting, of course, that stills could never capture the real action of a sheep dog collecting his small flock with a sharp run round the field boundary.

For those unfamiliar with the pastime - you might call it a sport, but these people are all working farmers and that takes priority - for anyone not familiar, a trial involves the shepherd and dog herding the sheep through or around certain obstacles or into a pen. The first two shots above show the same essential procedure - pushing the sheep between two hurdles. The third shot shows the shepherd and dog attempting to split the five sheep into two and three.

Shepherding with dogs is often cited as an example of man working alongside nature and indeed it is. But it is also an example of man using the natural instinct - the dog as a hunter - and turning it to his advantage. On Dartmoor, the sheep are less likely to need herding as they are left to roam without any field boundaries. Those farmers who let their sheep up on the moor will, however, make regular trips out to supply herds with feed and the sheep have learnt to follow the sound of the quad bikes used to get out to them.

The picture below is a view towards Sharpitor - the distinct pimple on the left of the horizon and the end point on that ridge that is Peek Hill. What's noticeable - but not immediately so for anyone not familiar with farming practice - is that none of the fields on view contain arable crops. Dartmoor, being high up, is more suited to raising livestock - mostly cattle and sheep - and as such, fields contain grass. Many of these fields will have produced silage earlier in the year - essentially cut grass which is then stored and used for feed during winter months - which is why, in late August they look so lush. Of course, the amount of rain we've received from the middle of July onwards certainly helps.

Plaster Down was the site of a US Army Field Hospital during WWII and after the site of a Territorial Army. The site is now barren with hardly any sign of its wartime use. A close friend, told that we had been there, let out the rather astounding fact that Plaster Down was where she was conceived - during the war, courtesy of a visiting US army soldier.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Saddle Tor

A good day to get out!

The weather was more benign than hot and the sky not altogether blue, but, most importantly, the air was clear and what could be seen - pretty much anything in front of the horizon - was crisp.

Saddle Tor sits above the villages of Haytor Vale on one side and Widecomb-in-the-Moor on the other and is closely linked to the massive granite mass of Haytor Rocks. In the scheme of Dartmoor, Saddle Tor is not that spectacular, but it does present an easy target for any visitors not capable of climbing the gradient necessary to reach its more illustrious neighbour.

But right then, all the above mentioned plus point were less important than the colour of the heather. For whatever reason - climate perhaps, less ferns maybe - the western side of Dartmoor seems to generate much greater quantities of heather than the east. Of course, the ferns make up for it once Autumn arrives and the fronds turn golden, but for now, purple is perfect. The mass of rock at the top of the picture is Haytor - it isn't quite afforded the respect necessary.

The next shot shows Holwell Farm in the foreground and Clinwell and Honey Bags Tors behind.

This last one hasn't got a subject unless its the jumble of rocks up on the gentle upper slopes of Saddle Tor.

Lunch followed at the Rugglestone Inn. Real ales, gravity fed from the barrel (the best way to drink local brews), and a fine selection of lunches.

Super day.

Friday, 19 August 2011

More from Chagford

A few more shots from Chagford ...

Chagford Show

It seems that country shows, of which this was one, are an evolving breed. They started most likely as an opportunity to buy and sell livestock, perhaps show off your capabilities as a farmer or breeder, and certainly meet and greet the local country side community - including a doff of the cap to the local dignitary. But as with most things, they change over time, mostly as a result of their success - puling in crowds and thus attracting those whose interest in country affairs is peripheral at best.

Yet it's animals that are still the prime focus, even if what are shown off aren't necessarily of the working variety much less anything that might turn a profit at the abattoir.

Here's the modern version of terrier racing in which the only terrier on view decides to turn back.

As it happens, this was one of four races, this one involving 'large dogs'. The winner was the mean looking black lab on the far right of the last shot. Helpful Holidays can send the very helpful cheque any time. Now would be good.

Another evolving aspect is the gentle conversion towards commercial exhibition space. Ever a source of income for the marquee providers, exhibitors with only a neglible connection to country life will purvey their wares to a cash-strapped general public. Here's a couple of notables.

Chagford, for those with an interest, nestles on the southerly rise of the Teign Valley. It's an incorrigible hotchpotch of small shops and quaint streets, and boasts a fantastic cricket club with a two story club house, the result of a very sizable inheritance from some cricket mad rich bloke. The show takes place on the other side of the A382 on land owned by Whiddon Park House, itself overlooked by the weird majesty of Castle Drogo.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Merrivale Menhir

A menhir, to save anyone the trouble of accessing yet another site, is nothing more than a standing stone. The Merrivale example has been measured at around 3.2 metres or around ten and a half feet. Above the ground. How much is below the ground must remain conjecture, but it has to be a fair amount given the weight it has to support. The stone stands here, south of Merrivale's celebrated double stone row which, when you get close, is not as dramatic as it sounds and enjoys the indignity of being bisected down the middle by a nineteenth century leat.

And yet the flow of water has a certain pull on Dartmoor. Being basically a giant granite outcrop, water never sits far from the surface. It hides itself within the top soil and might be out of sight during a dry spell but you only need descend into a valley between the tors to find a latent stream, perhaps a bed, mostly wet. When the rains come, it rises to the surface to stand in still pools - a stage beyond puddles - or else it slips into a leat or stream and is carried away off the moor, perhaps through a tap, but eventually into the sea.

In the dips between tors, in those places without the necessary gradients to enable the downward flow, and where the granite forms a basin, the water forms into stagnant, muddy pools that turn the sediment black and which suck in the occasional boot. For some reason that is most likely not remotely ethereal let alone magical, stone rows are often associated with these black pools. Mostly they lie to one side or the other and any solemn walk along the row involves regular diversions from one side to the other.

One explanation of rows and circles is to do with the creation of electrical energy by the organised weaving of people between the stones. Something like a may pole dance. Participants, joined at the hand, weave between the stones at such a pace that their latent electricity conspires with the stones to produce something greater. Something akin to a magnetic motor perhaps. Something sufficient to enable ... what exactly. To power up a ley line?

The trouble is, what they did or didn't know three thousand or more years ago is, when viewed from this day and age, always informed and always betrayed by what we think we know now. The Beaker People didn't read Arthur Watkins. The Merrivale Menhir might work just as well as a meeting point as it does a teller of the seasons. In its favour, for those more interested in the second possibility, is that it brings with it a fine view of the horizon west of Dartmoor and there's also the possibility that it once had a standing partner that might well have given an indication of alignment.

Just what they might have aligned to is long lost however. Given that the mate is lying prostrate on the ground, there's little possibility of making a sound judgement. It might be a sunset, possibly a sunrise looking the other way, it might be a landmark but it absolutely wasn't the radio mast standing proud on North Hessary Tor.

Or neither of the above. Past a very obvious and verifiable measurement on a notable day - and taking into account any shifts in the planetary tilt - there's no evidence to speak of that can inform the modern, inquisitive mind, about what exactly the ancient people of Dartmoor had in mind when they went to the effort of dragging huge pieces of granite into position and setting them into the ground.

And in turn, that informs what the modern mind wants to achieve from their existence. For in having little or no serious evidence, the observer is free to make his or her own associations. Or, on a simple level, just be satisfied at the spectacle, perhaps become involved in the textures of hacked rock or notice the juxtaposition of stone and moor. And to note that despite all that the Goddess can do to reclaim what was hers, Dartmoor is, nevertheless, an imposed landscape that would, over the decades, revert back to a broadleaf forest amongst which any natural or unnatural alignment would be lost. Where sunrise and sunsets would be no more than splintered, refracted light glistening amongst the greenery. And where buried stones would, slowly and surely, be laid aside by the irrepresible root systems of oak and ash and beech.

For those sad enough to care, the dark splodge to the right of the stones is a camera artifact that I haven't been able to dislodge and for which I'm too lazy to paste out. And for any avid topographers, this looks past the end of the southern Merrivale Row off towards the radio mast on North Hessary Tor with part of King's Tor on the right.