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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Grimspound



Another day out on Dartmoor which is still revealing its secrets to us whenever we visit. We were headed for a country pub for lunch so we wanted to see if there was anything interesting on the way. Grimspound popped up on the map and immediately reminded me of that dastardly Hound of the Baskervilles which lay in wait for the unexpected traveller in the Grimpen Mire. Sherlock Holmes definitely got his inspiration from Dartmoor but did he come here?


It turns out that there is an actual hamlet called Grimpen not that far from here and that it is thought the mire was based on Foxtor mires, also not far away. Dartmoor is well known for it's unexpected wet patches which you need to be wary of if you are wandering around. You can start off on solid ground and soon be up to your ankles or worse. As we have recently had a very long dry spell we risked normal footwear and were not disappointed. It was dry underfoot.


Having come from the wrong direction, the Sat Nav mapped out a wild and lonely route for us which was a great bonus as we saw some really remote areas. Luckily we didn't meet any vehicles coming the other way because it was very narrow in parts and you never know if that area at the side of the road is weight bearing if you have to pass. When we arrived we discovered that we almost had the place to ourselves, just one other car and nobody in sight.


It was a surprise having come such a long way on a remote track to find just a short distance across the valley the familiar sight of the Warren House Inn, one of the loneliest pubs in Britain. More about that historic inn here.


This is Flintstones territory from here on in. Grimspound is Bronze Age so everything is made of granite, including the bridge and the track.


As you climb the hill, a note on map reading. I checked how far the settlement was from the road and deemed it an easy walk, hence normal footwear. What I neglected to check was what the flatness of a map leaves out, namely the steep hillside we had to climb. It was a short but steep climb, not a stroll.


The inhabitants of Grimspound had made a nice granite trough for the stream, about 4000 years ago, and installed a handy granite bridge.


This is the local granite and those white shapes are megacrysts and if you are a regular reader you know I have a fascination with them and throw them into the mix whenever I can. But I won't bore you with megacryst details here other than this photo taken on the way up. To find out more, and why wouldn't you, just check out my other post from nearby Copplestone for more facts and stupidity. Copplestone, you see, the clue is in the name.


Here we go. Luckily I left my high heels at home on this occasion.


.......and here we are. At ground level the circle is a slender sweeping curve of boulders.


The great boundary wall is about 150 metres in diameter. Averaging 3 metres thick and standing up to 1.5 metres high, it is faced with large slabs laid in horizontal courses, with a core of smaller stones between the two faces. However, it seems unlikely that it was intended to be defensive. It was probably simply a barrier to keep wild animals out and farmed animals in.


This is the west entrance believed to have been a later addition, but today it is the one you meet first, I suppose the Grimspoundians 4000 years ago didn't arrive by car. The original entrance is believed to be the one in the east.


This is that much wider eastern entrance. It is very unlikely any wheeled vehicles ever came here. Transport would have been by horse.


Grimspound is so old that we are talking the transition period between hunter gatherers and farmers. Dartmoor was originally forested and these settlements were farms during which period the moor we see today was created by the removal of those forests. Once the trees were removed and the thin soils eroded over time, it was not possible for the moor to support the same population and depopulation resulted in the abandoned settlements that scatter Dartmoor today.


The walls of the houses within the enclosure were probably not much higher than they are now, and covered with conical roofs of turf or thatch. A number of low rubble banks against the internal face of the enclosure wall probably formed sheep or cattle pens.


Grimspound is one of the best-known prehistoric settlements on Dartmoor, probably dating from the late Bronze Age (about 1500–800 BC). The remains of 24 houses enclosed within a stone wall, and further houses outside the enclosure, lie in a fold in the hills about 450 metres above sea level, between Hookney and Hameldown tors. English Heritage


What I have described so far is the accepted view today, but not that long ago, the Victorian romantics would have had this as a temple to the sun. In fact the writer of this letter to the Editor is most put out that the sun temple theory has not been taken seriously.


Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 27 November 1841


Grimspound and its thousand tons of granite will not, cannot be easily removed, and the stupendous work must long remain, though mutilated, a lasting monument of the Moor. The site of this laborious work of art has long been known, and many a disquisition has been wasted to decipher what it originally was, for what use it was erected, or the age in which it flourished. I say wasted, for no theory that has borne the test of strict adaptation to all the parts of its rude economy had appeared until Mr. Fitzgerald Pennie, the Dorsetshire poet and antiquarian, visited it in the month of September last twelvemonth.


We entered at the Moor-gate four miles from Moretonhampstead on the Plymouth road, and as soon as within that gate, leaving the road, struck up over the hill into a sheep's-path, keeping rather near the moor wall to the left about two miles, we reached the summit of a low tor, surmounted by a cairn regularly piled with stones....................Looking down from this eminence is seen the huge circle of stones, and we approached it in silence. The restless eye of my companion scrutinized every part; and careful was I, that no remark of mine should disturb the reveries of the talented son of Genius, whose knowledge of antiquity was destined to clear up the mystery that has in modern times surrounded it. At length, what was my gratification to hear him exclaim, It is a great Sun Image !" It is a temple dedicated to the Sun ! ............when a blessing was intended and invoked, the officiating priest walked with the sun from east to west, and waved his hand —when a curse was inflicted, he progressed in the opposite direction; moreover, there are the eastern and western cardinal points or openings, as well as that to the south. The openings to the east and west are paved, and at his early orisons the devotee prostrate on the paved way, lay there to welcome the first appearing ray of that glorious sun into his own temple ;


Such is the substance of Mr. Pennie's observations. In a former number of your Journal, I think in May last, Mr. Pennie announced his discovery of this temple in a manner the least assuming ; and for all I have ever heard, seen, or read of, that announcement excited less attention than the importation of a Giraffe or a Chimpanzee.

Finally, an amusing account of some early tourists who sought out Grimspound but never made it.


Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 10 April 1830


Chancery Practice - At the close of our late Assizes two barristers who had often been this circuit before, proceeded to Dartmoor, on their way to Launceston, for the purpose of inspecting Grimspound, the ancient British Town. They got on to the moor and wandering into the midst of a morass wished themselves well off again, when after being bogged and bewildered for a long time they were happily extricated ; and growling a benediction on Grimspound, which they had not found, hastened to Launceston, but did not arrive there, till The Assizes had terminated! Harassed by their journey, and vexed by the failure of its object, they once more determined to brave its dangers and inspect Haytor, which is considered by good Judges to be one of the greatest antiquities of Devon. Many a weary mile they wandered, but no Haytor was discovered, although it is visible to unsophisticated eyes at the distance of 30 to 40 miles.




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2 Comments


John Durham
John Durham
Jul 25, 2023

Such a hauntingly lovely place - I have seen many images of the moors, but I'm sure no truly do them justice. Thanks for adding to my "imagination bank".

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Jul 26, 2023
Replying to

Glad you liked it.

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