Digging Dartmoor – an update

Following the earlier blog about the excavation work at North Hall Manor in Widecombe, here is an update and a reminder that you can see the site for yourself during the FREE open day on Saturday 21st

The excavation at North Hall is progressing very well. Despite some very wet weather, the volunteers have been digging enthusiastically and have been enjoying the archaeological experience!

The wet weather and waterlogged ground have meant we have had to abandon excavation in one field. Here we hoped to investigate a feature of possible prehistoric origin. We are therefore concentrating on the southern site which is turning out to be former building. We have found evidence for robbed out walls and demolition material along with a quantity of medieval pottery. At present it is unclear if this is the actual site of the manor house or an associated building. The dig is carrying on for another two days so there is still lots of time for more discoveries.

The public have a chance to view the excavation for themselves this Saturday (21st July) as we are holding an Open Day. There will be a living history demonstration by the group “Dumnonika”, a finds surgery, a chance for children to make pottery and build a mini longhouse, a geophysical demonstration and displays about North Hall and the local archaeology. The open day runs from 10.30am to 4.30pm and there is amble parking in the village.

Finally a very big thank you must go to all the volunteers who have been working on site this week. Your hard work in some often very soggy conditions is greatly appreciated!!

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Digging Dartmoor – revealing more of the past

The archaeological excavation to find the medieval manor house of North Hall in the centre of Widecombe, starts today – Monday 16 July! After years of tireless research and hard work by Peter Rennels of the Widecombe History Group, archaeologists are hoping to unearth remains of the manor as well as investigate other interesting sites that have been revealed through the research work.

July 21st North Hall Open Day

July 21st – North Hall Open Day

To keep track of the work make sure you have subscribed to the National Park’s Twitter feed, keep checking this blog or better still ensure that you come along to North Hall this Saturday, 21st July, for a free open day between 10:30 – 16:30.
A packed programme of activities includes:

  • Visit the excavations
  • Watch a Geophysical survey demonstration
  • A ‘finds surgery’ -bring along your own discoveries to be identified
  • Dumnonika Iron Age Re-enactment Group displays and demonstrations
  • Clay pot making
  • Build a mini medieval longhouse
  • Local History display and information
  • Historic Environment Record display
  • Medieval food quiz and games

The weather won’t ‘dampen’ our enthusiasm so look forward to seeing you in Widecombe on Saturday! 

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Whatever the weather…

The recent spell of ‘unsettled’ weather may have played havoc with crops in the fields and people’s veg patches but the grass and vegetation has taken advantage and gone into overdrive on Dartmoor. This is particularly around public rights of way and archaeological features and whatever the weather we have to carry on with our duties year round to ensure that paths are still accessible and features not ‘lost’ in the under(or over!)growth.

20120 July the gate to nowhere?

Does this gate actually lead anywhere?

With that in mind, whilst it is still a bit early in the season, I have started to do some strimming along the public rights of way. It’s still the bird nesting season until the end of July so I double checked along the paths to make sure that I wouldn’t cause disturbance to any nests or young before I started work.  The paths that I cleared were around Cornwood on the southern edge of the Moor.  Both paths were more grasses and stinging nettles (soft vegetation) rather than hedge rows and gorse, but because of the warm weather in May followed by a wet June the vegetation was very high and made the paths impassable.  As always it wasn’t quite as straightforward as just strimming as my work attracted some horrible horse flies and I got munched!

July 2012 path clear
I can see clearly now ….
June 2012 Dartmoor Preservation Association Work Party

There is a leat here somewhere…

I recently joined the Dartmoor Preservation Association (DPA) volunteers at the southern edge of Roborough Down to do some bracken bashing along the Drakes Leat.  For the past couple of years the DPA have been coming out and clearing the vegetation along this beautiful archaeological feature, preserving it for the future and making is more accessible to visitors to this area.  The warm, wet weather has meant that the bracken is prolific and has encroached along the leat, but it has also meant that the Foxgloves have sprung up in abundance, a slash of vivid pink amongst all the green.  Using simple “slashers” around 15 of us got down to it, bashing at the bracken and trying to leave as many foxgloves as possible.  We spied several butterflies darting amongst the foxgloves and were also privileged to see a beautiful Yellow Hammer, who serenaded us for a while as we worked. A good day all round!

For further information on volunteering projects on Dartmoor see the National Park’s volunteering pages

Ranger Andrea Crisp,
Sector D

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A job that is worth sitting down on!

A farmer and contractor, Kevin Hillborne, agreed a couple of months ago to donate an English Oak trunk to Mary Tavy school to make some benches. The benches were to go up at the school playing fields, to facilitate a small reading area, as well as being a place for parents to sit whilst watching the children during their annual sports day and other activities.  Anton Coaker, Sherberton Farm, had agreed to cut the trunk into  benches with his sawmill, and a couple of local people and a  Voluntary Warden had agreed to help put the benches in place.

The oak being hoisted in at the sawmill
The oak being hoisted in at the sawmill
The oak being made into benches

The oak being made into benches

After taking the trunk to Sherberton Farm on Tuesday 15th May, where Anton’s colleague Barry sawed the planks up, I took them over to the school playing fields where Dave “the Artist” Woodhouse and his friend Steve “all the way from Cornwall” Little, helped John Banks (VW) and I placed them on logs the following morning. They were chainsawed down to the decent heartwood by Dave and run over along the edges with a sander. When the sander battery failed, the Artist dug out the “Adze” from the boot of the car to finish the job off. The seats were bolted down, with a piece of dowel inserted on top of the bolts to give an entire wood finish.

Mary Tavy Benches in situ

Benches in situ

The finished articles look beautiful in the field corners. It was a pleasure doing the work to make these benches alongside generous and talented individuals, giving their time and skills for free.

Thanks particularly go to Kevin Hillborne for donating the wood, and Roy Turner for helping  load the wood. Anton Coaker and Barry from Sherberton Farm, for generously giving time and the specialist sawing machinery to make the benches. Also Dave Woodhouse, Steve Little and John Banks  who gave half a day to work the wood and mount them onto the logs to complete the benches

Mary Tavy Benches - the finished product

Mary Tavy Benches – Proper Job!

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Supporting Community Events

People often think that being a Ranger for Dartmoor National Park means that we spend all of our time out on the Moor looking after footpaths or talking to dog-owners or farmers. However, a very important aspect of our role is the community engagement and last week I was fortunate enough to be involved in two very different events within a  couple of days and couple of miles of each other!

Vintage Tractor Rally at Yelverton

Vintage Tractor Rally at Yelverton

On the Sunday, I attended the very popular vintage tractor rally meeting at Yelverton airfield. The event saw a lot of families attend and gave the perfect opportunity to speak to people about visiting Dartmoor, keeping an eye on their dogs whilst walking on the Moor and generally helping with any guidance or information as required. Whilst the rally started at Yelverton they did a ten-mile circuit, in convoy, out around Burrator.

Opening of the Gem Bridge May 22nd

Official opening of the Gem Bridge

Then two days later I was invited to attend the opening of Gem bridge spanning the Walkham valley below Horrabridge. Gem Bridge was formally opened by Cllr Jeremy Yabsley, Devon County Council’s chairman and he was accompanied by children from Tavistock college, Tavistock,  Horrabridge and Whitchurch primaries, the latter of whom won the design for the picnic area on the north end of the bridge where a time capsule was also buried. I also brought along  local Horrabridge resident Barney Gawman who was one of the four man team who had dismantled the earlier bridge. Although the final link through Grenofen tunnel to Tavistock isn’t yet finished the bridge is already proving a popular attraction and surprisingly for such a large structure fits very gracefully into this gem of a valley.

Sector Ranger Paul Glanville

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Blue is the colour….Dartmoor’s bluebells are here!

Bluebells at Holwell LawnFinally, after the April showers the bluebells have decided to come out in force and are now gracing us with their glorious hues.

Last May we posted a blog on the bluebells on 03 May but whilst a few hardy bluebells have been showing for a few weeks the spectacular display at Holwell Lawn has decided to come out to give a little competition to Chelsea Flower Show!

If you want to know a little more about bluebells then see the information on our Species of the Month. The best way to see the bluebells this weekend will be to take the Haytor Hoppa on Saturday from Newton Abbot or Bovey Tracey where you can either get a great view from the road or hop off at Holwell Lawn and walk the short distance to this spectacular carpet!

If you have struggled to capture the colours, light and landscape then why not join the Hoppa excursion on 09 June where Lee Pengelly will be taking a ‘Winning landscapes’ guided photography masterclass around Hound Tor then on to the Old Inn, Widecombe for a meal and drinks (own expense). The Hoppa excursions start at Newton Abbot train station picking up at the bus station and Bovey Tracey and are fantastic value at just £7.50 per adult; £6 per adult for groups of 4 or more; £4 per child under 16 (price includes return bus travel, a walk/talk but does NOT include and food or drink). These evening excursions must be booked in advance and further details can be found on http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk/haytorhoppa
The excursion must be booked on 01822 890 414

Finally, if you cannot get to Holwell Lawn and surrounding areas there are other places on Dartmoor, see Tom Wood’s blog for the National Trust about the Teign Valley.

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Restoring Footpaths – volunteer help required

Longtimber Wood footpath

Longtimber Wood footpath

Dartmoor National Park Rangers Ella Briens and Rob Taylor have planned a number of work parties to restore sections of the footpath that runs through Longtimber wood, and out along the Erme valley, below Wilkies Moor, Ivybridge.   These pictures show us with long term volunteer warden Brian Poole helping move some ‘pieces of granite’ that were used to construct a small clapper style bridge over the first section of the wettest part of the path.  We were pleased with the results and also managed to modify a stile to make it more dog friendly (adding a dog gate – thanks Andrea and Brian!), remove a large limb of a tree that was hanging over the path (thanks Rob!), and put up some new signs – all before the weather turned torrential!

Moving granite for Longtimber footpath

Moving granite for Longtimber footpath

Creating a better crossing!

Creating a better crossing!

The next part of the route restoration involves moving some small boulders to form foundations for what will become a growan topped path through the muddiest section.  The local quarry company Sibelco have kindly given us the stone (granite) which was shifted for us by a local contractor.  All of the works have had to get prior approval from the Environment Agency (EA) as the path runs right next to the river – the EA offered to help out (despite the mud) but unfortunately could not make it in the end due to all of the flooding elsewhere keeping them busy!!!

There will be future opportunities to volunteer  here in the summer – dates will be advertised on our website volunteering pages.  Give us a call if you don’t mind mud (don’t say I did not warn you!).  Thank you Brian for all of your continuing hard work and effort….until the next time.

Ella Briens, Ranger for Sector C

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Planning on Dartmoor – examination approaches

DMD_Publication_Version_CoverThe last planner’s blog was in February – things have moved on a lot since then as we approach the last stage in preparing the DMD – the new local plan for Dartmoor.

We ran a consultation from February to April 2012 on the Publication Version. 27 individuals or organisation sent in comments – evidence we feel that the 306 people who wrote in on the draft Plan and the 800+ people who came to visit our exhibitions last summer, felt they had been listened to.  Bill Hitchins, Chairman of the Dartmoor National Park Authority has said: ‘The low number of representations received during the last round of consultation is testament to the extensive public, stakeholder and Member engagement in the earlier stages of preparing the Plan. The National Park Authority would like to thank those individuals and organisations for engaging so positively with the process.’  

So what happens now?
At their meeting of the 4th May the Authority agreed to ‘submit’ the Plan to the Secretary of State.  An Inspector has now been appointed who will consider the plan at an independent examination this summer.  The Inspector will consider the whether the Plan is ‘sound’ – looking at whether it is consistent with National Policy, justified and effective. You can follow the examination process on our web site, and find out more about how we have prepared the Plan

But, we still need your comments!  
During the consultation the government published the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) – this sets the national context for local plans.  We are now giving you an opportunity to comment on whether the DMD is consistent with the NPPF (i.e. do our policies fit with the new national ones).  Further to this, two new proposed development sites, one at Buckfastleigh (Devonia Products mill site) and one at Yelverton (Gratton Cross) were submitted during consultation on the Publication Version of the document.  These sites hadn’t been considered before and we need to know what you think about these sites before they are discussed during the examination. There is therefore an opportunity for comments to be made on these sites, we must receive your comments by Wednesday 4th July 2012. 

So that’s an update for now! It’s a complicated process adopting a new local plan, but we are confident that the outcome will be comprehensive set of policies to conserve and enhance the Dartmoor National Park we all know and love.  We would anticipate being able to adopt the Plan by the end of the 2012.

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Stepping back in time with the Time Traveller himself


Higher Uppacott

Higher Uppacott – Grade 1 listed, medieval longhouse

In the first of its fundraising activities, Higher Uppacott – Dartmoor National Park Authority’s Grade 1 listed, medieval longhouse – recently played host to an exclusive (only 20 places were available) literary event with Dr Ian Mortimer, author of the popular Time Traveller’s Guides. Whilst most participants were local to the area, one couple had travelled from Peterborough in Cambridgeshire just to hear Ian’s talk!

Dr Ian Mortimer

‘The Time Traveller’ – Dr Ian Mortimer

The audience was transported back in time to 14th century Medieval England for a glimpse into rural farm life on Dartmoor, using Higher Uppacott as a prime example, before journeying on, in a virtual sense, to Exeter and experiencing life in the big city – the sights, the sounds and smells!

In true time-travelling style, Ian’s first talk passed by in a flash and then the audience were being tested on their new found knowledge on medieval life by Val Harrison, a local Historic Buildings expert, as she conducted a tour around Higher Uppacott.

A delicious Devon Cream Tea was enjoyed amidst the cosy and informal inner hall setting, before Ian was time travelling again – propelling the audience forward 200 years to the reign of Elizabeth 1 and comparing how life had changed from medieval times.

Fireplace, Higher Uppacott
Fireplace, Higher Uppacott

The Time Travellers Guide to Elizabethan EnglandTo illustrate at least 26 changes, Ian conducted an eclectic A – Z of the Elizabethan period before finishing the afternoon off with a welcomed signing of his new book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England.

All proceeds from the fundraising event will go towards maintaining Higher Uppacott.

If you would like to visit Higher Uppacott then why not take advantage of the Haytor Hoppa Excursion on Saturday evening, 12 May. For just £7.50 pp (£6 pp for groups of four or more), the Hoppa will take people from Newton Abbot train station (1700) and Ashburton (1715)  to Higher Uppacott. You will then be treated to a guided tour of the property before being transported to the Tavistock Inn where you will have time for drinks and supper (not included in the price). Your return to Newton Abbot (via Ashburton) will get you back in time (22:00) for connections onwards to Exeter or Plymouth.
To take advantage of this fantastic opportunity call the High Moorland Visitor Centre on 01822 890 414 or visit a Dartmoor National Park Information Centre.

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Best laid schemes…

Two Dartmoor National Park Voluntary Wardens and Two Hash House Harriers have been preparing to tackle the 118 mile Devon Coast to Coast route along The Erme-Plym Trail and The Two Moors Way for some time now. And today (Monday 30th April) their route over Dartmoor, Mid Devon and Exmoor starts at Wembury on the South Coast with the finish at Lynmouth on the North Coast on Sunday 7th May.

Having started their training in glorious weather during the March and early April dry spells their last 20 mile training walk gave some indication as to what is likely to be challenging them in the coming week! 

You can keep up with their exploits by following their blog, Devon Coast to Coast 2012, and they will be travelling over Exmoor at the same time as the Exmoor walking festival.  

We wish them all the very best for the walk.

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