On Friday 25th May, under a sky of mostly white cloud, eighteen of us met at Pork Hill car park to walk over Barn Hill, down to Windy Post, over Feather Tor and its quarrying artefacts, on to Pew (Pu) Tor and its stone workers’ “keep out” markers. Then, to Heckwood Tor Quarry and on to see a view of Vixen Tor, returning via Windy Post again before following the Grimstone & Sortridge Leat to the ruins of the blacksmith’s shop and its wheelwrights stone on our return to the car park.
The Bronze Age burial cist on Barn Hill (above) has a view of Pew Tor in the distance. The sharp-eyed among us might also see Windy Post, i.e. Beckamoor Cross, down to the left on the low ground. It is 1/6th of the way across the image and 1/5th the way down from the top edge.
Windypost Cross, also known as Beckamoor Cross, is situated beside the Grimstone & Sortridge Leat that was built to supply those two manors near Horrabridge. It is one of the wayside crosses along the Abbots’ Way connecting Buckfast with Buckland and Tavistock Abbeys. Source: F.H. (Harry) Starkey (1989) Dartmoor Crosses and Some Ancient Tracks, pages 27-28, although he says the precise route is uncertain. Eric Hemery (1986), Walking Dartmoor’s Ancient Tracks, Robert Hale, London, pages 74-78, shows Windypost Cross as being beside the Jobbers Road (Tavistock Branch) that ran from Tavistock to Princetown where it linked up with the track to Buckfastleigh. This was important in the wool trade in the 1200’s/1300’s. Windypost Cross was also passed by the Tavistock-Ashburton track that was marked by the erecting of the TA stones in 1669 (Hemery, pages 109-111). Probably several tracks passed this way and then wended off to different destinations.
In the photograph above, the leat runs in from the lower left side and exits to the old manors on the right side: the water flowing straight away from the camera has passed through a bullseye stone. This is a stone with a 1-inch hole in it as a means of regulating flow, in this instance it flows to other farms below Pew Tor.
The photograph above is looking north, with Middle Staple Tor (left) and Great Mis Tor (right) on the skyline.
This is a closer view of the bullseye stone – it is slightly misleading because the leat was overflowing and putting extra water into this side-branch..
There is a useful clapper bridge not far from the cross, which we used!
Feather Tor was one of the tors in the area, which included Heckwood Tor, Pew Tor, Little Pew Tor (i.e. Sampford Tor), the Staple Tors, Roos Tor, Ingra Tor, Swelltor and Foggintor which were damaged by the quarrying activities that took place, it is believed, from around 1790 when Prince’s Town was being built. The photograph above shows an abandoned workpiece at Feather Tor, often said to be apart of a cider press although it may have been destined to be a millstone?
Besides the cider press/millstone in the foreground here, there is a near-circular piece of stone just visible on the ground, just left of the shadow seen “at 10 o’clock” from the cider press/millstone. It is of great interest because it was cut by the old wedge and groove method, which was superceded around 1800 by the more efficient feathers and tares method.
After leaving Feather Tor, we saw the stone above out in a solitary position that has been split by the wedge and groove method. It may be surmised that it has lain here like this since 1800 for over two hundred years.
Pew Tor is sometimes spelt as Pu Tor – this spelling is seen on the 1844 Tithe Map of Sampford Spiney parish – where it lies outside the plotted fields etc about halfway down the map and almost 1/3rd the way in from the right edge.
On the south side of the tor there are two granite pillars marking the boundary of Sampford Spiney parish. This was good place for our short coffee break.
The sky wasn’t quite so blue as on the days when I reconnoitred the walk! However, we had coffee at this ocation before continuing.
Around the base of the tor, or within very close proximity, there are nine marks cut into earthfast stones – these are 10-inch diameter quartered circles. looking like hot cross buns. They were put in place in 1847 because the ravages o the stone workers were such that the appearance of the tors were altering or they were disappearing and some citizens started to protest. Similar markers were put around Roos Tor, later reinforced with marker pillars.
Public concern continued over many years, there were also problems with common land being enclosed and in 1883 this concern was instrumental in the founding of Dartmoor Preservation Association. In 1896, the “no take” are around Pew Tor was extended by four new markers placed further away from he tor. These were 6-inch quartered circles with a hole drilled at the intersections of the lines. There has been some conjecture over these markers, the north-east one seems not to be recorded and cannot be found, despite hours of searching by various persons and groups. The north-west and south-west markers are known, the north-west marker is actually a double marker, with one on a flat surface and one on a vertical face – about two or three feet apart. Why? The marker above is the south-east marker, re-found in 2010.
The photograph above shows the south-east 1896 marker which is quite near the tor. It is dead-centre just inside the bottom adge of the image.
The quarry under Heckwood Tor contains two granite blocks that are said to have been intended for use in the construction of Plymouth Breakwater, but were rejected.
A little further along this track that passes Heckwood Tor Quarry is a welcome view of Vixen Tor, with Great Mis Tor towering over it in the distance.
After returning to Windypost Cross, we followed the leat roughly northwards to the site of the abandoned blacksmith’s “shop” – why is it always a “shop”? The smith here kept tools sharp for all the stone workers and also repaired wagon wheels by fitting new red-hot iron rims (“tyres”) onto the wooden wheels. This was a highly skilled task that is little seen today, although Moses/Merlin/Methusula remembers seeing it done in the mid-late 1950’s by the blacksmith at St. Erth in Cornwall.
A glimpse of the leat crossing over Beckamoor Brook by means of an aqueduct, namely a wooden launder, can be seen from the path as it diverges towards the car park from the leat-side path. If you walk down to the aqueduct, you will see “John Wills 1953-1987” carved into the top surface of one of the sides of structure. Nobody seems to know who he was.
The west end of the car park has a viewpoint installation that was inaugurated in 1984 in a ceremony with HRH Prince Charles.
The main attraction is the artistic version of the view and the labels that connect down to various features that can be seen from here.