I set off on Thursday morning at about ten and after a traffic free drive I arrived at Chagford around one in the afternoon. Stopping off to get a drink and to use the local loo’s I then headed off down some narrow country lanes in the direction of Batworthy Corner. As I was approaching my parking spot I noticed on my right beneath the slopes of Kes Tor what appeared to be a huge circular stone structure. I am a bit of a prehistory buff when it comes to the ancient monuments on the moor but had no previous knowledge of this place.
This Site is known as Kes Tor round pound. This is an interesting place due to the fact that most pounds on the moor were believed to have been used for herding cattle. This one however has a smaller hut circle within the larger stone structure. The outer walls of the pound are roughly 33 metres in diameter and the smaller internal circle is 11 Metres in diameter. Excavation within the hut in 1952 uncovered broken pottery and flints, hammer stones, a spindle whorl and an anvil along with a pair of pits that were used for iron smelting. Now this is the confusing bit, most pounds are dated to the bronze age before the use of iron. So I believe this is a bronze age pound with a later Iron age addition in the form of a type of blacksmith’s. The internal hut also had post holes providing evidence of a thatched or turf roof. Whatever this site was used for, it is an amazing place, one can only imagine what a remote and beautiful spot this must have been to work in thousands of years ago..
After twenty minutes or so of contemplation I jumped back in the car and drove the last half mile or so to Batworthy Corner where I parked up and checked my kit before walking onto the moor. Starting off with Kes Tor looming over my left shoulder.
I then headed out onto Shovel Down past the many Bronze age hut circles and reaves (ancient boundary walls) that prevail in this area, and then up to Stonetor hill.
The views up here were stunning in every direction, I can so understand why our prehistoric ancestors chose to dwell amongst these surroundings.
I continued my stroll down from Stonetor hill across a boggy area of bog cotton and up to meet the dry stone newtake wall which I would follow to the right until I came to the North Teign river Iron rail crossing.
After a ten minute break to cool down and rehydrate I continued downhill until I reached the iron rail crossing on the North Teign River. After crossing the river I headed uphill until I reached the corner of the dry stone wall where I now relied upon a bit of map and compass work and headed out onto the open moorland. After half an hour or so I reached the small tumbledown walls of Will May’s house. Sadly it was guarded by a herd of cows who refused to budge.
I walked towards them slowly in the hope that they would move but each step closer was met by an advancing cow. I took this one to be the angry mother of all cows as it slowly became agitated and advanced towards me, with its head down making ungodly snorting noises. I quickly snapped some photos and ran off in a cowardly fashion with my walking poles at the ready in case I had to try and stab the aggressive beast to death.
I had originally planned to camp here but the cows and the smell of burned grass and gorse from a recent moorland fire had scuppered my plans. A shame really but I shall return here one day for a closer inspection, armed with a cattle prod and donning a suit of armour.
As for the ruin itself, Will May was a peat cutter from Chagford who worked out here in the 1760’s cutting peat for fuel whilst using this small house as a dwelling. The house is tiny and is only around five feet by six feet with a small fireplace, which can be made out in the picture below. Personally I would love to live somewhere like this, remote and away from everyone. As long as Tesco could deliver there would be no issues.
After running away like a coward I took a compass bearing, proceeded across some boggy ground for half an hour and rejoined the North Teign river following it along in the direction of Scorhill. There were several spots along the way that looked promising for a bit of wild camping, but for some reason this part of the moor was plagued with more cows and thousands of flying bugs of the biting variety.
What I required was a nice spot along the river which was flat, cattle free and with a slight breeze to keep the bloodsucking winged insects away. I knew of such a spot which I had camped at twenty years ago. Annoyingly it wasn’t far from where I had started out from. This I thought wasn’t a bad thing though as it would mean a short walk back to the car in the morning, and after all I had seen what I had come for, albeit from a short distance. So forty minutes later I arrived at a spot by the river a couple of hundred metres south of the Scorhill stone circle. I found it had not changed and was better than I recalled. My tent was soon pitched and dinner was prepared.
As for my dinner, this was going to be a whole new experience. When I first started wild camping many years ago I used to bring along tinned food like baked beans and chilli. Obviously this weighed a ridiculous amount, so I soon rediscovered army ration packs. Being vegetarian I was limited in my choices. In recent years I have been buying boil in the bag wet meals which also weigh in at 300 odd grammes each. So to cut back on weight I started buying dehydrated meals. Unfortunately although the weight is a lot less, these aren’t the best tasting meals. So to get to the point, I have started dehydrating my own food. Having just bought a food dehydrator and vacuum bag sealer I had spent the past couple of weeks prior to this trip perfecting my new-found world of dehydration. Tonight was my first ever home-made dehydrated Spaghetti and Lentil Bolognese!
Starting with adding the correct measurement of filtered water from the river to my dry food I waited 20 minutes for the rehydration process to start, this would save on fuel in my Trangia stove. I then brought the pot to the boil and left it covered for another 10 minutes. Adding some Parmesan cheese on top it was ready to eat. And I must say it was the best meal I have had whilst camping on the moors.
The total weight of this meal before rehydration was 120g. Less than half the weight of a usual boil in the bag and twice as much food, which by the way was far superior. And one meal cost around £1! In my opinion this is definitely the way forward.
So dinner and washing up out-of-the-way I proceeded to relax by my tent with a book and a dram of whisky. A couple of hours went by and the wind picked up and a few spots of rain started falling. It was a good hour or so until it was going to get dark, so I relaxed in my tent and listened to the pattering of rain on the flysheet whilst watching a WW2 movie about the Burma railway on my phone. The movie ended as darkness enshrouded all. I was soon fast asleep and slept quite soundly, only waking on occasion to the wind and rain buffeting my tent.
It was a rough night in regards to the weather, the rain was light but continual with some large gusts of wind. I always find this type of weather quite comforting when I’m wrapped up in my sleeping bag, so it didn’t cause me any concern. I awoke with the sun and upon unzipping my tent I was greeted by a beautiful rainbow in stunning surroundings. It’s these moments that make you aware of just how incredible nature is.
After an hour of relaxing with tea the misty rain ceased, so I packed up and headed back to the car which was only half an hour away. My next plan was to head out to Bellever forest to find the Snaily House!
Parking just up from Bellever forest car park I walked back down the lane to the bridge, and then proceeded along the river in search of the ruins.
I walked along the river and was quite annoyed to see the remains of many fires that irresponsible campers had left behind. This is obviously a popular spot for people to camp as it’s close to the road and perfectly flat.
I continued on my way until I could see the Whiteslades coniferous plantation in the distance, this according to my map is where I would find the ruins of the Snaily House.
There is a wonderful old tale attached to this ruin. allegedly in the 1700’s two old spinsters lived here. With no obvious means of income the local farmers could not understand how they both appeared to remain quite plump. In fact they were suspected of stealing sheep so one night a young farm boy crept up to their cottage and spied through a window. He was horrified to see them both sitting at a table feasting on snails and slugs! This obviously answered the question about where they were getting their food from..
Several years later one of the old spinsters passed away leaving the remaining frail old lady on her own. Two of her nieces from the city decided to travel to this remote little spot to convince her to move away. On their first night at the cottage dinner was served. The two girls were shocked when an earthenware jar containing salted slugs and snails was brought to the table. The old woman could not understand why they refused to eat any dinner, and so they went to bed hungry.
First thing the next morning the two nieces went to the nearest village to fetch some “proper” food, as they couldn’t face eating the snaily morsels back at the cottage. That evening they roasted a big old duck over the fire and the old woman ate her fill, probably the first slugless meal she had eaten in a few years. Sadly the next morning she had a seizure and never spoke again. In fact she was dead within a week. The two nieces had her buried in Widecombe churchyard where her gravestone makes no mention of her fondness for snails. Instead it was engraved with the epitaph “She died of duck”. I am yet to investigate the graveyard at Widecombe to see if there is any truth in this tale..
As you can see the old ruin is now deep within a forest and overgrown, quite an inaccessible and remote place in modern times. If there is any truth to this story one can only guess what a harsh existence this must have been, living out here eating snails and slugs in the middle of nowhere…
There was one odd thing that struck me whilst I was investigating what remains of this place. Lots of snails. Coincidence?
I was glad to be leaving this place in all honesty, I had the distinct feeling that something was watching me from the woods. More than likely my imagination working overtime. Walking back along the river I arrived at the old clapper bridge where I rested for a while taking in the scenery.
This trip was not yet over as I soon found myself pitching tent at an undisclosed location. I found the most perfect hidden away camping spot on a farmer’s field which cost me £1.50 for the night, right next to the river and absolutely idyllic. I can’t share the location here as I want to keep this one all for myself. The next day I was heading back towards civilisation and the reality of work.
A great little solo trip this was, I can’t wait to return!