For me, the north-east quadrant of Dartmoor is the best part of the whole moor. To the south deep wooded valleys cut into the plateau around Holne and Dartmeet, whilst the western side seems generally higher and bleaker. In the area of the moor north of Chagford, there is an ideal combination of features: there is natural woodland fading into expanses of moorland, there are deep winding lanes, lush valleys and small sheltered farms and settlements. Access is by a network of minor roads, barely navigable without local knowledge or a good map, and this tends to keep away too much traffic. On top of that, there are several excellent megalithic sites.
The Nine Stones stone circle above Belstone is well worth a visit, and is an easy walk up a broad track from the centre of the pleasant village with its very handily placed pub, The Tors Inn. The entire fringe of the moor running south-east from here, through South Zeal and Throwleigh, is very attractive.
The Belstone Nine Stones- image from ‘megalithic portal.’
The primary purpose of this post is to eulogise Scorhill stone circle, but it has other neighbours in the vicinity worthy of a visitor’s attention whilst in the area. If you walk due south of the site itself, skirting the plantation you can see, you will come to the stone rows at Batworthy and Thornworthy. Some distance further to the south, at the end of a lengthy and frankly tedious trudge through conifer forest, is the twin stone circle at Greywethers. It’s an impressive site which rewards the fairly miserable approach and is unmatched elsewhere in the British Isles, except perhaps by The Hurlers on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.
Scorhill itself is best directly approached by driving on the by-roads either from Chagford or south from Throwleigh. Eventually, the road runs out in a small parking area. A gate lets straight onto the moor, a lush pasture at first with a clear stream running through what may be old mine workings. A walk of a quarter of a mile takes you to the crest of a ridge, from which you look straight down at the circle standing towards the bottom of a wide valley. It’s clearly visible, only another quarter of a mile away, with a clear track leading to it.
It’s a compact circle, quite complete, but with some marked gaps or low/ prostrate stones. What recommends it is its relative accessibility (no bogs, no barbed wire and no wandering aimlessly amidst tussock grass), its fine position and its tranquillity. On this latter quality I lie slightly- on my last visit the Army was in occupation on its firing range to the west of Belstone and was cheerily blasting away with its artillery. The war, nonetheless, was going on the other side of the hills you can see in the photos and was muffled enough to be dismissed as distant thunder.
Scorhill is always worth a visit. It’s not a demanding site to reach yet the rewards of the monument and its location are considerable.
More on megaliths?
I’ve discussed a number of other sites, such as the stone circle at Boscawen Un in West Penwith (twice), other sites on Dartmoor, Bevis Thumb long barrow in Sussex, and Bosiliack cairn in West Cornwall.
On wider megalithic themes, see my musings on Neolithic language, on chalk white horses and on long barrows. For even broader contemplations of Britishness, see my postings on the mystical vision of Albion, on the romance of the landscape.