On Saurday 25th September, twenty-one DPA members and friends met at Bel Tor Corner in very misty weather to walk along Dr. Blackall’s Drive – this was a carriage drive built for Dr Thomas Blackwell MD FRCP (1814 – 4th May 1899, aged 85) who trained at St George’s Hospital, London, and who had a practice in Mayfair.
Some time in the 1870/1880s, he had the “Drive” constructed for his pleasure and for visiting guests to enjoy carriage rides driving southwards to enjoy the magnificent views down the River Dart valley. However, Hemery (1987, p.588) reports that it was cut “a century or so ago” by Gerald Warren and his family for Dr Joseph Blackall, of Spitchwick Manor.
From the car park, we walked down towards Miltor Lane, which starts on the corner down (Stumble Corner) the slope, between the walls of the enclosures. The open land here is part of Sherberton Common.
Very soon after the start of the walk there is a view of Bel Tor on the left, which is n private land.
Also from this area, Yes Tor is prominent to the west …..
There is a wind-shaped tree, presumably a hawthorn, on the top of the tor.
On the way down the slope, there is a good view of Mel Tor (also known as Mil Tor) …..
Another wind-shaped tree is persevering on its westward flank.
At the bottom of the slope, we come to Stumble Corner. Perhaps it was so-called because the horses pulling the carriage were prone to stumbling here?
Stumble Corner leads into miltor Lane which runs down to Mel (Mil) Tor.
There is a prominent gateway on a second corner, although there are two others hidden from view on the left behind gorse bushes. A curb of granite setts runs around the corner, possibly to divert water after heavy rain or to reduce erosion from such water.
The gate has a slotted gatepost on the left side, where the slots face the track, indicating that it has been turned around at some point. The right hand post has no slots and is of a massive size.
The slots are partly hidden by gorse and bracken.
Reaching Mel Tor requires a gentle climb from the “Drive” …..
On the day of the reconnaissance walk, a group of ponies were present, doing very little!
A number of rock basins are worn into the top of the main outcrop.
The view from the tor includes a view back up Miltor Lane, where it runs down to Miltor Corner.
There are some colourful areas of gorse and heather.
Further along the “Drive”, there is another gate that has a pair of slotted gateposts – these have the slots facing each other, indication that they remain in their original positions.
One gatepost has simple slots where the wooden bars were inserted …..
The other gatepost has L-shaped slots where the wooden bars were slid into the post and dropped into position from where they were not easily dislodged by farm animals.
A view on a compass bearing of 42° magnetic reveals the medieval farmstead of Uppaccott, with its old longhouses. Higher Uppacott is the left-hand house in the photograph.
A view looking down the river Dart valley – that the “Drive” was built to show off to Dr. Blackall’s guests.
The walk proceeded to an open area where it branched off to the left and climbed gently to the top of the hill where Aish Tor is located. There are quite extensive areas of low gorse here.
Near the top of the hill is an area of “black and white” metamorphic mudstone and sandstone. This is bedrock formed approximately 318 to 328 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period. It was originally formed as sedimentary rocks in swamps, estuaries and deltas to form slates. Later it was altered by low-grade metamorphism i.e. heating during geologic processes such as the nearby intrusion of Dartmoor’s molten magma (granite).
The rock has quite a lot of detail in it when looked at closely.
This impressive pile is not Aish Tor! The tor is about 80 metres distant and quite hidden in gorse and tall bracken from this direction and at this time of year.
The stones are a modern cairn and set on what looks like it might be an ancient burial cairn.
On the return part of the walk the view of Mel Tor brings to mind the stories that in earlier times, burning wagon wheels were sent tumbling down the slope towards the river below on Midsummer Day, although it fell into disuse during WW2. This might have gone back many years as an ancient practice. The idea was to roll them down the 600-foot hill but the rock-strewn nature of the ground stopped most of them. Today, the rusting iron tyres lie around in the wood, some with trees now growing up through them (Hemery p.589). Another reason for the custom dying might be the shortage of wagon wheels nowadays?
Bronze Age round house (or hut circle) at SX 69521 72531, beside the track, part of the ancient Mel Tor farmstead and enclosure. Dr. Blackall’s Drive is the track seen by the wall in this photograph.
While it was not visited on this walk, Dr. Blackall’s grave is located in the nearby village of Leusdon. It is found by walking in through the gate, along the path beside the church, and is the first grave beyond the building.
The grave is best found by turning right out of Bel Tor Corner car park, driving past a road joining on the left, around a sharp right bend, passing Uppaccott on the right, and then taking the 2nd/3rd road on the left (these are very close together and quickly become one road). Continue on this narrow lane until a branch goes off left. Drive straight ahead and before reaching a T-junction, park on the roadside on the left. Walk to the junction and go a little distance downhill to the church. Afterwards, turn left at the junction and drive back to Dartmeet – this is a better road!