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


The New Blog

Walk the Old Ways

Thank you for following Walk the Old Ways. As I said in my last blog, I’m starting a new site and Walk the Old Ways will be archived. The new one will still feature walks and countryside news and views, so I hope you will keep following.

The new blog is called Country Ways – here’s the link below. Look forward to seeing you all there….

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Access threatened at Denham

Pleased to see this appalling plan is being vigorously opposed.


To the north of the village a footpath known as the Pyghtle (pronounced Pikle) leads to the railway station (A in plan below).  From A there is a lime avenue curving to the south-east and, at B, it joins another avenue which runs west-east from the church (C) to Denham Court (D).  This provided a perfect circuit, about 40 minutes’ walk, and many was the time I would walk our dog, or with friends, around this path, known as ‘the loop’.  I know Mum walked me in my pram around the circuit too.

Occasionally one of the wardens at Denham Court (then a children’s home) would tell us we shouldn’t be there.  We had nicknames for them all. I remember a tall one on a bike whom we called Lanky…

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Will yo’ come o’ Sunday mornin?


A few swallows were flying low over the heather as we emerged in bright sunlight onto Winter Hill from the top of Coalpit Road in Bolton. We were one thousand strong, about one tenth of the numbers said to have poured over the hill on 6 September 1896. They broke down Colonel Richard Henry Ainsworth’s locked gate across the path, ignored the minatory notices, and dodged the game keepers.

We were there on Sunday 5 September to celebrate the 125th anniversary of that mass trespass, when the people of Bolton defied the wealthy landowner and asserted their rights to use the road. Outrageously, Ainsworth took the leaders of the trespass to court which found in his favour and issued heavy fines. As a result, formal trespassing ceased, and the matter did not start to be resolved until the Ainsworth family sold the estate to Bolton Corporation in 1938 and access…

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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. 


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.


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 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.

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