Up tor and down dale in the steps of the Devon tin miners

Click to follow
A Devon reservoir forms the focus of a walk that recalls Sir Francis Drake, and the area's historic involvement in tin-mining. Clive Fewins takes the path to Sheepstor.

We started our walk at one of the most unusual pubs in the country - the 15th-century Royal Oak in the pretty village of Meavy, on the south- west edge of Dartmoor. Since 1894 the pub has been the property of the parish council.

Our object was to walk the hills around Burrator Reservoir, the main source of Plymouth's water. We wanted to see the two historic leats (water channels), one of them built by Sir Francis Drake in 1589, and to explore some of the industrial history of the area in which tin is said to have been mined for more than 1,000 years.

From the Royal Oak we walked towards the village school. Left of the old smithy is a gate with a sign marked to Burrator Dam. The three-quarter- mile walk there passes gently upwards through woodland. Part of the path is, in fact, the dry bed of a section of Drake's Leat.

We soon reached the road that crosses the dam. On a wall in front of us was a 1985 plaque marking the 400th anniversary of the Act authorising the construction of Drake's Leat.

Instead of crossing the dam we took the road going due north round the lake, where after about 200 yards or so we spotted our second goal: the end of Devonport Leat, another man-made watercourse, built about 100 years after Drake's Leat to supply fresh water to the naval establishment at Devonport.

We had achieved two of our objectives in the first mile or so, but there was call for complacency. We had another seven miles, including a large tor, ahead of us.

After about another 200 yards we came to Burrator Lodge, a large Victorian house now containing offices belonging to SouthWest Water, which owns the reservoir and much of the surrounding land. The road divides here. We took the left fork, and after a few hundred yards found ourselves on a small bridge over the Devonport Leat. We took the signposted path into the conifer plantation on our right, and followed the swift-flowing leat.

After about a third of a mile the leat disappeared beneath a minor road. But only temporarily. We crossed a stile to reach the road and looked left, to see a flight of wooden steps and a wooden stile at the top, on the other side of the road, where we once again picked up the leat.

We passed through another plantation for about a quarter of a mile, until it joined a metalled road at a point marked on our map as Lower Lowery. We then followed the road - the leat runs beside it - which affords good views of the reservoir.

After another quarter of a mile, at a point called Cross Gate, we stopped and photographed the ancient hexagonal stone cross, then moved smartly on, straight ahead, leaving the metalled road to descend towards the reservoir.

We knew that the area to which this track led was littered with old tin- mining workings from hundreds of years before Drake dug his leat, which ceased activity only in the early years of this century. We soon saw evidence of extensive mineral workings on the slopes, now largely cleared of trees.

We continued along the track, which eventually brought us to the ruined Standlake Farm. After about another 500 yards we saw another ruined farm ahead of us. We took a signposted path which goes sharply to the right, travelling almost back on ourselves along the bank of a small stream, through a newly-planted area.

The path descended to Noraworthy Bridge, a popular beauty spot. We left the road to the rear of the car park, passing another ruined building - an old tinners' mill - on the wide, hard track to a point marked on the map as Deancombe.

After about two-thirds of a mile the path descended to a boggy area - Deancombe Marsh - where we crossed the stream on a small bridge created by a huge, flat stone and took the second of two signs to Sheepstor Common.

This was the longer of two routes to the top of our next objective - Sheeps Tor - but it allowed us to see a group of spectacular old boulders that had been used as mortar stones by the tinners.

When the valley grew narrower we looked out for a small footbridge, marked on our map, which crossed the stream and led south through the woods to an area of extensive tin workings, including a fenced-off mineshaft. From here we made towards the summit of Sheeps Tor. The view was severely limited by rain so we descended by the shortest route to the metalled lane - Tor Lane - leading to the comparative haven of Sheepstor Village.

Here in the churchyard is a huge granite memorial to Sir James Brooke, the first white rajah of Sarawak, who died at Sheepstor in 1868. Inside the church you can buy a leaflet explaining how the Brooke dynasty continued to be rajahs of Sarawak until the Japanese occupation during the Second World War.

Our route back from the village lay downhill, through the glorious oak and beech Burrator Woods. We took the path marked "Marchant's Cross", which soon left the minor road opposite Sheepstor Church and led through the woods to Yeo Farm, at the foot of the hill, and thence by a track to the ancient Marchant's Cross. Meavy and the car were just half-a-mile further on; Princetown, and a cafe, half-an-hour away. We arrived just in time for tea.

Length: About eight miles (shorter if wished)

Map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure, sheet 28

Comments