Southwest Dartmoor – Devon
Clusters of weatherbeaten, megalithic remains – stone rows, circles and menhirs – have been standing on these high moors for at least 3,000 years. Their true function and purpose remain a mystery, and we can only imagine how people lived and worshipped on these high lands.
Merrivale is one of the best and most easily accessible of the ancient complexes on Dartmoor. There are three stone rows, two double and one single, and a wealth of other Bronze Age structures that suggest this was a place of considerable, if mysterious, activity.
If you can spare a whole day, head into the upper Erme valley. One of the longest stone rows in the world begins at the Dancer’s circle, about an hour’s walk from the road end. To appreciate the drama of these extraordinary structures, approach by the Cornwood Maidens, a further row of stones straddling the summit of Stalldown Barrow like watchtowers.
The beautiful Erme valley has more delights to offer, so make time to visit the enchanting, ancient woodland of Piles Copse, set by a beautiful pool (also a good camping spot), and consider climbing up to Leftmire Lake on the old mineral tramway. The route follows the high ridge to Red Lake, one of Dartmoor’s most remote quarries. From this elevated vantage point, there are superb sunset views out across south Devon and all the way down to the sea.
Further east, the Dousland-to-Princetown railway is a spectacular walkway and rough cycle track that winds through deciduous woodland and past high moorland tors. There are views of Burrator Lake and the Walkham Valley, and the track passes the quarries of Sweltor and Foggintor, the source of the granite used to build many London structures, including London Bridge.
The beautiful rivers Plym and Tavy are two of the best rivers on the moor for wild swimmers, with many dips around Denham Bridge, Cadover Bridge and in Walkham Woods at Double Waters, where the rivers Walkham and Tavy converge. On the upper stretches of the Plym, there is a secret, woodland waterfall, but if you yearn for a truly wild swim, try the old quarries at Leftmire and Red Lake, or the mystical Crazy Well. According to legend, this pool is not only haunted by a wicked witch, but also bottomless. Local villagers tried lowering the church’s bell ropes into the middle of the pool in the 19th century, but the ropes sank to a depth of between 80 and 90 fathoms (165 metres) and still didn’t reach the bottom…