Deep purple heather hillsides, crystal clear river water tempting you in, the heady song of skylarks beneath a setting sun… Dartmoor has a special magic, intoxicating and ethereal.
But it’s not just the natural beauty which makes this National Park a mystical place of wonder. It’s the history and the legends which have shaped the landscape.
Whizz down the A303 to the West Country and you can’t miss the Neoliothic pillars of Stonehenge and the crowds flocking there to marvel. But go further to Dartmoor to be alone and find peace among ancient sites.
Walk a moorland track and a distant boulder in the bracken seems innocuous, maybe sheltering a Greyface sheep from the stiff moorland breeze. Wander closer and suddenly you’ll notice it’s part of a perfect circle of upright granite, standing sentinel.
These hut circles are the remnants of prehistoric settlements, where hardy people once lived. It’s not difficult to discover flint tools too if you have an inkling what to look for. Holding a flint where someone else’s hand gripped it thousands of years ago has to stir the hardest heart.
Granite rows are even more evocative. Dartmoor has over 70 of these straight lines of stones, more than any other part of the UK, and it’s likely many more once stood proud. They range from single to quadruple avenues, often ending with a circle or large standing stone at either end. It’s likely most were erected in clearings (no mean feat without excavators) surrounded by forests of alder, oak and hazel.
Stone row near Burrator
A row of nine 6ft stones discovered in recent years on remote Cut Hill, northern Dartmoor, are the first to have been accurately dated. By carbon dating the surrounding peat, experts have determined the row originates from 3,500 BC, which makes it Neolithic and older than Stonehenge, though both have a NE-SW axis, corresponding with midwinter sunset and midsummer sunrise.
So who laboured to position these stones and why? Noone knows, though speculation abounds. Some believe they’re connected with astronomy or fertility rituals, others that they formed tribal boundaries or burial procession routes. Whatever the facts, Hurston Ridge stone row silhouetted against a summer evening sunset when you walk out into the wildness from Tawton Gate, near Fernworthy, has a deeply mystical feel.
Book a welcoming Dartmoor cottage, bring your walking boots and wander where rituals have been lost in the ether of time. You’ll find rows all over the moor, each one unique, from the two-mile Stall Moor row and the little snaggle-tooth stones of Corringdon Ball’s complex seven-fold formation to the massive two-metre high Stalldown pillars, but all have one thing in common… their long-lost secrets are hidden beneath an unfathomable aura of magic, one which can still make hairs prickle on the back of your neck.