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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

Stonehenge: what English Heritage says was “a time of calamity” in the 1920s is about to return – thanks to them! — The Heritage Journal

See here. Heritage in peril The late 1920s were a time of calamity for Britain’s heritage. Beautiful landscapes were being bulldozed for the construction of suburbs and roads – at this time there were no laws to restrict their development. Many historic buildings were being demolished or allowed to decay, and Stonehenge was endangered. The […]

Stonehenge: what English Heritage says was “a time of calamity” in the 1920s is about to return – thanks to them! — The Heritage Journal

Ring Cairn on Knipescar

As yesterday was a quite beautiful day, we went up to Knipescar in the Lowther Valley to try and locate the scheduled ring cairn ancient monument. And all I can say is you have to use a lot of imagination.

Knipescar

Now, I’ve been to a lot of ring cairns in my time, particularly on Dartmoor. I helped the late Joe Turner in his surveys of a few. And you could, mostly, see there was at least something there. But on Knipescar? Well, like I say you have to use your imagination.

Bampton Grange
The Old Way above Scarside

Being a map and compass man, I rarely use my GPS in anger, though I find it useful for archaeological explorations.

Path out on to the Scar
Along the Scar

I would stress I’m not an archaeologist, though I’ve done a few university extra-mural courses. I am, if anything, an amateur antiquarian of the old school. I have to profess that I’m full of admiration for the archaeologist who identified the scattered rocks of Knipescar as a ring cairn.

Ring Cairn?

If anything, I’d have thought it the remnants of an enclosure, but then I’m no expert. But according to the map and the GPS we were bang on it! And there’s definitely something there. The Schedule admits it is unexcavated, but you need a lot of interpretive imagination. I salute the official archaeologist who classified it.

Bampton Grange from the Scar

That being said, on a beautiful morning Knipescar is one of the best viewpoints in a land of superlative vistas. Clear views across the Lowther Valley to the High Street Fells and tantalising glimpses of Blencathra in the far distance. Ours was a gorgeous morning, with the remnants of cloud inversions playing with the distant hills.

Quite a short walk if you park near the scar, so we walked out from Bampton village hall (honesty box) to Bampton Grange, then up the lane to Scarside. Beyond the farm is the suggestion of a very ancient track leading out to the scar, no doubt used by farmers and shepherds over the centuries.

The scar, with its little burst of limestone pavement and erratic boulders is a delight. A really airy place for a stroll with far-reaching views. If you’ve an hour or two to spare it’s well worth an exploration, stone circle or not.

Limestone Country

And there’s a sunken Ordnance Survey trig point, on the top of the scar, a rare thing to seek out compared to the usual pillar types.

Interesting to see that great swathes of the bracken had been cut. A rare thing these days. When I was a lad on Dartmoor, many of the older farmers still cut bracken for animal bedding.

Now the bracken is out of control in so many places, the rhizomes underground damaging the stones of much archaeology.

Cleared bracken below the scar

Some bracken is useful for ecological reasons and its dying stalks produce that lovely colour we adore in Lakeland in the autumn. But more needs to be brought under control. When I was running the Dartmoor Preservation Association, we instigated a programme of bracken-bashing. It needs doing on a larger scale.

Text and pictures (c) J and A Bainbridge

Ramblers Groups and the Virus

This is the latest advice from the Ramblers Association re Group Walks...

This guidance was updated on 23 September 2020.

This is the latest advice from the Ramblers Association re Group Walks…

This guidance was updated on 23 September 2020.

Ramblers activities have resumed in England, Scotland and Wales – including group walks up to a maximum of 30 people. Please follow the latest advice (including any local restrictions in your area), and practise physical distancing. 

Please note that Ramblers and Ramblers Walking for Health group walks are exempt from the restrictions on social gatherings, announced on 22 September.

Our team are currently dealing with a very large number of emails and calls so for further information please read our guidance below which includes answers to all the most frequently asked questions.

Our priority is to protect the health of our members, supporters and volunteers so please follow our advice below before taking part in any Ramblers activity.

If you are a volunteer, please follow the latest Ramblers advice.

If you want to join a group walk: 

Our walk leaders are carefully considering the best approach for their areas and groups, and are restarting walks when it’s right for them, so always refer to your local group for the latest information.  

Before joining a walk, we strongly recommend reading Ramblers Restart: Taking part in COVID-safe walks, which has been put together in line with the latest government guidance. 

If you’re walking alone or with friends and family:

  • Be prepared: Government guidelines are changing regularly so make sure you know where you can walk before making the trip. 
  • Be safe: Maintain good hygiene and physical distancing. If you begin to show COVID-19 symptoms or have been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19, you must self-isolate.
  • Be considerate: Be sensitive to rural communities if considering travelling further from home to walk. Make sure to follow the Countryside Code – COVID-19 version (England and Wales) or Scottish Access Code.   

Knott Rigg and Ard Crags

There can be few nicer short walks in the Lake District than the stroll along Knott Rigg and Ard Crags from Newlands Hause. Especially if you only have a little time to spare. A walk we would recommend in good weather to those new to fellwalking, with easy walking and a true mountain panorama all around.

We did it yesterday on an absolutely stunning day and, being early, got out before the crowds. We had the ridge entirely to ourselves, only meeting other fellwalkers as we descended back to the Hause.

Our only regret was that we were a couple of weeks too late for the heather, which grows in profusion on the approach to Ard Crags.

But the views and the colours were sensational. I’ll say no more and hope you enjoy the pictures.

(c) A and J Bainbridge 2020