Join the Mines & Crosses! – Sunday 30th September

A chillier start than we would have liked today as we set off from Gobbett Plain, near Sherberton. The breeze reminding us it was autumn now and time to don coats and maybe even gloves.

Things soon warmed up as 11 walkers, led by Karen, set off briskly through the Gobbett Tin mine area, initially worked as an open mine but closed in 1914. The tin spoils and remains of piping, an old shaft and the course of a former leat, built to serve the mine, can be found here. Also John Bishop’s House, now also in ruins but the dwelling he occupied for most of his life, without utilities, heating, or running water. He was thought to be a senior employee of the mine at some point.

The River Swincombe rises on the edge of Dartmoor’s south plateau. It flows into Foxtor Mires where it meets the Strane River, at Headweir Ford. Swincombe Bridge (Swincombe Fairy Bridge/Swincombe Ford Bridge) is the only real safe crossing point on the river before Sherberton. It’s also on the ancient Tavistock to Ashburton Packhorse Track.

The bridge is new and replaced the old one, that also replaced an original clapper. Both having been battered by winter storms, most recently in 2014. There are stepping stones nearby and there was once a model fairy at the bridge, hence the name. Crossing this bridge we take the path west to our second mine of the day – you’ve guessed it – Swincombe Mine. Clearly an area here rich in tin deposits. The ruins of some substantial buildings are here as well as an imposing granite post, marking the eastern edge of Thomas Twyritt’s impressive Dartmoor estate. The Swincombe Valley lies to our left, the chosen site for a reservoir back in the 1960’s but following a protest campaign against flooding this beautiful area, Meldon was chosen instead. The track still remains into the valley but actually goes nowhere.

Leaving Swincombe mineworks a stony track now takes us onto the Dartmoor Way, towards Princetown, built in part by Dartmoor prisoners, Conscientious Objectors, never completed in full and still boggy, rough and uneven in places.   A tea break at Cholake Head was welcome before we found the Crock of Gold Cist and cairn. A Bronze Age grave some 4-5000 years old, long since robbed of it’s contents.

Turning south at Bull Farm we finally reach Peat Cott farm and our first sight of the Devonport Leat on its way to Burrator, which we will pick up later. A treat for walkers as the Wesleyan Chapel, which closed in 1985 for worship, has been sparsely furnished and contains some pictures, a table, chairs and visitors book, respite for those caught in the rain perhaps, in this notoriously unpredictable area of the moor.

We head away from Peat Cott, along the tarmac road to Whiteworks, once the largest mine on the moor. Tin mining here dates back to 1180. More active mining began around 1790, when the industrial revolution began to fuel demand for tin, while also providing the technology to move from open cast to sub-surface methods, previously impossible on the difficult Dartmoor terrain. At the beginning of the 1870’s the mine produced 8–9 tons of tin ore per year. Mining ceased here in 1914 and by the 1980’s all but one of the buildings had been abandoned. The last one standing now serves as an outdoor activity venue, but all quiet and inactive today.

We took lunch among the ruins, in slight drizzle at times, before retracing our steps to the Devonport Leat and following it along the western edge of Fox Tor Mire. A notorious spot where  Conan Doyle set his story of the Hound of the Baskervilles, specifically Grimpen Mire, almost causing the demise of dear Dr. Watson. There is known to be a path across but no such risk taken today as Karen led the group around the mire safely, to take the path beside a wall, below Fox Tor.

We started our search for crosses here with Goldsmith Cross on the edge of the mire, spotted by an eagle-eyed rambler. One of a number of crosses marking the Monk’s Path linking Buckfast Abbey to Tavistock and Buckland. The cross is named after Lt. Goldsmith R.N. who rediscovered it in 1903 after it had been lost for many years. He was apparently out alone on one of his favourite walks and spotted a large rectangular hole cut into a bolder on which he was sitting. Further investigation revealed the head and part of the shaft in the heather. Why anyone would want to sit alone in such a spot was the subject of some consternation.

The next cross marks the tomb of ‘Childe the Hunter’, who legend has it became lost in a blizzard and had to disembowel his horse to shelter in the carcass. Sadly both horse and rider succumbed to the elements and he was buried where he died.

Returning to the boundary wall we continued over some rough ground, crossing the stream twice to find ourselves at the foot of Misery Mount (or Ter Hill). Not exactly a race to the top but certainly a long climb to reach Misery Cross at the summit.  Ter Hill Cross West next, with a memorial plaque to Tom Gant who apparently ‘loved Dartmoor‘, then Ter Hill East Cross, as we continue on the Monks Path.

We have to leave the track here to ensure we head away from Skir Gurt and the boogy tussocks around it,  back to our homeward path. A bit of compass, GPS and map work necessary but finally the group came upon Horse Ford Cross and eventually the stony track back to the road, not before tackling some unfriendly gorse bushes, determined to hamper progress along the path.

Karen decided to give the Hexworthy Cross a miss on this occasion as we had completed 11 miles, but it sits in a field, just before the Forest Inn and was made at the Merrivale Quarry, is of Cornish Style and stands on a pedestal raising it to a total height of 11 feet, the shaft being engraved VR 1837-1887, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. A treat for another day?

A tough walk at times and a great group to tackle it with today.

Refreshments were taken in the Dartbridge Inn on our return journey to Totnes.

Karen H