Gail’s Postbridge Perambulation – Sunday 19th May

A dry day promised for the Intrepid Eight this morning who convened at Postbridge car park, for a lovely walk led by Gail.

We set off along the B3212, across the road bridge over the East Dart River, with the ancient clapper to our right, First recorded in the 14th century, the bridge is believed to have been built in the 13th century to enable pack horses to cross the river, carrying tin to the stannary town of Tavistock.

We traversed the meadow of Hartyland, usually very wet and boggy but today an easy, dry journey. Heading for Hartland Tor we picked up the well trodden path and climbed the ridge to enjoy expansive views of this lovely area.

Soon we could see Roundy Park to west, on the other side of the river. This circular stone wall, part of a much wider Bronze Age settlement, is best seen from a distance or above. Just outside the eastern wall is a Cist (or Kistavaen). This tomb is reputed to be one of the largest kistvaens to be found on the moor. It was first recorded in 1893 by Robert Burnard and had already been rifled and the contents dumped alongside. Investigation of the remaining debris revealed  two small flint fragments and some burnt bones. Whilst examining it, Burnard, carried out some restoration work by re-erecting two of the side slabs which had fallen and restoring one of the large capstones.  What sets this kistvaen apart from most of the other Dartmoor examples is that it has seven lining slabs, as opposed to the normal four.

A tea stop shortly after this as the stiff breeze sped us across the ridge at quite a pace, before we took the tufty path to find ourselves at Grey Wethers. (grey rams or sheep, translated).

This magnificent double stone circle is located near Sittaford Tor on a bridge of land between a pair of valleys formed by tributaries of the North Teign River to the north and the East Dart River to the south. Standing 4.5 metres apart, the northern circle consists of 20 upright granite slabs forming a circle of about 32 metres in diameter, while the southern circle has 29 stones and is slightly larger at 33 metres.

We paused to consider the reason for building these impressive circles. It is known that ashes were found, thought to be human but possibly a sacrificial burial later than the bronze age, investigation reveals. It is known that virgins were once sacrificed to the Gods in such areas, in the hope of good crops and mild winters. All safe today then.

Could the fact that they stand on an almost north-south axis be important, or was it that the two valleys on either side marked an ancient trackway or trade route with each valley belonging to a separate family or tribal group? Did they form the separate meeting place for men and women before some kind of wedding ceremony, perhaps on Sittaford Tor, or were they a place where the recently deceased passed from the land of the living in one circle to the realm of the ancestors in the other? This is a site that poses many more questions than it answers.

A visit to Sittaford to enjoy the view and on to lunch at the Teignhead Clapper Bridge today, the sun arriving to warm us now. After the break we followed the path alongside Fernworthy Forrest then a steady climb up White Ridge, eventually to the Sheepfold.

A little investigation undertaken as much discussion over the reason for the building of this stone structure. Google is a wonderful thing.

Known as The Scotch Sheepfold, it was originally built as a potato enclosure by the Hullet brothers in the early 1800’s so as to make starch. When the business failed it was taken over by a Scotsman and converted into a sheepfold. It has been used since 1825 for holding collected sheep and for lambing. It is a well built structure and sheltered from easterlies. An interesting find below the fold. We followed a trail of some large but well bleached bones to piece together the remains of an animal carcass. A test for those with a anatomical leaning; clavicle or hip? Vertebrae? Definitely hoof and a long faced skull. Horse or Cow though? Most interesting.

The homeward trek now back to Postbridge, on the higher path this time, finally descending to the river again.

A lovely 10 mile walk completed with tea and cold drinks in the sunny garden at the East Dart Inn before crossing Post Bridge once again to reach our cars.