I have spent years driving over Dartmoor and rarely have I stopped to explore it. I have spent the odd night, usually at the Two Bridges Hotel, on my way home from Cornwall. This year I vowed to actually stop, spend a few days here and explore properly.
My drives over the moors, have often been cold and bleak. Often at dusk and often when the wind has been whipping up a gale, the rain has been hitting the car at angles and the animals have huddled together by stones and trees. I was therefore pleased that the forecast for the three days was mostly sunshine.
Having spent most of the first day exploring the beautiful village of Lustleigh I decided that we would head to Hound Tor and its medieval village, which was not far away, for a late afternoon and early evening stroll. After an enormous tea room lunch, fresh air and walking was needed before dinner.
Satnav, as usual, took us on a very roundabout route with lanes that were barely wide enough for a cart let alone a Ford focus. But it gave us an insight into the country lanes of Dartmoor, reminiscent of years gone by. Trees arched their boughs over the lanes, creating a dappled tunnel and hedges full of flowers and even early blackberries tapped the car as we drove past. Eventually we came to the Tor.
There is a free car park off the lane at Hound Tor called Swallerton Gate Car Park. Situated a few minutes from the B3387 between Bovey Tracey and Widecombe in the Moor. (This was not the way we came!) A short walk uphill gets you to the Tor fairly quickly. It is a gentle climb, but watch out for the rocks and rabbit holes. The rocky outcrop, stands majestic on the hill and the views are simply stunning. It is a good example of a very well weathered, granite outcrop. There are plenty of rocks to clamber over, which is great for little kids and big kids alike – although be careful as there are some fairly big drops from some of them. So always take care! Being so high up, the wind does whip around the rocks and is a bit relentless. Even on a sunny day like this, it was chilly up there.
The tor is also home to the remains of a medieval village. To access the village, head straight through the middle of the tor from the car park, and the other side you will see a little grass path that heads down the hill towards the valley. You go past a wooden fence to the right-hand side and after about 10 minutes you reach the remains of the village.
The village of Hundatora is owned by English Heritage and looked after as part of the National Parks.
The village was built on land farmed originally in the Bronze Age and which may have also been used for grazing in the Roman period. It was excavated in the 1970’s and contains 4 Dartmoor longhouses and several smaller houses and barns. They date from around the 13th century and when the villagers left, they didn’t leave much behind. The village was thought to be occupied until around the late 14th century or early 15the century and then abandoned. The acidic soil means that anything that was left behind wold have been destroyed although they have found a coin dating from Henry III and some pottery originating from Cockerton in Wiltshire.
I have been to many medieval village remains and I always find them incredibly fascinating. The base shape of the houses remains, and you can walk through doorways, up steps and see where the fireplace would have been. A great place for children’s imaginations to run riot. William become a farmer and was straight into storytelling mode as he pretended to look after his sheep, welcome people into his house and gather food from the hedgerows for tea. It’s also perfect for teaching children about medieval life in rural communities and giving them a feel for life outside to towns and cities. As a passionate historian, we create stories wherever we go to bring history to life.
You can clearly see in the longhouses the structure of the house, where the family would have lived in one end and the animals at the other. The houses are closely nestled together and the wind had dropped immensely by the time we got here, so it would have been a nice sheltered spot. Although not if the wind was blowing in the other direction of course! A source of water was down in the valley, probably about 20 minutes’ walk away.
Nearby there is also evidence a prehistoric farmstead and some Bronze age hut circles although we didn’t get as far as those as the sun was starting to go down.
As with many places of beautiful and history it has been the inspiration for writers and painters. It was used in a 1975 episode of Doctor Who and is also thought to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the Hound of the Baskervilles. Legend has it that the stones were formed out of a pack of dogs that turned to stone.
A really lovely walk with spectacular views of Dartmoor, this is a nice gentle stroll well worth doing.
As Widecombe in The Moor was not far away, we then headed there for dinner at the wonderful pub in the village, The Old Inn.
For more information on the medieval village visit the English Heritage website – Hound Tor