It promised to be a warm day for the 12 who set off with Karen today, to learn a little of the industrial history of this part of Dartmoor, taking the planned diversion to our starting point, due to road closures for repairs.
We left the car parks and set off along the flat, stoney track towards Yellowmeade Farm, passing the ruins of ‘Red Cottages’. The gateposts still standing. The cottages were built in 1849 and were served by a leat that still runs to Yellowmeade farm today. In the 1861 Census, there were thirteen families with 50 adults and 38 children living there, showing the importance of quarrying at the time. Damp got the better of these one-up-one-down buildings eventually and after various attempts to waterproof and repair, they lay in ruins and were finally demolished in 1953.
Also to the west we can see the ruined walls of what is known as Four Winds, now a car park sheltered by trees, but once a school. Built in 1915 to serve the children living at Red Cottages, Foggintor, Rotrundle, Merrivale and surrounding farms it was a two class school for under 11’s and 11-14 year olds, boys only originally, 80 children on roll at it’s peak when girls joined under compulsory changes in Education. There were separate entrances for each gender, likewise separate playgrounds and toilets. Whilst an important local resource, the School was beset with problems. A garden was created to encourage the growing of flowers and vegetables. Unfortunately the various animals inhabiting the area saw little difference in the garden and their own moorland so it was raided frequently. The water supply was often polluted by sheep and cattle until it was piped in from a well near Red Cottages. A boy eating his lunch was bitten by an adder and in the winter the snowfall was often such that the children would be ‘chained’ up in a line with skipping ropes and led home at the end of the day.
Devon County Education records reveal that the school was closed in 1936 and the remaining few children transferred to Princetown Primary. The building fell into disrepair and the rubble eventually used in the Devils Elbow section of the Princetown to Yelverton Road. However, one thing remains The quarrymen gifted the school with a fir tree in its remaining years and it still stands tall and proud in the grounds today.
Yellowmeade Farm is today a bed and breakfast establishment, now obtaining water from a deep well and according to promotion, ‘if you love the vast outdoors, remoteness, hill walking, wildlife, archaeology and our industrial heritage, this is the place to stay.
So much history already and not a mile in.
We progress to Foggintor, surrounded now by the spoils of quarrying, to see this vast and rugged pit filled with cold water.
It was decommissioned nearly 80 years ago and nature has reclaimed the area, turning the site into a spectacular landscape, beautiful in the sunshine but quite gloomy and gothic when the light fades and positively stunning when frozen.
Foggintor was one of the three great granite quarries on Dartmoor along with Merrivale (the last to close) and Haytor, supplying the building material for London Bridge, Nelsons Column and Old Scotland Yard as well as paving and flagstones in the capital city. The granite was of high quality and much valued as being easy to work but durable. The famous prison at Princetown, designed by Dartmoor landowner Thomas Tyrwhitt in 1809 for prisoners of war originally, was built by convicts and made of locally quarried granite.
This would once have been a busy, noisy working area, no health and safety concerns then, men working hard and long to fill the trucks, drawn by horses along the old tramway, later the railway to Princetown and Plymouth. Now a popular cycle route of course. The wooden rail beds are still visible in many places along our path.
We pick up the cycle track heading for Yelverton and enjoy a pleasant walk as it curves past Ingra Tor, views opening out to the villages of Walkhampton and Horrabridge in the west with the North Hessary mast, following our progress all day, to the east.
Ingra Tor is 340m high, with the quarry on the reverse side, we walk through the remains of Ingra Tor Halt, on the old Princetown Railway, towards Horseyeatt Farm.
Lunch was taken to comply with the leaders cow avoidance strategy and enjoyed in warm sunshine, with no bovine interruptions.
Our main climb of the day took us east to the B3212, Princetown to Yelverton Road, below Sharpitor, where the hot and sticky walkers followed the busy road to find Mr. Willy’s Ice Cream Van conveniently waiting, before we turned west again to pick up the path to Routrundle Farm.
A pleasant walk along this sunken old lane, with Ingra Tor once again above us. Some interesting medieval walls and Bronze Age settlements were pointed out by Karen, in place long before the quarrying and sadly many of the stones removed, with little regard for ancient history, in the times before Dartmoor was made a National Park.
We walked on to Criptor Farm, a track familiar to most but coming from a different direction than usual, we crossed the stream with relative ease as it was not in full spate, before a hot and rather steep climb back to the cycle track, on our homeward trek.
A drinks break necessary now as the temperature rose and Karen took the group on a small diversion to see Sweltor Quarry and the interesting remains.
The blocks of granite here, used to make the railway and the administrative buildings, as well as the blacksmiths cottage, show signs of tare and feathering. The 17th century quarrymen would have used wooden wedges soaked with water, strategically placed in the granite’s weakest points to split the stone. Leaving it to freeze in winter would have aided the process.
In ‘tar and feathering’ several holes would be made, about 3″ deep with a cast iron rod and a worker would ‘jump’ the granite until it split in the weakened place. A little ‘spot the markings’ exercise took place as we peered through ancient window frames and wondered if the quarrymen ever had time to appreciate the panoramic view, as far as Plymouth Sound. Stone from here was used for the Thames Embankment, Alexander Binnie’s new bridge at Vauxhall in London (1903) and the Bristol Waterworks (1902).
The final point of interest was the 12 corbels, further along the higher track from Sweltor. They were carved in 1902 for the purpose of widening London Bridge (the old one). Some may have been imperfect, some surplus to requirements but they have remained in situ since that time and will do so forever now.
A hot walk back along the track, past Kings Tor and Foggintor again, took us back to our cars. 10.5 miles completed and hopefully some interesting facts about the area conveyed.
Drinks at The Warren House, where we are always welcomed ended another glorious sunny day.