May 16th 2016
I had planned this wild camp for a few weeks and wished to incorporate the Stall moor stone circle otherwise known as the”Kiss in the Ring” circle which is at the head of the Stall moor stone row, the longest stone row in Europe, possibly the world. I couldn’t have picked better weather with temperatures in the mid twenties. This walk would take me a total of 14.4 k to complete, encompassing what I believe to be some of the best prehistoric monuments on the moor.
After a two and a half hour drive from my home in Salisbury and a quick stop off at my usual little chef cafe for a mega breakfast I finally arrived at Shipley Bridge. To my horror the car park was full up as this area of the moor is popular with families who like to walk out to the reservoir. Fortunately they don’t tend to venture much further than that. After waiting in the car I eventually decided to park down a farm track off the road. I sent my usual text messages and checked in with my contact with some grid references, informing him I was heading off into the moors and did my final kit check.
The first couple of miles of this walk is relatively easy as there is a tarmac service road (closed to vehicles) which one can follow all the way to the Avon Dam reservoir. I passed quite a few people, families and dog walkers who gave me a smile and asked if I was spending the night on the moors. I always give them a false destination, just in case there happens to be a serial killer amongst them.
I arrived at the Avon Dam Reservoir and took a break, the sun was now beating down on me so it was time to don my wide-brimmed hat and smother myself in sun block. I drew some water from the reservoir and filtered it with the Sawyer mini filter, whilst feeling the stresses of civilisation starting to ebb away. There were still a few people wandering about but I knew from experience that as the day wore on they would be heading home and leaving me to enjoy the moor to myself.
So I continued on my way, now following the River Avon and heading away from the reservoir. I had noticed a sign a few miles back in the car park warning of Adders, this had made me extremely wary of wandering too far into the areas of grassy hummocks, which now seemed in my mind to be alive with venomous serpents of gigantic proportions. I could hear them and feel them watching me, waiting to strike at any opportunity. Fortunately I survived this dilemma, forgetting about these demonic creatures I continued to enjoy the stunning scenery.
My next port of call was the Huntington cross.
First recorded in the 16th century but more than likely medieval in origin. This was originally a waymarker for what was known as the “Jobbers road” for workers in the wool trade to carry their wares across the moor, later to become the “Abbots way”. The wall behind the cross was put up sometime before 2001 to stop cattle wandering onto the Duchy lands, before then the cross seemed to look more lonely in the landscape. Shame really, but it has deterred the cattle from using it as a rubbing post and causing any further damage. It has only been re erected after some cows vandalised it in the past couple of decades.
The cross is situated right next to a lovely spot on the river, so having burned a few calories on the way there I decided to take a break and have some army ration pack bread for lunch. This bread is extremely filling and resembles a roof tile, it’s also of much the same consistency, made edible with some squeezy peanut butter from a sachet and a bottle of electrolyte drink made up with some filtered water from the river. All strangely quite delicious when surrounded by beautiful scenery, I’m sure that if I was at home it would have ended up in the bin.
So onwards I walked, crossing over the nearby clapper bridge (which I shall come back to, literally, as it’s where I ended up camping) and up onto the open moor I headed off in search of the Stall moor stone row. I stopped at the top of the hill to take in my surroundings, and also because I was puffed out with the incline and weight of the rucksack. Dartmoor never ceases to amaze me. I stood there mesmerised watching the clouds casting reflections on the hills and the clapper bridge looking like a small model in a huge landscape, abandoned prehistoric enclosed settlements sitting on the slopes; it really makes one realise how pointless it is to worry about everyday things.
After a few moments of contemplation I realised now is not the time to stop worrying about things. I could do some not worrying later. I needed to get a move on if I was to make it to my destination. So I picked up the pace and after getting involved in a lot of mud and boggy ground, falling over and cursing I eventually arrived by the River Erme in sight of the Red Clay china works. This is a derelict china workings in the middle of nowhere which was in full production in 1910 but had packed up by 1933. From where I was stood I could see the china works spoil heap, this is where the unwanted gravel was dumped leaving what now looks like a distinct volcano. I intend to revisit this area soon and get a bit closer.
After a ten minute struggle contemplating how to get across the river Erme and eventually finding a shallow crossing I arrived at the Erme Pound, a Bronze age prehistoric enclosed settlement full of the remains of hut circles.
I was rather captivated by this place, having visited lots of abandoned settlements of these type, the sheer desolate location of this one left me with no choice but to spend some time wandering amongst the debris of our ancestors and taking a rest inside one of their former homes. Amazing to think people lived out here 4000 years ago, I think I’d happily jump in a time machine and go join them. Reckon they’d find me useful for something, possibly a sacrifice.
Luckily enough from where I was chilling out in the random hut circle, I could see on the opposite hillside across the river a couple of small standing stones poking up. This was none other than the Stall moor stone row, from there I could not go wrong as the row leads to the circle I’d been yearning to visit for years. So I hastily grabbed my rucksack and found a nearby crossing point on the river. From there I followed the stone row for about a mile running at full speed. I didn’t really, it was more of painfully slow foot dragging slog which seemed never ending..
This amazingly long stone row seemed to go on forever, several false summits. Just when you go down one slope and up another, believing the stone circle to be over the horizon, and it’s not! The stone row stretches 3.3 km across the moor from Green hill cairn at grid reference SX637678 all the way to where I was hoping to eventually arrive at the Stall moor circle, at grid reference SX63526446. It must have taken a massive amount of time and energy to place all of these stones in situ, especially when one takes into consideration the fact that they joined these two monuments together over a vast distance. That seems to be the general consensus amongst archaeologists, personally I don’t see why they didn’t just place a stone circle at the end of a completed stone row, so much simpler I’d of thought? Eventually I arrived at the stone circle, soaked in sweat with the sun beating down on my back I could feel the start of blisters on my heels. But none of that mattered as I’d made it to the remotest Stone circle on Dartmoor. It was certainly worth it.
The circle itself has a diameter of approximately 17 metres, its thought that it remains in its original condition with all of the stones being present. The Dartmoor exploration society in late Victorian times chose not to tamper with this monument due to its excellent state of preservation. Probably due to its remote location it has remained untouched for several thousand years.
I could have spent hours sitting amongst the stones, but alas I had taken note on my walk here that there were no flat camping spots which were dry enough, and within proximity to a clean running water source. My only option looked like I was going to have to head back to the clapper bridge down by the River Avon. So that’s exactly what I did. On blistered heels I hobbled back to what would be home for the evening.
I was glad when I made it back and found that it was a perfect spot. It was now about seven in the evening and I’d been on the go for sometime.
So I pitched tent and got my trangia stove on the go after guzzling a gallon of water. tonight’s delightful feast consisted of a veggie curry with rice, chocolate pudding, tea and biscuits.
So here was home for the night. No one for miles around, just myself and the sheep. Surrounded by the remnants of long forgotten civilisations, the bubbling of the stream and the calls of skylark’s. It was a peaceful evening with no need for a book this time. After taking care of my sore feet by dunking them in the cool stream and having a few drams of the finest Isle of Jura single malt whisky I crawled into my sleeping bag and slept the sleep of kings.
I awoke with the sunrise unzipping my tent to a beautiful view of some sheep crossing the old clapper bridge. A great start to the day..
Once I’d breakfasted on my favourite porridge, packed my gear and cleaned up ensuring I was leaving nothing behind, I took a slow walk back to the car on my tender feet, arriving several hours later back into the horrors of humanity and civilisation. But I returned feeling renewed and refreshed, ready to face reality.
Until next time.