On Monday 25th March, twenty-nine of us met at Swallerton Gate car park for a walk to two of Dartmoor’s most well-known sites, Jay’s Grave and Bowerman’s Nose. The weather was a little grey at first with a cold wind but during the walk the clouds became more dispersed and the sun shone, making it a very pleasant walk. The first item to be seen, apart from the nearby Hound Tor, was Swallerton Gate itself.
This is the gateway to Swine Down, just along the road. Swallerton is presumed to be a recent corruption of “Swine Down Gate” (“Swine-a-down Gate”, Hemery, p.726), which was the name used in Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor (p.297). The road through it leads to Swine Down and, further on, to Kitty Jay’s grave. An old gate post can be seen across the road, almost behind the signpost. Beyond the gate is a cottage, Swallerton Gate, formerly the Hound Tor Inn until 1840 and thought before that to have been the Green Dragon Inn. It is well-situated on the road between Ashburton and Chagford – two busy market towns. It would also have been used by the inhabitants of Widecombe and Ilsington on their way to market. There is an old cross in the garden wall of the cottage. There is also a record of an Exeter Inn in the manor of Holwell, going back to possibly 1710 (Dave Brewer (2002), Dartmoor Boundary Markers, Halsgrove, p. 115).
Swallerton Gate Cross – a mutilated medieval cross was built into the garden wall in 1988 (Brewer, p.139). It was going to be used in the hardcore for the floor of the extension but an intervention pointed out that is was a medieval cross head. The intervention came from a passing Harry Starkey, a well-known Dartmoor guide to whom there is a memorial locally on the back of the replaced Duke Stone on the Ilsington Manor boundary at SX 74605 77305, close to Becka Brook. FH (Harry) Starkey (1987) Dartmoor’s Crosses and Some Ancient Tracks, Revised Edition, pages 155-156, records that the cross was found in a nearby hedge in 1939 and was described by EN Masson Phillips in Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol. LX11 (1940) page 267.
This could be the cross formerly known as Swine Path Cross, at what is now known as Swallerton Gate, that is mentioned in a description of the boundary between Chagford and Ashburton Stannaries that dates from the last meeting of a Stannary Court in 1786 at Crockern Tor, using a “Presentiments of the Bounds of the several Stannary Courts of Devon” dated 1613 (Brewer, pp.269-273).
There is a ‘step’ of about 500 metres from Swallerton Gate to Jay’s Grave (Google Maps image), along a small, quiet road towards Heatree Cross along the edge of Swine Down. These days, the down is used for sheep, as seen above,
The “main” road that we walked along is seen running left/right in the photograph above. The photograph is taken from the end of Natsworthy Gate footpath where it continues as a footpath across to Hayne Down, although it looks to be little used today. This is a lonely spot and burial at crossroads was the fate for suicides until the Burial of Suicide Act 1823 – therefore she must have been buried prior to 1823. There are many stories about Kitty Jay, one factual one is that the grave was found during road-mending activities and the bones pronounced by a doctor to be those of a young woman. A witness stated they were those of Ann Jay who hanged herself “three generations since” in a barn on a local farm. She is said to have been an apprentice from “the workhouse” who fell pregnant, this being a big disgrace in those times. However, in searching the various online Registers of Apprentices (actually, “Apprentices Indentures”), it was not uncommon …… but that story is not for here!
There are also several names for Kitty Jay, one of which is recorded on old Ordnance Survey maps, others are Ann Jay, Kay, Betty Kay and Betsy Kay. The grave is a popular tourist attraction and usually has fresh flowers on it – a practise reputedly started by local author Beatrice Chase.
Walking on from Jay’s Grave, we turned right on to Cripdon Down, known locally as “Crippon” Down. It looks rather featureless today but there are a number of reaves in the area, one of might be associated with the far hedge across the photograph above. Hemery (p.724/725) describes a 120-yard stone row running north/south, just west of the summit rocks. I couldn’t find it on a targeted reconnaissance walk, although there are “fallen slabs” at the northern end, as he described. The large earthbound stone in the foreground of the photograph above contains several examples of large crystals, as seen in the photograph below.
WHAT? THIS NEEDS WORK
Eric Hemery in the book High Dartmoor (p.724) describes an unrecorded logan stone of “some size” poised on a broad base as part of the scattered summit pile. I tried “logging” both of these rocks without success, and that was using a hefty hazel walking staff!
After the coffee break on the tor, we contoured around to a new ladder stile at SX 73608 80198. This gave access to a steep pixy path that led down to a lower plateau area. There are the remains of Blissmoor longhouse here but the area is totally overgrown with scrub. This photograph shows Bowerman’s Nose, just left of the summit rocks and slightly down the slope on the skyline. It can be ound by following the rightmost of the three upright posts to the right of the stile.
The photograph above was also taken from the ladder stile, highly “zoomed”.
Bowerman’s Nose, when approached from the west, is something like a tall, thin pillar of rock. When seen from the north or the south, the typical profile is seen.
The story of Bowerman is that many years ago he lived in the Manaton area and was a keen hunter. One day his hounds started a hare and he gave chase. He was so keen to catch the hare that he did not notice that the hounds had led him through a coven of witches, knocking over their cauldron. They were so incensed that they decided he must be punished. The next time he was out hunting, one of the witches transformed herself into a white hare – a highly prized trophy. She led him the merriest chase of his life until he was near exhaustion. Then she led him and his hounds back to this spot where the other witches were waiting. They turned him into a pillar of granite as punishment, right here, where he must gaze out for all eternity on his favourite hunting lands. His hounds ran in fear for their lives but the witches turned on them as well, turning them to stone on a nearby hill – which is known today as “Hound Tor”.
Is he a handsome fellow?
Haytor Rocks can be seen from Hayne Down Rocks, about 3.5 km (2.2 miles) away.
Moyle’s Gate is named after a one-time inhabitant of the nearby cottage.
Bowerman’s Nose can be seen in the group photograph above on the skyline near the left end – the left-most protruberance.
As we returned to the car park, we were greeted by the view of Hound Tor, or Great Hound Tor, at SX 742 789, elevation 414 metres (1358 feet) on Houndtor Down. This is land that, while it is unenclosed and freely open to the public, is owned by three families and is not common land. But then, all land on Dartmoor is owned by someone, whether it is Common Land or not. Hound Tor is clearly an “avenue tor”, where the central portion has been eroded to leave a central avenue running between the remaining piles – other examples are Pew Tor, Bellever Tor, Haytor and Rippon Tor. In fact, there are several avenues through Hound Tor.