Shaugh Prior – 02/06/2018

Climbing tors is something that has always interested me, walking on Dartmoor and scrambling up a rock face to be rewarded with panoramic views of Devon and Cornwall is something that is well worth the effort. Today I decided to visit Shaugh Prior parish with the aim of climbing the Dewerstone, a hill on the edge of Dartmoor that I have never conquered, and to discover some of the prehistoric relics to be found in the surrounding area.

For this hike I chose to use public transport, due to ease of access from Plymouth with a Monday-Saturday bus service, aiming to be eco-friendly where possible. To drive, from the A38, exit at Manadon Junction and take the A386 towards Tavistock. At Bickleigh Cross (immediately after the Bellever roundabout), turn right onto New Road and then take the third left onto Hele Lane. At the end of the lane, turn left towards Shaugh Prior. The car park is on the left immediately after a bridge over the River Plym.

Taking the 59 Bus from Plymouth, Royal Parade (A13), I got off at the White Thorn Inn at Shaugh Prior and headed into the woods. Immediately I was thrilled with my decision. Dartmoor can be open and barren at times, but there are plenty of old English woods that provide a welcome splash of green.

Woods to be found just to the North of Shaugh Prior

Venturing further into the woods and down a gully heading to the River Plym, I was pleased to follow my OS Map to the old clay pits for the nearby Ferro Ceramic Mine and Brickworks, used in the 19th and early 20th century.

Clay deposits still visible on the ground today

Eager to get to the Dewerstone, I pushed on to the River Plym with the hope of fording earlier than the bridge. Now, this quickly this turned out to be a faux pas – while I could cross, once on the other bank I had nowhere to go and had to turn back. Luckily I was treated with some stunning views of the river further upstream than possible through normal paths, so it turned out to be a rewarding adventure in itself.

I would never have seen the Plym tumbling down these rocks had I not ventured here

Heading towards Shaugh Bridge I reached the remains of the kiln and china clay works, situated right by Shaugh Bridge carpark. Now owned by the National Trust, this infrastructure harks back to a time when Dartmoor was more industrialised than it is today. I didn’t dwell here for long though; across Shaugh Bridge my main destination awaited – the top of Dewerstone Hill.

Remains of one of the buildings from the china clay works – like a lot of Dartmoor this site is starting to be reclaimed by nature

Crossing the footbridge next to Shaugh Bridge, I was treated to the River Plym in all its glory, and it is clear why Shaugh Bridge is such a popular spot for families visiting Dartmoor. Easily accessible and wonderful to look at – a perfect place to bring children. Over the bridge and on the other side of the bank, I headed along the eastern path leading up Dewerstone Hill.

The River Plym rushing past underneath me as I crossed the bridge

Hiking to the top was in itself a rewarding experience, starting with a gentle walk up the hill and then a more sheer scramble to reach the summit. Standing at 227 metres, or 744 feet, Dewerstone hill is not particularly tall. It’s the nearby topography that makes the view, however. Shaugh Bridge is close enough to Plymouth (9 miles) that the view south is commanding – so much of the surrounding countryside is at sea level that you feel comparatively very high up. There are several inscriptions on the rocks on Dewerstone Hill, some names, one paying homage to a local Dartmoor poet. Lichen fills the gaps making them feel older than they are and turning them into some of the nicest graffiti you will find.

View from the summit of Dewerstone Hill

F. Widger – one of the inscriptions at the summit. Some well-worn walking boots too!

Leaving Dewerstone Hill I headed north on the search for a Bronze Age cist located on Wigford Down. A cist is an ancient coffin or burial chamber made from stone or a hollowed tree; the cist on Wigford Down is specifically a kistvaen – a narrow stone box. Maybe not the most impressive discovery, but still a remarkable relic of Dartmoor’s early settlers and dating back some 3000 years ago.

The cist with the cap removed and evidence of excavation in the early 1900s

Continuing North I aimed to reach the top of Wigford Down and see the summit cairn (a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline). Though rising, this short hike was at such a gentle slope that the increase in elevation was not noticeable at all. Reaching the cairn I was at the highest point of my hike, 273 metres / 896 feet above sea level.

The cairn at Wigford Down

Heading back, I veered west of my starting position with the aim of finding more Bronze Age ruins – hut circles from early settlers on the down. They were very hard to make out with the overgrowth on Dartmoor at this time of year, but were a more rewarding find as a result. Two hut circles can be found on Wigford Down and they are listed on the Dartmoor OS map.

The hut circle – and a prime example of how hard it can be to make some archaeological sites out, and perhaps how walkers often miss them

Having found my hut circles I had one final destination in mind before rushing back to Shaugh Bridge to catch my bus – Cadworthy Tor. I hiked east, crossing my original route to reach the tor that I had somehow missed on my route from Dewerstone Hill to the cist. Cadworthy Tor is one of Dartmoor’s smaller tors at 238 metres / 781 feet. This being said, it is made up of impressive looking lumps of granite (in fact many of the larger tors on Dartmoor have less prominent outcrops) and worth a visit if you find yourself in this neck of the woods. A short scramble up the rocks and I was happy to finish my hike with a 3rd peak bagged.

Approach to Cadworthy Tor and it’s twin granite outcrops

With little time left until the last bus back to Plymouth, I made a beeline for Dewerstone Hill to make a quick descent back to Shaugh Bridge. I made it to the bus stop and caught the last bus with 6 mins to spare! On reflection, I’m glad I didn’t make a wrong turn going down the hill, or I would probably have had to hike all 9 miles back.

Heading back towards Dewerstone Hill and the prominent tor at the top

An hour later, after winding roads through Dartmoor, Lee Moor and Plympton I was back in Plymouth. I had a fantastic day, climbing 3 peaks, seeing two Bronze Age sites and the remains of Shaugh Priors china clay industry. Having never been to Shaugh Prior before I am certain there is more to see and will be returning soon. Until then, I leave you with a map of my hike and my sources below.

Watch this space!

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My hike on the Dartmoor OS Map and points of interest – 1. clay pit, 2. china clay works, 3. Dewerstone Hill, 4. Bronze Age cist, 5. Wigford Down cairn and highpoint, 6. hut circles, 7. rough location of Cadworthy Tor (in this area it should be easy to spot and within a 50ft radius). After Cadworthy Tor I headed back the route I came as far as the car park.

Credit is due to the following resources used for reference while either planning my walk or researching my finds:

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map, Dartmoor, OL 28