Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The granite upland dates from the Carboniferous period of geological history, and the landscape is both dramatic, and bleak. The rolling moorland is capped with hundreds of exposed granite hilltops (known as tors), and provides rich and diverse habitats for Dartmoor wildlife. The highest point is High Willhays, 621 m above sea level. The entire area is rich in antiquities.
Dartmoor differs from some other National Parks in England and Wales, in that since a 1985 Act of Parliament much of it has been designated as 'Access Land', with no restrictions on where walkers can roam. There are still footpaths in these areas, but they are for guidance and convenience - they do not have to be kept to, and in fact footpaths in these sections of the Park are generally not waymarked. On larger scale - i.e., 1:25,000 - Ordnance Survey maps of Dartmoor, Access Land is edged in purple for easy reference.
This is not connected with the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 , which in due course will establish similar rights in other rural parts of the country. Dartmoor will be largely unaffected by this legislation because of its existing arrangements.
However, much of Dartmoor has been used as a military firing range for over 200 years, and so it is necessary to check beforehand (phone +44 (0)800 458 4868) that firing is not taking place. Posts mark the boundaries of the military areas, and they are shown on Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 maps.
Dartmoor's Access Land, incidentally, is still privately owned land. Much of it, in fact, is owned by the Duke of Cornwall, a title held under a charter of Edward III by the heir to the throne of England, better known as the Prince of Wales. Other parts of the Park can, of course, still be accessed via the usual network of footpaths and bridleways.
The majority of the prehistoric remains on Dartmoor date back to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Indeed, Dartmoor contains the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains in the United Kingdom, which suggests that this was when a larger population moved onto the hills of Dartmoor.
The climate at the time was warmer than today, and much of today's moorland was covered with trees. The prehistoric settlers began clearing the forest, and established the first farming communities.
The nature of the soil, which is highly acidic, means that no organic remains have survived. However, by contrast, the high durability of the natural granite means that their homes and monuments are still to be found in abundance, as are their flint tools.
- Beardown Man, near Devil’s Tor - isolated standing stone (3.5m high, said to have another 1m below ground).
- Challacombe, near the prehistoric settlement of Grimspound - triple stone row. Grid reference: SX689807
- Drizzlecombe, east of Sheepstor village - stone circles, rows, standing stones, kistvaens and cairns. Grid reference: SX591669
- Grey Wethers, near Postbridge - double circle, aligned almost exactly north south. Grid reference: SX638831
- Laughter Tor, near Two Bridges - standing stone (2.4m high) and two double stone rows (one 164m long). Grid reference: SX652753
- Merrivale, between Princetown and Tavistock - includes a double stone row (182m long, 1.1m wide, aligned almost exactly east-west), stone circles and a kistvaen. Grid reference: SX554747
- Scorhill, west of Chagford - circle (26.8m in circumference) and stone rows. Grid reference: SX654873
- Shovel Down, north of Fernworthy reservoir - double stone row (approx 120m long). Grid reference: SX660859
There are also an estimated 5,000 hut circles still surviving today, despite the fact that many have been raided over the centuries by the builders of the traditional dry stone walls. These are the remnants of Bronze Age houses. The smallest are around 6ft (1.8m) in diameter, and the largest may be up to five times this size.
Some have L-shaped porches to protect against wind and rain - some particularly good examples are to be found at Grimspound. It is believed that they would have had a conical roof, supported by timbers and covered in turf or thatch.
The historical period
The climate worsened over the course of a thousand years from around 1000 BC, so that much of high Dartmoor was largely abandoned by its early inhabitants.
It was not until the early medieval period that the weather again became warmer, and settlers moved back onto the moors. Like their ancient forebears, they also used the natural granite to build their homes, preferring a style known as the longhouse - some of which are still inhabited today, although they have been clearly adapted over the centuries. Many are now being used as farm buildings, while others were abandoned and fell into ruin.
Some way into the moor stands the town of Princetown, the site of the notorious Dartmoor Prison, which was originally built both by, and for, Napoleonic prisoners of war. The prison has a (now misplaced) reputation for being escape-proof, both due to the buildings themselves and its physical location.
The Dartmoor landscape is scattered with the marks left by the many generations who have lived and worked there over the centuries - such as the remains of the once mighty Dartmoor tin-mining industry, and farmhouses long since abandoned.
Indeed the industrial archaeology of Dartmoor is a subject in its own right.
Dartmoor in myths and literature
Dartmoor, an eerie place even in high summer, abounds with myths and legends.
The moor is reputedly the haunt of pixies, a headless horseman, a mysterious pack of 'spectral hounds', and a large black dog. During the Great Thunderstorm of 1638, Dartmoor was even said to have been visited by the Devil.
Many landmarks have ancient legends and ghost stories associated with them, such as the mysterious Jay's Grave, the ancient burial site at Childe's Tomb, and the oddly shaped rockpile called Bowerman's Nose.
A few stories have emerged in recent decades, such as the 'hairy hands', that are said to attack travellers on the B3212 near Two Bridges . Several motorists have claimed that the hands materialised in front of them, grasped the wheel and forced their vehicle off the road.
Walking and letterboxing
The definitive guide to walking on Dartmoor was written by the Victorian walker William Crossing.
Dartmoor is the birthplace of the popular outdoor pursuit of letterboxing, which has become increasingly popular in recent decades. Watertight containers, or 'letterboxes' are hidden throughout Dartmoor, each containing a visitor's book and a rubber stamp. The original intention was for walkers to leave a letter or postcard, which would then be collected and posted by the next person to visit the site.
Until the 1970s there were no more than a dozen such sites around the moor, usually in the most inaccessible locations. Today there are thousands of letterboxes, many within easy walking distance of the road. Clues to their locations are placed in other letterboxes or on the Internet.
The integrity of this landscape, many human geographical features of which date back further than the Bronze Age, remains under threat from the industrial conglomerates Imerys and Watts Blake Bearne .
These companies hold extensive china-clay mining licences from the British Government but have recently renounced them after sustained public pressure from bodies such as the Dartmoor Preservation Association.
Many of these licences predate much of the heavy machinery which is in use today. Imerys have been singled out particularly for criticism since their 'development' of Lee Moor destroyed a considerable number of archaeologically significant sites.
The British government have made promises to protect the integrity of the moor; however, the cost of compensating the companies for these antiquated licences which would not have been granted in today's political climate may prove to be prohibitive.
The northern part of the moor has been used by the British Army and Royal Marines for manoeuvres and live-firing exercises; this is part of a tradition of military usage which dates back to the Napoleonic wars. There is a large Army training camp at Okehampton.
Recently, this usage of the moor has been challenged by a number of groups such as the Open Space Society and the Dartmoor Preservation Association.
During her lifetime, Lady Sayer was also an outspoken critic of the damage which she perceived that the army were doing to the moor.
National Park Authority
Towns and villages
- South Tawton
- South Zeal
Well known landmarks
- Bowerman's Nose - (unusual rock formation)
- Burrator Reservoir - (late Victorian reservoir)
- Childe's Tomb - (ancient burial site)
- Church House, South Tawton - (15th Century church ales house)
- Crazywell Pool - (artificial lake)
- Dartmeet - (meeting point of East and West Dart)
- Devonport Leat - (man-made water channel)
- Duck's Pool, Dartmoor - (memorial to local writer William Crossing)
- Eylesbarrow - (disused tin min)
- Fox Tor - (overlooking the mires that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
- Grey Wethers - (pair of ancient stone circles)
- Grimspound - (Bronze Age settlement)
- High Willhays - (highest point on Dartmoor)
- Jay's Grave - (mysterious burial site)
- Tavistock Canal - (19th century canal)
- Warren House Inn - (highest inn in SW England)
The levels of rainfall on Dartmoor are considerably higher than in the surrounding lowlands. With much of the national park covered in thick layers of peat, the rain is readily absorbed, and is usually distributed slowly, so that the moor is rarely dry.
As a result, there are numerous rivers and streams. These have played a key role in shaping the ancient landscape, and have also provided a vital source of power to the traditional industries on the moor - especially tin mining and quarrying.
After prolonged periods of rain, a sudden, heavy shower can lead to a severe surge in water levels, transforming even a small stream into a dangerous torrent - impassable to walkers.
- East Okement
- East Webburn
- West Okement
- West Webburn
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