Let’s start a new series with an easy one. Dartmoor is somewhere I’ve spent a great deal of time during my three years at university, sometimes socially, or collecting data for my dissertation, or on numerous field trips (no I will not be doing a section on the Plaxton Beaver fieldtrip buses, I really do have to draw the line there!).
Dartmoor is an ancient place, steeped in culture and history, including its fair share of folklore and ghost stories. The landscape is characterised by Tor-topped, sweeping moors, with forests and small villages throughout. The weather is notoriously awful, although I was usually lucky in this regard and often found the sun shining, even in the depths of Winter.
The east side of the moor has the historic route between Plymouth to the south and Okehampton to the north. The road is dotted with old coaching Inns and in days gone by would have been a busy route, said to have been plagued by highwaymen such as Captain Jack and Dick Rawley; the last highwayman hanged on Gibbet Hill.
It was fairly common for a gallows or gibbets to be erected at a prominent points, such as crossroads, where criminals would be left to rot to serve as a warning. Gibbet Hill, just north of Mary Tavy village, was one such place, where the gallows could present a grizzly spectre to travellers on the road below. One of my main sampling sites was across the valley, so I spent a few foggy evenings alone up there save for the Dartmoor Ponies; surprisingly tranquil!
I could go through every little place I’ve come across on Dartmoor but it’d be spoiling it I think. My advice is to grab a couple of friends, an OS Explorer map and jump in the car; you never know what you might find! We found frogspawn, took a jar home and raised about 40 frogs fairly successfully!