A delightful day on Devon’s Dartmoor

Wild ponies graze on Dartmoor National Park near Princetown, Devon, UK.

Cornwall Cogitation 17/195 Saturday 27 April 2019 Airy, wild, open, mind-stretching, that’s Devon’s Dartmoor National Park.

Brilliant! I knew Dartmoor offered much, but not how much. We knew Steve and Marilyn Bowden would come up with a fine plan for a day-trip there, come rain or shine. They did, complete with rain and sun. Rolling, peaty heathland, sheep on commons, wild ponies, towns and villages, engaged us in history, mystery and discoveries du jour. Dartmoor’s a place where people and nature cooperatively shape the landscape.

We visited the National Park Visitor Centre at Princetown where we glimpsed Dartmoor nature and culture over the last 4000 years. We were delighted to find an exhibit featuring Arthur Conan Doyle. The visitor centre was formerly the Duchy Hotel where Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, a Sherlock Holmes mystery. In a 2 April 1901 letter to his mother, Doyle wrote: “It is a good place, very sad and wild, dotted with dwellings of prehistoric man, strange monoliths and huts and graves.”

Princetown is home to Dartmoor Prison, originally created to house French prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars and Americans from the War of 1812 (6,500 US sailors were incarcerated there between 1813 and 1815). During WWI conscientious objectors were housed there. Today the prison only houses low category prisoners. We ran out of time for a visit to the prison museum, though did see the church that French and American prisoners of war helped build.

Church of St Michael and All Angels, Princetown, Devon, built between 1812-15, with the help of prisoners of war.
The stained glass window in the east wall of the chancel was installed in 1910, a gift from the National Society of United States Daughters of 1812. The gift commemorates the American prisoners of war held across the street at Dartmoor Prison between 1813 and 1815. The window depicts the Life of Christ, culminating in his Passion, Resurrection and Ascension (central upper light). It is believed 271 American prisoners died while in captivity at Dartmoor. The war proceeded to a stalemate, resolved in the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814. In a dedication banner the Daughters of 1812 note: “The members of this organization resident in several states herein named [39] of the U.S.A. have contributed toward the fund for this window in a spirit of cordial international patriotism.”
The organ, now derelict, is flanked by British, American and French flags. St Michael’s no longer holds regular services, though is available for occasional services and special events. It is maintained by The Churches Conservation Trust.

Time to move on

On the way back to the car park from the church, the rich scent of hops and barley from the Dartmoor Brewery wafted in the air. No time to see or taste, as we were bound for Buckland, home to Buckland Abbey, founded in 1278 for monks of the Cistercian order (not to be confused with the equally interesting Buckfast Abbey we visited a few years ago).

From a community of work, prayer and silent contemplation, dedicated to helping the poor and infirm, the abbey later became home for the rich and famous, including the Sir Francis Drake family. It is now managed by the National Trust, a quiet, tranquil, storied place, more than 700 years on from its founding.

The abbey fell victim to the Dissolution carried out by King Henry VIII. The king, in conflict with the pope concerning his divorce, split from the Roman Catholic Church and appointed himself head of the Church of England. He dissolved monasteries across the country and the monks at Buckland left in 1538.

Buckland Abbey from the back, site of an Elizabethan garden.
The Great Barn provided the abbey with space to store wool, fleeces, hides, grain crops, cheese, honey, hay, wood, and fruit from the orchards. Light came from narrow ventilation slots. The barn also included pigeon lofts above the doors.

I felt like a modern-day pilgrim, privileged to set foot on 700 years of life, tranquil and tumultuous, with a lasting story to tell.

Crossing the Tamar

The River Tamar separates Devon and Cornwall. We crossed the river near Tavistock on this bridge built in the 1500s.

Sky over Cornwall on the way home.

Other glimpses of the week

Heron half-hiding in the Marazion Marsh.

Beauty–fragile, fragrant, fresh–reigns.

Reflective, transparent pose in the Church of St Michael and All Angels

May memory enrich and peace prevail

Another day out, Friday

Exploring Cornwall’s tin mining heritage at Geevor Tin Mine, Pendeen, with Ann and Terry Trevorrow.



4 thoughts on “A delightful day on Devon’s Dartmoor

  1. Hello John & Marty: Thank you for continuing to share your Cornwall life with us. Each and every blog is an interesting read! It so happens that your delightful account of your day on Devon’s Dartmoor ties in with the most recent LALL (Laurier Assoc. for Life Long Learning) lecture. The role of Henry VIII in the development of a Protestant Church of England is a great example of History’s surprising legacies. The lecture was also memorable in that it covered both the Germanic Anabaptist as well as the Henry VIII stories!

    Regards, Ray & Marianne.


    1. Thanks, Ray. History does contain surprising legacies. If only we’d less amnesia about past lessons. Best to you and Marianne.


  2. I get a history lesson every time I read your blog. Wonderful to see the old churches and the history behind them. Always so much to see,do and explore.


    1. Indeed, history has loads of good stuff. I didn’t remember much about the war of 1812, except the role of Laura Secord. There’s a good timeline on the website of the National Society of United States Daughters of 1812. Best!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.