Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Haytor Down and Yarner Wood - Dartmoor Adventures in an Ancient Landscape

A remarkable ancient bronze-age cairn atop Black Hill on our latest Dartmoor adventure
When the weather is being kind we don't need a second invitation to get out into the Devon countryside to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us in this part of the world and with travel abroad somewhat restricted it makes one even more appreciative of your own back yard.

This July with our thirty-third wedding anniversary to celebrate Carolyn took a week off work and we followed up our trip with Will in June to Dartmoor with an expedition to Start Point and other nearby attractions, see below for links if you are interested, and finished the week by packing our bags and driving the forty-three minute journey out to Haytor Vale; and specifically one of our favourite places to stay, for a long weekend ensconced on the edge of Dartmoor, at the Rock Inn a beautiful traditional Devon pub serving great food and with bag-loads of ambience and atmosphere, great to stay at in winter or summer, and a brilliant base to go walking from - there the secret is out!

Our base for our Wedding Anniversary weekend and no finer place to be for great food and Dartmoor walks

The weather was a little temperamental for our weekend but the sun shines on the righteous as they say and we seemed to have dry pleasant walking weather all the time we were out except on the Friday when we arrived, which cut our walk short and I certainly wasn’t hanging around to take pictures.
Our big walk planned for Saturday of our weekend away with an eight mile trek from the pub around Haytor Down, under the lee of Haytor itself, around and through Yarner Wood and back picking up sections of the famous Templer Way, a stone tramway for trucks that carried stone from Haytor Stone Quarry down to the harbour front of Teignmouth, some eighteen miles away.

When I'm away I like to start a walking day on a good breakfast and saving myself for the full English on Sunday morning with beans, mushrooms and black pudding, I started this day with scrambled eggs and smoke salmon on toast which with tea and toast fuly restored me for the walking day which was to start with the half mile walk up the hill out of the village to the base of Haytor itself to pick up our planned path out towards the Haytor Stone Quarry.

Stepping on to the moor after our walk up from the pub with Haytor seen here peaking above the terrain to our left. Some folks unfamiliar with the delights of Dartmoor think that Haytor is Dartmoor which as well as being totally wrong also explains the hoards of visitors that climb over it every summer, and why we tend to only go there out of season to enjoy its stunning views with a little more tranquillity.

Our first intended route landmark was a little away from Haytor, namely the old late 18th century stone quarry with the stone spoil heaps indicating its proximity. With a full day of walking ahead we didn't go into the quarry, which on a sunnier day is a treat, but we went back the next morning and Carolyn's pictures at the end of this post will show what I mean.

The path out towards Haytor stone quarry is easily picked up after leaving the road and we were soon up on the moor looking back to the houses on the edge of the village.

Close by the spoil heaps of quarried rock we soon identified the remains of the granite rails of the old tramway leading away to join up with the main route of the Templer Way

Two hundred years old, this old granite tramway still amazes as an engineering marvel

There are several siding links that trail away from the quarry workings and here the one we followed can be seen meeting up with the main line to Teignmouth on the top left with wonderful carved points that would allow the teamsters to direct their trucks and heavy loads in any particular direction required, together with other sidings in the fern to allow trucks to pass in opposite directions.

Looking back along our route with our particular siding leading back to the quarry and with Haytor peaking above the hillside.

All along the route we appeared to be shadowed by a rather shy and retiring character somewhat skittish and reluctant to allow her picture to be grabbed, waiting until tantalisingly close before flying off into the ferns and gorse.

This is an interesting bird - to be revealed when I got a bit closer later!

The main line of the Templer Way which keener walkers than us follow, covering the eighteen miles down to the South Devon coast at Teignmouth, where the ships would have loaded up the Dartmoor granite.

Our journey however was in the opposite direction heading along the edge of the quarry to turn off north towards Smallacombe Rocks inspecting the Neolithic stone hut circles on our route that lies below the peak.

One of the locals seemed to take a passing notice of our walk before turning to more mundane business, like taking a drink from a nearby pool.

See what I mean about these points or junctions, perfectly cut into the granite blocks, but needing, no doubt, plenty of muscle, horse and man, to guide the loads and trucks on the right course.

Smallacombe Rocks, dead ahead, as we headed to the hut circles below it before turning directly towards Black Hill (see map above).

Following the tram lines roughly north away from the quarry took us out on our path towards Smallacombe Rocks and the hut circles below it before turning towards Black Hill and the collection of Neolithic cairns on its summit and the extraordinary views out over South Devon to the coast.

The closer we came to Smallacombe the views out behind Haytor opened up with vistas such as Hounds Tor which we have explored in previous Dartmoor posts

Smallacombe Rocks makes an easy landmark to reference on this walk and the path was easy to follow.

Our route continued to be shadowed throughout by our skittish friends and I finally managed to get a cameo shot as I approached the Smallacombe Rocks in readiness to get to the top and admire the view, with our friend below seemingly reluctant to surrender her imposing perch before my arrival, but revealing a stunning female Northern Wheatear.
A female Northern Wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe, a widespread summer visitor, that likes to frequent heaths and moors 

Characteristics of the female Wheatear

As well as admiring the natural fauna, getting to the top of Smallacombe Rocks gave a top down view of the hut circles of the small Neolithic settlement directly below, much more easily discernible than at ground level.

The circular remains of the four stone hut settlement at Smallacombe Rocks are more easily descerned from the top of the rocks behind them, not to mention the great views seen in the pictures below. These stone huts were first excavated by the gloriously named Dartmoor Exploration Committee in 1896 whose digs revealed items such as a flint knife, clay pot fragments and layers of charcoal.

The granite ridge above Widecombe described as looking like the 'spine of a sleeping dragon'.

Another view of Haytor from Smallacobe Rocks settlement revealing the visitor count going on up by the minute illustrated by the numbers of folks making the walk up its slopes. This view of Haytor from Smallacombe and its 'goddess' breast like protrusions is speculated about for the location of this small settlement with tomes such as the Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities ruminating on the possible deities of these early people.

After getting our breath at Smallacombe we turned east towards our next route point, the Hole Rock Tor on the upper edge of Black Hill and its rather interesting collection of stone cairns that dominate its summit.

The view from Smallacombe to our next route point, the Hole Rock Tor on the edge of Black Hill, being enjoyed by yet more Dartmoor ponies as we began the climb.

As we headed out across the moor amid summertime gorse and ferns, the Hole Rock Tor went into and out of view as we descended into folds in the ground and when it emerged on the other side slightly closer the silhouettes of ponies stood out much clearer against the horizon and our walk was accompanied by the high pitched 'tissip -eest' call of Meadow Pipits perched on fern fronds.

Another rather shy local joined us on our walk up Black Hill, a Dartmoor Meadow Pipit, very at home among the gorse and ferns alongside our path.

The Meadow Pipit - Anthus pratensis

Hole Rock hove's into view on the upper forward slope of Black Hill

Again the effort to get to Hole Rock on the edge of Black Hill was rewarded with yet more glorious vistas out over South Devon and this part of the moor with the twin peaks of Haytor even more stark against the horizon as we headed away from it.

We were not quite at the highest point of our walk yet with another few yards to go to reach Point 412, but already we could see the first cairns standing out on the top of the hill as we looked in the direction of our path.

Black Hill is described by Historic England as a round cairn cemetery, and there are some twelve of these  remarkable stone tombs dotted around the summit and slopes of the hill, above the town of Bovey Tracey, four of which are on the top of the hill itself.

The rock mounds vary in diameter from 40 feet (12m) to 60 feet (18m) and from 2 to 3 feet high and have partially early excavated hollow centres and the profiles have been altered over the intervening centuries due to stone robbing.

Despite the vagaries of time the Black Hill Cairns are in a remarkable state of preservation, with the site dating back to the Bronze Age and illustrates why Dartmoor is considered to be one of the best preserved and densest concentrations of round cairns in south-western Britain.

The only pony to be seen on the summit was this stunning white lad, seemingly oblivious to our presence as he happily munched on the sod, but seemed a perfect accompaniment to the ancient importance of the site.

On the forward edge of the hill you can see the remains of a robbed out cairn with the hollowed out chamber clearly visible after the top layer of stones has been removed at some time.  

Our path down Black Hill, the steepness of which is not really caught in this picture, but Carolyn and I passed another couple coming up it and we both knew which of us had chosen the easier route. Yarner Wood, our next destination lies in the valley to the centre-right of the picture.

Another view of our route down Black Hill taken from the road at the bottom, along which we walked to visit a stone row before picking up the path into and around Yarner Wood.

Another watering stop at the bottom of Black Hill and time to take a quick selfie

Following the grass verge on the road that led back to Haytor Vale and the Rock Inn, we were keeping a lookout for a stone row indicated on the map to our left and it took some finding as this is probably one of the most discreet stone rows we have come across so far on Dartmoor.

As you can see from the line up of rather small stones, this stone row takes some spotting, and I took the picture looking back to the road, simply because it was clearer to pick out from this end. Black Hill, with its cairn cemetery dominates the scene in the background.

Walking along the road towards Yarner Wood we enjoyed splendid views out towards Bovey Tracey and the coast at Teignmouth beyond.

Eventually to the left of the road we found the path leading to our next place of interest, Yarner Wood.

The area of Yarner Wood is 365 acres and since 1985 has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest or SSSI, with several species of tree in its boundary including oak, birch, scots pine, larch and beech, and is also home to several bird species including buzzard, sparrow hawk, nightjars and pied flycatchers, with the 'twitchers' and 'birders' well provided for with several spacious and well fitted out bird hides strategically placed around the site to enable uninterrupted spotting during the peak season.

As we descended off the moor into the valley, the terrain changed from moorland to woodland

As if to welcome us into this new realm, we were greeted by the metallic chak-chak call and the flash of carmine red as a male Stonechat flew across our path from amid the trees to perch on nearby scrub

A male Stonechat - Saxicola torquata

The path veered away from the scrubland and we were on the way into the wood with half an idea to stop for a quick picnic until we observed the ground seemingly alive with movement

I seem to recall my first visit to Devon woodland on an early school trip being introduced to, if not the largest, certainly a very large ant in England, the wood ant, which, nothing like an Army Ant or Bullet Ant, can still administer a noticeable bite followed by a quick stinging spray of formic acid. All along our path were the easily discernible heaps of brown wood pulp and debris that characterise their nest sites.

Red Wood Ant - Formica rufa

A small stream flows through the wood at the bottom of a valley, the lowest point in the walk before climbing past the old copper mine.

As well as the natural fauna Yarner Wood was a major site for Copper extraction in the 19th century with an operational copper mine working between 1857 to 1862 providing the ore for over 2000 tonnes of copper.

The woodland made a very pleasant change to the open moorland and as well as birds we were treated to the occasional close encounter with wild deer as we made our way along the path. 

As we climbed the path up through the trees the top of the mine shaft was easily discernible by the slight indentation in the ground behind the safety fence to warn off any unwary visitors 

The path through the wood descends down into a small valley through which a small stream flows originating from a spring at North Lodge near the path where we came in from off the road and then starts the climb back up to the road we entered from.

Climbing the path that led up the other side of the wooded valley we found ourselves back out on the edges of the moor close to the Bovey Tracey road with busy holiday traffic heading to the carparks and ice-cream vans parked below Haytor.

Staying up on the moorland grass verge we followed the road and soon picked up a familiar land mark that pointed us in the direction of our route when we started some four hours previously as the familiar granite rails of the Templer Way protruded up among the grass and ferns along our path.

By now we were feeling the eight miles of our walk and looking forward to freshening up at the Rock Inn, and the walk downhill into the village was a pleasure as the sun really started to shine strongly, encouraging bird song as the beer garden came into sight.

The best way to end a fantastic day walking out on the moor with an appetite building for a slap up dinner that evening.

Another wedding anniversary well and truly celebrated.

The next morning I had my full English breakfast prior to clearing our room and paying the bill, and with the day ahead to please ourselves before heading home we decided to take a morning excursion back out towards the quarry works that we passed on our walk the day before.

The sun was shining making it perfect weather to see the natural pools that have filled the diggings of the old stone quarry providing a perfect nature reserve for frogs, newts, sticklebacks and enormous dragonflies.

In addition, with the pictures barely doing justice to them, the hills around the pools were a blazing lilac with the heather in full bloom, and we were so pleased we made the effort to walk back up there the next morning despite aching limbs protesting at another climb. 

Haytor Quarry is the largest  of five granite quarries in the area and was worked from the late 18th century and sporadically throughout the 19th century when in 1820, under the ownership of local landowner, George Templer, the granite tramway was built; designed to take horse drawn trucks with loads of granite down to the Stover Canal and on to the docks at Teignmouth for onward shipping, with each truck capable of carrying a three ton load.

Granite from Haytor was used in the building of Old London Bridge, built in 1831 and sold to an American entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch in 1967 seeing it taken apart stone by stone and shipped via the Panama Canal, Long Beach, California to its new home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, taking with it several large pieces of Dartmoor granite

The Old London Bridge 1831 to 1967 now seen rebuilt in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA

The British Museum, still in London, is also a famous British landmark benefitting from Dartmoor granite from Haytor Quarry and seen below during Carolyn's and my visit in 2016.

The British Museum as I photographed in in 2016 during our visit.
JJ's Wargames - British Museum Visit 2016

It was hard to associate the mark made on World history and architecture in this former quarry, now renewed as a tiny wildlife sanctuary and beauty spot, surrounded with the gentle hum of dragonflies.

Thank you to the staff at the Rock Inn who despite the difficulties they were working under due to staff shortages following track and trace Covid alerts on staff, soldiered on and were able to produce a cracking menu and keep the ship afloat in difficult times and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

A perfect way to spend a weekend. 

Next up, Let's Build a Sloop Part Two sees the emergence of a British, American and Revolutionary French ship-sloop, sloop of war and corvette to join their respective fleets and I take a look at the resources I use to inspire the look of each ship, then I have another English Civil War adventure with Mr Steve to share as we set off a week ago to explore Devizes and Roundway Down.


  1. Congrats on the anniversary! Looks like a great walking holiday.

  2. Thank you Peter, that's kind of you and yes indeed, we had a great week getting out and about.