Thursday, 16 October 2014

Wistman's Wood, and Higher White Tor double stone row

Wistman's Wood, and a second return to this hauntingly beautiful upland oak woodland laying on the south western slopes of Longaford Tor, above the West Dart River.

Wistman’s Wood is one of three high altitude oak woodlands on Dartmoor. The site is a National National Reserve, and an important site because of the mosses and lichens which grow on its trees and granite boulders. The oldest trees recorded are about 400 years old. The reserve is also the location of a large Bronze Age settlement, with over 100 buildings being recorded (Natural England 2014).

Above the wood, to the north east, and lying between Longaford Tor and Higher White Tor is the remains of a double stone row some 94.5m long. The rows run parallel in an approximate north/south alignment, and consist of 12 upright and 24 recumbant stones. As with other similar monuments on Dartmoor the stone rows are usually dated to the late Neolithic Ca. 2400 - 2000BC (English Heritage 2014). Although excavations of a recently discovered stone row at Cut Hill, provided radio-carbon dates for the peat found lying beneath its fallen stones, which suggested that the Cut Hill stone row at least may have been in place Ca. 3700 - 3400BC (Newman 2011).

The four views above of the double stone row, comprise three looking south, and a single view looking north towards Higher White Tor.


English Heritage 2014 [Online], Scheduled Monument 1020239: stone alignment 260m south of Higher White Tor, to be found at:

Natural England 2014 [Online], Devon's National Nature Reserves. To be found at:

Newman, P. 2011, The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor, English Heritage, Swindon

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Ten Commandments Stones, Buckland Beacon, Dartmoor

Rather than simply re-tell the story of these stones, their history is ably summarised online at:

Buckland Beacon
The Ten Commandments Stones

wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Merrivale ceremonial complex, Dartmoor - and a battered retreat

This ceremonial site consists of a variety of monument features including: a pair of parallel double stone rows running east-west, of which one contains a terminal cairn, and the second a central cairn; a single stone row, with terminal cairn; two associated cairns, a cist, a single standing stone, and a stone circle (Newman 2011). All of which sit immediately adjacent to a Bronze Age settlement. The ceremonial archaeology includes features which are associated with monuments from Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age Ca. 2500 - 1000 BC (English Heritage 2014).

On the day of our visit, the weather was horrendous, with stinging horizontal rain blasting in from the west. The peat below our feet was running like streams as we walked the stone rows.

Unfortunately, the power in the iPhone ran down completely part way through our exploration such that I have not been able to photograph all the archaeological features of this exciting landscape. Although in truth, our own power ran down too, and we hastily retreated to the Two Bridges Hotel nearby - for a restorative drink and a slice of cake. Resolved to revisit the site in better conditions!

 the northern double stone rows - looking east

continuing east through the northern
double stone rows
the southern double stone rows - looking west

continuing west through the southern
double stone rows

the central cairn within the southern double stone rows

cist with damaged cap stone

damaged cap stone detail N.B. chisel marks
where a local stone cutter, removed the  centre for a gatepost in 1860


English Heritage 2014 [Online], History and Research Merrivale Prehistoric Settlement, to be found at:

English Heritage Merrivale Pehistoric Settlement

Newman P. 2011, The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor, English Heritage, Swindon

Saturday, 11 October 2014

St Nonna of Altarnun - The Cathedral of the Moor

This quite stunning and tranquil church standing in Altarnun (a later corruption of Altarnon), is aptly called "the Cathedral of the Moors" - as with Cathedral splendour it holds forth, having a tower rising 109ft - and an achingly beautiful interior constructed partly of moor stone with wagon roofs above its aisles and porches.

Named for St Nonna - the 6th Century Celtic missionary - and the mother of St David; the church was founded in the 6th Century. It was rebuilt twice, firstly by the Normans in the 12th Century, and then again in the 15th Century. A lightening strike in the 18th Century required the tower and west wall to be restored.

Nothing remains of the first church except perhaps the Celtic cross sentinel at the entrance to the churchyard. Very little remains of the Norman building either, apart from some stonework incorporated in the base of a pillar, and the striking painted square Norman font, carved with faces at each of its corners, and serpents and a radial pattern along its sides. The wooden wagon roofs were installed during the 15th Century rebuild.

The church has only a single stained glass window, a depiction of St Nonna herself, which adorns the top section of the central window behind the alter. This window faces east, as would the priest when facing the altar.

This humble decoration is accompanied more showily by the intricately carved wooden bench ends - carved by Robart Daye between 1510 and 1530 - whose signature and perhaps self portrait(?) is carved into the bench end closest to the Norman font - regretfully I have lost this image! The carvings themselves contain images of both Christian, pagan, heraldic and local interest. A modern carving of the church dating from Ca. 1970's by Mr Doug Edwards - can be found carved on the back of a bench towards the altar.

Sadly, in complete contrast to the quiet beauty and sublime detail of the "Cathedral" itself, is the Holy Well of St Nonna - situated just to the north of the church and below the vicarage. A Holy Well once reputed to cure the ailments of those suffering from mental illness.

However, we were very disappointed to find this well suffering from its own ill state of health and condition. The part broken iron-wrought gate at its entrance ironically forewarning a Holy Hell(?). The steps leading down to the holy water vegetated and neglected, the water itself a mired puddle with an overgrown recess (perhaps to hold an icon? the source of its spring?) - badly in need of loving care and restoration.


"St Nonna of Alternon"; date unknown; author unknown: a contemporary church guide, based partly on a previous guide by Rev. William Arnold Kneebone (Parish Vicar 1936 - 1967.)

This guide is available at St Nonna of Altarnun.

"The Medieval Bench Ends at St Nonna's Altarnun - A Pictorial Guide"; date unknown; Brian Stalley and John Woods, Photographs by Mr A.P. Thompson. Alternun Parish Church; Published by Tre Pol Pen.

This guide is available at St Nonna of Altarnun

"Altarnun" [Online]; Cornwall Guide; 2014 available at

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Hurlers at Minions, and other local monuments

The Hurlers
The Pipers
Stowe's Hill cairns
stone circle Craddock Moor

The Longstone Cross

Whilst following a quarry track en route to the Craddock Moor stone circle, I inadvertently flushed a short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) from roost. As soon as the bird was airborne it was persistently harried by a pair of raven (Corvus corax) until it was forced from view over the edge of the Cheeswring quarry.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Leskernick stone circles and stone row; and that flock of plover again?

Heading out towards Leskernick Hill along the minor road to Westmoorgate, we were caught up in a torrential downpour, which quickly turned to numbing hail pouring in from the west. The hail stopped us in our tracks, and we turned our backs towards it, taking cover behind a low stone wall.

When the hail stopped we continued through the Westmoorgate and followed the sunken moorland track out on to the open moor, picking up a small stone-made track that headed to Leskernick Farm. As we drew closer to the hill we disturbed a large flock of golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria) foraging trackside - 200-300 hundred birds who rose as one, circled about us momentarily before flying south over Hendra Downs. Given our close proximity to Rough Tor and Brown Willy we couldn't help but wonder if this was the same flock that we had flushed the day previously?

Leskernick Hill contains a large Bronze Age settlement, and adjacent to it a ritual alignment of two stone circles, cairns and a single stone row (Online: Cornwall's Archaeological Heritage 2009) - the latter only one of eight stone rows currently known to Bodmin (Herring P. and Rose P. 2001).

on to the Moor, from Westmoorgate
flock of golden plover, trackside

Having found the first stone circle, with its distinctive central whale back stone, we then struggled to find the nearest end of the stone row. Fishing around in the general area of a small group of what I believed were placed stones. I quickly became frustrated, and decided to follow a hunch headed east across the tinner's stream, and returned to a single stone setting I had accidentally stumbled upon earlier. arely any of this stone was visible, being all but buried in the peat. Assuming this to be part of the row, I then quickly found another stone, and then a third in alignment to them both.

In the meantime, Alison applying the scientific methodology, followed a compass bearing from the stone circle and found a further stone placed on the western side of the tinner's stream. Walking back towards her, I was then able to identify at least seven (probably eight) of the stone placements in the stone row all of which were almost entirely concealed in the ground. This felt like an achievement until a later reading of the Access to Monuments website suggested that there were actually 27 stones up for grabs! The website also suggested strongly that my "placed stones" - were probably part of a cairn that was set within the alignment of the two stone circles. So I guess its all about the research!

stone circle immediately below Leskernick settlement

whale back central stone

Moving on from the stone row we took another bearing, heading south and east - and successfully found the second stone circle.

stone row (partial details)

stone circle (panorama in changing light)


Access to Monuments - Leskernick Hill. [Online], Cornwall's Archaeological Heritage, 2009

Available at:

Herring, P. & Rose, P. 2001, Bodmin Moor's Archaeological Heritage, Cornwall Archaeological Unit, Cornwall County Council