Holne Moor and Venford Reservoir
This is a mid-length walk of around 6.5 miles, taking in some open moorland, muddy trackways, a little roadside walking, and a couple of ascents. The entire route should take about 4 hours. The ground is very boggy in places, particularly around the reservoir where the path is heavily trodden and can become a quagmire at certain spots. After rainfall, many areas around Holne moor can be very wet underfoot. In the summer much of the landscape is covered in fern growth, however this route was planned during the summer season and the entire route can be followed as per the map in any season – ground conditions permitting.
As always, the route has been plotted on the Ordinance Survey app which is a great help for the walk as it aids pinpointing archaeological features which may not be obvious to the eye. All grid references given here have been placed using the app. For navigation, I recommend using the paper OS Explorer map OL28 for Dartmoor, or the pocket-sized OS yellow map for the area, and of course a compass. As the weather is extremely changeable on Dartmoor it is always advisable to prepare for all seasons.
The first reave the walk encounters - part of a very large network
hut circle overlooking O Brook, one of many on the hillside in poor condition
Some of the reaves on Holne Moor were excavated by Andrew Fleming in the 1970’s and 80’s. Fleming dated the reaves on Holne Moor to around 1700BC and suggested they formed part of agricultural land division plan, with the boundaries such as the long southern reave separating the areas from grazing to the areas for growing cereal crops, with the original reaves perhaps being topped by shrub growth to prevent animals from easily crossing. An alternate theory is that the Reaves were simply built over earlier wooden or wattle fencing and not part of a land division plan, and there is some evidence to support this, however as Phil Newman points out in The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor, it may be that both theories are true to different extents. There is however little excavation of reaves outside of Fleming’s work and his 1988 book The Dartmoor Reaves remains the most authoritative account on the subject.
The walk begins at the Combestone Tor car park as SX 67005 71787. There is usually space available, if not, there are plenty of other places to park between Combestone and Venford Reservoir.
From Combestone Tor carpark, cross the road and pick up a trail heading South. Square field divisions should soon become apparent. This field system runs from West to East from the River Swincombe to past Venford Reservior and is made up of scores of ancient fields, rectangular or square in shape. A long reave marks the southern boundary of the field system and runs in a fairly straight line from West to East, interrupted by the Southernmost point of Venford Reservoir. Although the remains are clear to see even on the ground, they form part of a much larger prehistoric field network which continues on the Northern side of the West Dart River, covering Vag Hill, Yar Tor, Corndon Tor and beyond. Many of these features are clearly visible on many arial maps including Google Earth and the Ordinance Survey online aerial view.
Having found the first of the square fields, head South-West. The remaining fields will seem to form an L shape, heading down toward the river. The first hut circle is just outside one of the fields at SX 66849 71389. Head West-South-West downhill to the next hut circle at SX66706 71412. This hut circle where three fields intersect but is heavily overgrown in the summer. Heading West, six more hut circles can be easily picked out. None of them are in particularly great condition, but their circular shapes are apparent. There are three more hut circles a short walk North-East if exploring them should be desired, otherwise head west toward the cairn mound at SX66916 71119. There are other mounds nearby, but they are not particularly apparent. Ignore the one nearest to Horns Cross as it can be visited when travelling back this way.
Walk South. If the fern growth isn’t too severe, there are the remains marked on the OS map as Homestead, which includes a substantial perimeter wall. In the summer, the remains will be almost completely obscured. From the homestead, head East toward the cairns. There is some boggy terrain here even after a dry spell. At SX66914 70781 there is a large circular cairn, which looks like an over-large hut circle. The more southerly of the two cairns is much slighter, but both are worth investigating.
Pick up a trail back to Horn’s Cross. The cross is clearly visible, and it should be simple to find the way there. The larger of the cairn mounds is a stones’ throw away and can be visited at this point. Continue north, crossing the boundary wall. There is a vague hut circle here, then heading East a short distance there are two well preserved hut circles which stand out on the East side of a small slope. Cross back over the boundary wall and follow it East. It might be muddy or overgrown right next to the wall in which case it may be preferable to follow it at a short distance. At SX 67435 71034 there is a double stone row. The terminal stones have collapsed and of the twenty or so remaining stones in the row, most stand at just a few inches tall. Cross back over the wall at a convenient point, continuing East. A hut circle stands near a solitary tree and an adjacent track runs north back toward the road. Follow this track.
Walk alongside the road to the reservoir. The dam here was built in 1907. The lake covers 33 acres and is significantly smaller than the nearby Burrator and Avon reservoirs. There are several entry points to the reservoir, but for the purpose of this walk the nearest one to the road is at approximately SX 68576 71188 near the North-West corner of the dam. The track is easy to follow around the lake. On the southern end the ground can become boggy. The track, although well-walked, can be overgrown in places. The route around the reservoir ends opposite the carpark on the Eastern side of the dam. From here there are three or four trails leading uphill; it is best to take the first one on the left: the second from left can be used, but will involve having to jump over the leet later on. The trail will pass the remains of a field network and a couple of hut circles at SX 68940 71453, although in seasons of thick fern growth (July-September) the remains will be completely enveloped with fern. Follow the trail up to Bench Tor.
The views from Bench Tor are some of the best on the southern moor. The tor stands at 312 metres above sea level at its high point and overlooks the valley through which the West Dart River flows. It is a good spot for a picnic, tea-break, or just to take in the view and a few photographs. The walk picks up again at the North-West point of the Tor – there are two obvious routes to this point, the lower trail is more assessable, but the view isn’t as grand, however from atop the rocks the direct route involves a sharp descent of a few metres on a worn track between rocks.
The route down from Benchtor follows a trail through the woods, however the start may be difficult to pick out if the fern growth is high: it begins at SX 69018 71960. The track runs steeply downhill almost as far as the river where it intersects with a pipe track – the actual route downhill goes much nearer the river than is indicated on the OS map, so no need to panic if it looks like a turning has been missed – the pipe track is obvious once you reach it and leads back toward the water works. There are two options from the waterworks: cross the stream at the ford, or head uphill and rejoin the road at the dam. In either case, the route will lead to near enough the same place, although crossing the ford is the steeper option.
Back on the West side of the dam, head North-West past the carpark, uphill toward a few hut circles, the nearest of which is at SX68259 71535. The field boundaries are obvious here, but the hut circles are very dilapidated and may be hard to detect. An S-shaped enclosure at SX67934 71748 marks the point at which to head back to the road. Crossing the road there are some hut circles to explore opposite Hangman’s Pit – none of which are particularly impressive. From here the route back to the carpark is clear. It is worth taking in the view from Combestone Tor before leaving.
There is an optional trail from the S-shaped enclosure, leading West downhill which passes the best conditioned hut circle of the walk, but the route can be extremely boggy so I have left it off this walk – the hut circle can be clearly viewed from Combestone Tor, but more adventurous walkers might wish to follow this route which winds around to Combestone Tor, although can be relatively difficult walking in some conditions and involves some steep ground.
Holne Moor cairn with Horn's cross in the distance
Holne Moor hut circle
The double stone row with recumbent terminal stones