Thursday, 24 April 2014

Standing stones on Dartmoor

One day when I was in North Devon recently I drove Fiona down to the western edge of Dartmoor. I fancied a good moorland walk, with a standing stone or two as a target destination.

First I had lunch at The Arundell Arms Hotel at Lifton, a bit east of Launceston, and only just inside the Devon boundary. I can recommend the place. It specialises in providing comfortable country accommodation for the active and well-salaried visitor who might wish to do, say, a spot of fishing nearby. Lifton lies close to the confluence of the Wolf, Thrushet, Lyd and Tamar rivers. See Although I arrived a bit late for lunch, around 2.00pm, as I'd been country-church-hunting since the late morning, they gave me a lovely gammon ham and mustard sandwich, washed down with a refreshing gin and tonic:

I had a good chat with the barmaid, who was local, and otherwise a college student at Exeter. Now, look at the way the bread encapsulates the layers of ham. And it's only meant to be a sandwich! That's finesse. This is another hotel I would love to stay in, if ever I give up caravanning. And it's not the only one I can say that of (there a whole post coming up, devoted to another fine hotel I dined at in Instow, which has a curious link with The George Hotel at Stamford, the scene of my most outrageously expensive essay into fine dining yet).

After stoking up at Lifton, I headed south-east towards the fringes of Dartmoor. The scenery got a little wilder, rockier anyway. Of course I had a quick look at Brentor, that abrupt pile of granite topped with a church:

Brentor can be seen for miles around, and gets silhouetted in the sunset, if you are on Dartmoor proper. That was something I had in mind. I dearly wanted to climb up and see inside the church, and get the view from the top, but there wasn't time to do that and have a two-hour walk on Dartmoor. Another day, then.

Driving on, I soon passed the first of my 'standing stones' - actually an impressive old milepost - at a road junction south-west of Mary Tavy:

Not long after that, I was driving through the nearby village of Peter Tavy, then up a narrow road leading eastwards onto the moor, where I could safely leave Fiona in a car park that was clearly once an old quarry.

She had company: all of them blue cars, one of them another Volvo. She'd be all right, then. And my keen detective mind picked up another thing: there must be other humanoids abroad on the moor that afternoon. I wondered if I would encounter them.

Booted up, I headed off up a farm track towards my objectives. There were two. The ultimate one was an unnamed 'Standing Stone' on Petertavy Great Common, marked on the OS map at grid reference SX 550 787. And I noticed also the existence of a 'Stone Row' close by. But half way there was something marked on the map as 'Stephen's Grave'. I now know that this was simply the spot where a love-lorn suicide was buried, and that there is just a stumpy little monument to be seen. But in my memory at the time was a painting I'd found last September in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum at Exeter, by Devon artist William Widgery (1826-1893). The painting (1872) was called Ancient Cross on Whitchurch Down near Tavistock, but I'd forgotten that. I could vaguely recall what it looked like though, and I thought that Stephen's Grave was the spot from which Widgery had painted his sunset view with Brentor in the distance. Here's the painting:

Here's the reality at Stephen's Grave:

Ah, not a cross; and a lot further from Brentor. Artistic licence, to make the scene look better? Maybe. I had to await access to my PC at home, and my main photo archive, before I could answer that. The cross in the painting was actually elsewhere, a few miles south-west, up on the hillside east of Tavistock. I will visit it next September, when down in Devon again, and this time try to take a photo that really does match the view in the painting! There's another cross I could visit too, a tall granite one erected by Widgery himself on top of a tor east of Lydford. See That's an interesting website for some other stuff, too!

Shortly after this, humanoids came into view. A male and a female. They were attired for rambling on the moor, and clearly returning from a trek. We met. We chatted. I mentioned that I was aiming for a standing stone that lay ahead. Oh yes, said the man. There was a rather impressive tall thin stone over the next rise, about eight foot high. I couldn't miss it. Thank you very much. It sounded well worth the effort, even though it was thoroughly pleasant just to be out on the moor and communing with elemental things.

It hove into view just as described.

It's a bit like a stone scimitar, thrust skywards by some subterranean demon. I didn't catch it in proper sunlight, but it impressed me nevertheless. Did it do anything magical in moonlight? Or at solstice-time? Such as emit a shriek, or say wise words to anyone close by?

What about that stone row? Hmmm...there were stumpy rocks, on their sides mostly. That must be the row. It had mostly fallen over, collapsed into the turf. There was just one stone left standing, a small thing that I thought might in fact be no more than a boundary marker:

It's better in the photo than it looked on the ground. I looked for Runes, but there weren't any.

Well, that was that. The show was over. I walked back to Fiona, got some nice things to eat from Waitrose in Okehampton, and sped back to the caravan to feast.


  1. Darn painters, they have the ultimate photoshop at their disposal and I have yet to find any site where the painter has not done more than just use the site as a starting point to show what the world would look like if there really was a god in charge. Us poor photographers just have to get out the sepia...

    Next time you are this far north we must meet up and find you a decent lunch, not that our prize winning fish and chips on a harbour wall are not a good lunch.

    darn, I now have a longing for deep fried batter...

  2. I look forward to it with relish!


  3. Can you have relish with fish? I prefer salt and vinegar...LOL

    Shirley Anne x

  4. I relish the thought of tartar sauce with fish...

  5. I take it that I am being treated to humour...?


    1. Whatever gave you that idea?

      Shirley Anne x


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