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Mr Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor

One of the best things we did in my time as chief exec. of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, was to pay for the restoration of the gravestone of William Crossing, author of the classic Guide to Dartmoor and many other works about the Moor. Before we had the stone in Mary Tavy churchyard re-lettered, it was hard to read. It was a job well done.s-l225

Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor was first published in 1909, and it remains the most detailed book about the Moor.

(Note that: The Moor, with a capital M. While you may be in the Lake District, or the Scottish Highlands, you are always on Dartmoor. If you are in Dartmoor, it means you’re banged up in the prison – I never have been. They haven’t caught me yet! Though I have several times found myself within its precincts.)

Back in the 1960s, it was hard to get a copy of the Guide, until in 1965 David and Charles did an admirable reprint, with an introduction by Brian Le Messurier. Brian wrote introductions for several other Crossing books.

As a teenager with a Dartmoor obsession, I devoured the guide. Brian was sensible not to try to update the guide. It didn’t need it, Dartmoor hadn’t changed that much in sixty years, despite being Britain’s most abused National Park, and, as Brian pointed out, the result wouldn’t have been Crossing’s guide.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

There’s not a bit of Dartmoor left out from the hundreds of walks Crossing suggests, or not that I’ve found. And his Hints to the Dartmoor Rambler chapter is one of the best thoughts on what you might encounter on your walks. The summary of ancient tracks is superb, giving further scope for moorland expeditions.

Best of all, Crossing caught Dartmoor at an interesting time, before the modern world got at it. When folk farmed in a traditional way, when old folktales were still being told around the moorland hearths, when antiquarianism was being transformed into archaeology.

William Crossing was born in 1840 and died in 1928. He lived a lot of his life in poverty, writing hard to keep himself out of the workhouse. In old age, crippled up with rheumatism, only the charity of friends kept him from poor relief. He did some desultory, badly-paid work for the Dartmoor Preservation Association, which hardly benefited him (I know the feeling!)

His contribution to the DPA’s work has never been properly appreciated.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

I think back fifty years to the day I emerged from a Newton Abbot bookshop with my copy of the reprint. Now, though I collect guidebooks, I seldom follow routes in them, but I made up my mind that day to walk every single walk Crossing suggested – and I did, though it took several years. Interestingly, there were only a few where I had to improvise, where, for example, reservoirs had been built or conifers planted – I do wonder how many other Dartmoor walkers have done every walk in the book exactly as Crossing suggested?

In that period, everyone referred to the book simply as “Crossing”, such was its authority. I suspect most Dartmoor walkers these days hardly glance at it, which is their loss. There are some excellent modern writers of Dartmoor guidebooks, but none of the present generation come close to William Crossing.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

I used Crossing’s work as written evidence in numerous Dartmoor campaigns, from fighting mining companies to preserving the ancient lines of footpaths. He remains an authority worth quoting.

When I quit the Dartmoor Preservation Association in 2005, it was suggested to me that I should write a topographical book on the Moor. I gave it serious thought and decided not to do it. How could I compete with writers like Crossing, or Richard Hansford Worth, a predecessor of mine at the DPA, who wrote fine archaeological essays about the place?

I may still write a non-fiction Dartmoor book – my Dartmoor novel will be out in October – but it won’t be a guide, more an autobiography of those days when Dartmoor was less crowded, when I explored the Moor in Crossing’s footsteps. I can’t compete with the great William Crossing.

I shall never do all those Crossing walks again, but doing them when I was young enabled me to get to know Dartmoor really well. A foundation which served me well in the years that followed.

So if you are near Dartmoor and want to get to know the place really well, find yourself a copy of Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor, and start on those walks. It’ll take you a few years but, if you have the energy, you’ll know the Old Moor in a way that’ll be the envy of Dartmoor dilettantes.

And, if you do, I envy you the chance of following in Mr Crossing’s footsteps for the very first time

Walking and the Virus

This, the latest update from The Ramblers – do visit their website for more information.

Walking for exercise and mental wellbeing is more important than ever. To make sure we can all enjoy it safely, it’s important to keep up to date with current coronavirus restrictions.

On this page, you’ll find an overview of the different restrictions across England, Scotland and Wales and what they mean for you. 

Wherever you walk, it’s important to be safe, considerate and responsible. Always follow the Countryside Code or Scottish Access Code, and avoid busy areas which may make physical distancing difficult. Remember you can explore Ramblers Routes to discover local walks, close to home.

Are you a member of the Ramblers or an affiliated group? You can find more information about how these restrictions affect you on the Members & Affiliates page.

Are you a Ramblers volunteer? You can find further guidance about restarting activities below. 


England

The UK government roadmap for lifting lockdown means people in England can now walk outside in groups of up to six or two households. Ramblers group walks and volunteer activities can also resume, following Covid-secure guidance. You must continue to minimise travel and must not travel to Scotland or Wales. 

  • Walking with family & friends: Groups of up to six, or two households, can get together for informal walks.
  • Ramblers group walks: Covid-secure Group walks are classified by the UK government as ‘organised physical activities’ and can take place in groups larger than six – please check with your local group. Coach rambles remain suspended.
  • Path maintenance: Covid-secure path maintenance can take place – please check with your local group. 
  • Other Ramblers activities: Covid-secure activities can take place – please check with your local group. Events, training and committee meetings should be held outdoors or online where possible.
     

Scotland

It remains the law to ‘stay at home’ at all times apart from when taking part in a few limited exempt activities, which include local outdoor recreation.

  • Walking with family & friends: A legal exemption means you can walk in groups of up to four adults from up to two households. You may travel up to five miles beyond your local authority boundary to start walks. Alternatively, you could do circular walks that start and finish inside your authority, but which leave it during the walk itself.
  • Ramblers group walks: Exemptions for official outdoor sports activities mean you can attend Ramblers Scotland’s Covid-secure group walks for up to 15 people including the leader. People must not leave their own authority for a Ramblers walk – including during the walk itself. 
  • Path maintenance: All path maintenance is currently suspended.
  • Other Ramblers activities: Group walk recces and Ramblers Routes volunteering can take place in groups of up to four adults from a maximum of two households. Group walk recces must not leave your local authority. You may travel up to five miles beyond your local authority boundary to develop or check a Ramblers Route. All committee meetings and AGMs must take place online.  

Wales

Wales remains in Alert Level 4 (Very High Risk) with gradual lifting of restrictions planned for the coming weeks. From 27 March you can travel any distance within Wales. Group walks remain suspended. You must not travel to England.

  • Walking with family & friends: You must stay local. You can walk outdoors by yourself, with your household or support bubble. Up to six people from a maximum of two households (excluding carers or children under 11 from these households) can also walk together for outdoor exercise. 
  • Ramblers group walks: All group walks are currently suspended. The resumption of outdoor group activities will be reviewed by Welsh Government on 22 April.
  • Path maintenance: Covid-secure path maintenance can take place from 27 March – please check with your local group.
  • Other Ramblers activities: Site visits and Ramblers Routes volunteering can take place in groups of up to four adults from a maximum of two households. Committee meetings must be held online.

Walking Dartmoor’s River Webburn

The Webburn might not be the first river that comes to mind when you think of Dartmoor rivers, but I think of it as one of the best.

The Webburn is surely Dartmoor’s most secret river, even if one of its branches does flow through Widecombe in the Moor – the Moor’s most popular tourist village. It is an elusive flow, occasionally encountered but rarely followed from its twin sources to its end in the swirling waters of the River Dart, below New Bridge.

To seek out its hidden places involves much trespass or the omission of great stretches of its waters. So come trespassing with me.

Rather like those pioneers of British exploration it makes some sense to follow the Webburn upstream, not least because the end of the river – at Buckland Bridge – is easily accessible and following the first section of the river presents no problems. The bridge spans the Webburn immediately above its confluence with the Dart and was rightly described by William Crossing as a charming scene.

It was here that the Widecombe authoress Beatrice Chase liked to linger and about which she wrote on a number of occasions. The lovely wooded valley upstream is a nature reserve, a haunt of otters and water birds. A path takes the wanderer upstream to the joining of the East and West Webburns at Lizwell Meet.  All of this is land declared open to roam under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.  On the hillside above is the fine viewpoint of Blackadon Down, with the stony piles of Blackadon Tor and Logwell Rock. It is a seldom visited area in comparison with other parts of Dartmoor.

The wooded valley splits here, one branch following the West Webburn upstream to Ponsworthy Bridge and then along the East Webburn to Cockingford Bridge. There are good paths by the banks of both of these rivers, but though well used they are not rights of way and you will be trespassing. I’ve walked them often over the years and all the tracks pass through delightful scenery. A good excuse to exercise your freedom to roam.

Let us follow the western river first. At Ponsworthy, the Webburn is easily walked using a public footpath which is now part of the Two Moors Way. It is a rough and stony track, often very near the edge of the water, a very good place for a lunch break. The river bends to the north west at the hamlet of Jordan.

It was near here that I often met the actor and fisherman, the late Sir Michael Hordern, a great champion of freedom to roam, who spent his boyhood nearby and often returned. Sir Michael walked and fished the Webburn and neighbouring rivers at all hours of the day and night and few people had a greater knowledge of the local waters.

A bridleway takes the tramper above a further stretch of the Webburn, below the hill known as Jordan Ball to the appropriately named Shallowford. From above here the West Webburn drains a broad and marshy valley. Those Dartmoor walkers who have explored the old mineral workings around Vitifer and Birch Tor will have already seen the headwaters of the West Webburn, but before we proceed thither, let us look at where some of the tiny streams around Broadaford actually pass.

One tiny stream heads up towards Blackaton Manor and Gamble Cottage. Older ramblers on Dartmoor will remember when the latter was the home of Dr Alan and Mrs Gwenna Barwell, wonderful leaders of moorland walks. I walked with both of them on many occasions; expeditions which often concluded with sumptuous feasts at Gamble Cottage, which went on long into the night. Alan and Gwenna have passed on now, but I have fond memories of them both and enjoy looking at the painting of Bowerman’s Nose that Gwenna painted for me as a calendar one Christmas many years ago.

A westwards stream goes near to Cator, once the home of Dartmoor’s greatest conservationist, (Lady) Sylvia Sayer. How she is missed in these days when Dartmoor preservationists seem more interested in preserving the Dartmoor Establishment rather than Dartmoor itself.

The principal waters of the Webburn flow on under Challacombe to the mineral workings at Vitifer. A good bridleway and open moorland gives good access to the river from this point and there is a great deal of fascinating industrial archaeology in the vicinity.

Back then to Lizwell Meet, where a woodland path (private) leads to Cockingford Bridge.

If you are averse to trespassing, a footpath cuts the corner from Cockingford to the lane into Widecombe, offering limited views of the next stretch of the East Webburn as it heads towards the village.

It passes below Venton Farm, once the home of Olive Katherine Parr, or Beatrice Chase as she was better known. This once-famous authoress is buried in Widecombe churchyard, where her gravestone bears both names. She crossed swords with many people, not least the archaeologist and DPA secretary Richard Hansford Worth. In the days when I worked for the Dartmoor Preservation Association, I used to delight in reading their often vitriolic correspondence, which is housed in the DPA archive. It should be made available to a wider readership.

What can one say about Widecombe-in-the-Moor? Despite the crowds, the hype, and the occasional tackiness, I still think it a delightful place in one of the most beautiful of settings.

The Webburn slips by all this hustle and bustle and is scarcely noticed. But the valley beyond is truly dramatic, mountainous in aspect, and perhaps deserving of a mightier river. Access to the Webburn is again limited until open moorland is reached at Natsworthy Gate. Here the main branch of the Webburn makes a sharp turn to the west, climbing the steep slopes of Hameldon to a source near to the Blue Jug boundary stone, scarce a mile from the headwaters of its sister river the East Webburn.

If you like your river sources to be in stark and beautiful places, then this will do for you as the head of the Webburn.  But a case can be made for the tiny brook that proceeds up the valley past Heathercombe, below Barramoor and up to near Lettaford Cross as being the final flow of the Webburn. This may be followed, with a subsidiary watercourse up on to Shapley Common.

The first part of this may be seen from the footpath through the woodlands of Heathercombe Brake and the Shapley tributary from the Mariners Way. In dry weather some of the highest parts dry out, but it is surely the highest flow of this elusive river.

If you have been a bold trespasser and followed much of the two courses of the Webburn you will have passed through a quiet and secret landscape. The Webburn deserves to be better known and perhaps in future years increased access legislation or new rights of way will make this lovely river far more accessible.This is an extract from my Devon book, now out in paperback and on Kindle…   

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Here’s the blurb…“The novelist John Bainbridge has walked in the Devon countryside for over fifty years, and is well known as a writer and broadcaster on the county.In this miscellany of country essays, he explores many of the quiet corners of Devon, from the wild moorlands of Dartmoor and Exmoor to its spectacular coastline and peaceful pastoral landscapes.John Bainbridge is the author of the country books The Compleat Trespasser and Wayfarer’s Dole.

“As a rambler, I’ve spent much of the past half century roaming through the Devon countryside, exploring the county’s quiet villages, winding footpaths and bridleways, lonely moorland and dramatic coast. I’ve had the privilege of leading walking groups to share what I know of this land. For much of that time I’ve also written and broadcast about Devon – in a number of books and many newspaper and magazine articles and for a local radio station. In fact, my first published work was an article about Dartmoor, written and sold when I was sixteen.

Devon has changed a great deal since I began my walks there – not altogether for the better. Ill-thought out development has blighted some of the countryside I knew. I salute those campaigners who are fighting to protect what remains. I spent nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, so I appreciate the hard work involved in saving the beauties for future generations to enjoy.

But even with all these changes there are still the quiet secret places there to discover, and what better way to seek them out than on foot? I’ve enjoyed my Devon walks, both alone and in the company of other ramblers.

I’ve written about Devon in my two earlier walking books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser, which give accounts of some of my longer walks.  But there are some shorter pieces I’ve written, many previously published as magazine articles, which didn’t fit into the themes of those titles – fugitive pieces which I thought might make a collection on their own, hence this little volume.

This is no definitive account of Devon, nor yet a walks guide, though there are snippets of history, legend and topography in the pages which follow. Footloose in Devon is rather a bedside book, a volume to be dipped into when the reader has a quiet moment.  I hope the places mentioned might inspire some rambles and expeditions into the heart of this very lovely county. Teignmouth and Dartmoor also features in my novel Dangerous Game.”

To read more or to order just click on the link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Footloose-Devon-John-Bainbridge/dp/1981692096/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1530172277&sr=8-1&keywords=Footloose+in+Devon

An Appleby Wall

There’s a wall in Appleby – the former county town of Westmorland – that always intrigues me. It’s situated in Bongate – the oldest part of the town – across a quiet lane from the oldest church in the place, sadly now a private home.

The old mill at Bondgate

And, at some point in its history, long before it was converted, some pieces from the church were taken from the building and incorporated into the neighbouring wall. And there they are to this day, evidence of the church’s past. A couple at least of the stones look like medieval grave slabs.

River Eden below Bongate

Why this was done I have no idea.

Bongate gets its name from Bondgate, the area of the town where, in medieval times, the bonded men and women – bound as workers to the rich, would live.

The back door of Appleby Castle.

Appleby itself was almost certainly founded by the Vikings, though there may have been a Roman signalling station by the River Eden. It was harried and burned several times by the Scots, and was indeed once part of Scotland – one reason it doesn’t feature in the Domesday Book.

The wall is a bit of the past we often walk past.

V
A Boer War Memorial
The church at Bongate

(c) Text and pictures John Bainbridge

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