31 October 2013 by Two Blondes
If someone had told me back in January that one of the highlights of our Two Blondes year of walking on Dartmoor would involve being a stabbing victim, waiting at night for rescue in an eery ruined chapel in the middle of Dartmoor, I would probably have told them to pull themselves together. That is, however, exactly the situation that I found myself in back in March. The scenario was a training one and we were waiting to be rescued by the fabulous Ashburton Dartmoor Rescue Group.
While I was recovering from my “stab wounds”, Blonde One was across the valley being loaded onto a stretcher with a “broken leg”. To add to the strangeness and spookiness of my situation, the grid reference of my location (I didn't believe this at first) was 666 666.
With Halloween's arrival and the chances of the Two Blondes being out night walking again increasing, I thought it might be interesting to take you on a Virtual Halloween Walk from East to West along the Dartmoor 666 Northing. Whether or not you choose to undertake this walk in the dark is up to you but I should warn you that Dartmoor's bogs, rivers and stone walls make walking in any straight line nearly impossible never mind a line that is 10 km long.
As this is only a virtual walk, we don't have to worry about access and car parking and can start anywhere we like; so we are going to land ourselves on Eastern Tor. Eastern Tor is not a very exciting tor but it is a very quick diversion from our 666 line down to the prehistoric ceremonial complex at Drizzle Combe. I have no intention of visiting it at night but, even in the day time, Drizzle Combe has the ability to send shivers down your spine. For those seeking spooky Bronze Age thrills, it has it all; a wide, impressive valley, three stone rows, Dartmoor's tallest menhir and a giant cairn. It doesn't take much imagination to see images of ceremonies, ancient burial rites and unwelcoming ghosts. Although it is a place of undeniable beauty, the Two Blondes never find themselves lingering for very long at Drizzle Combe. I have a feeling that the spirits there want to keep themselves to themselves; every time we go, they warn us off with sudden showers, deep mist or unpredictable rainbows. All very odd and a bit disconcerting.
Our next stop just under 3 km along the 666 gridline is Grim's Grave. This is an impressive kistvaen situated close to the Langcombe Brook. A kistvaen (stone burial chamber) is itself a spooky enough thing to find on a halloween walk. Dartmoor has plenty of them, walking our moor at night is a bit like walking through a giant graveyard.
Grim's Grave is an interesting example of these one-seated-body Bronze Age burial chambers and surrounded by its own small stone circle. If imagining the body being placed inside and the burial rites as the capping stone is placed on top isn't spooky enough for you, then just think on the fact that down in these parts, Grim is another name for the devil. It is said too, that a coven of witches from Plymouth visits this particular cairn from time to time.
Red Lake Mire
Another 3ish km along on your Halloween Walk may well find you with that peculiar Dartmoor sinking feeling. You will be at Red Lake Mire which is one of Dartmoor's many boot-grabbing bogs. Blonde One and I have crossed patches of Dartmoor bog in the dark and it is not to be recommended (it wasn't our idea). We walkers tend to rely on the feeling of the solid ground beneath our boots, when that is taken away, especially in the dark, the world can feel very insecure. Couple that with the mist that often hovers over boggy areas at dusk and you have a surefire recipe for creepiness. There is a reason that Conan Doyle set his infamous Grimpen Mire and Baskerville Hounds on Dartmoor.
"My word, it does not seem a very cheerful place," said the detective with a shiver, glancing round him at the gloomy slopes of the hill and at the huge lake of fog which lay over the Grimpen Mire." (Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle.)
If you are a good navigator, you will divert from your 666 line and avoid Red Lake Mire. If you are a good researcher, you will know that “Red Lake” (although there is a man-made pool to the North) is actually a stream. If you cannot make these two things work together to aid your map reading, be prepared for that sinking feeling and listen out for those hounds.
“The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?” (Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle.)
Keble Martin's Chapel (666 666)
It has to be said that any ruined stone chapel is likely to have more than an element of creepiness to it at night, especially on Halloween night. This one, however, had much more joyous beginnings.
Keble and Jack Martin were sons of a churchman who spent their boyhood summers camping by the Wella Brook. They loved the place so much that as they grew up and joined the church themselves, they built a stone chapel. The chapel is tiny and has walls that are just over a metre high. Despite this, its little stone cross has borne witness to a wedding in 1990.
A happy place maybe but consider this. When the chapel was built, the Keble brothers would have had no idea of its sinister grid reference as this would not have been established until after the national re-triangulation project of 1936. Is this a mere coincidence or were forces that we don't quite understand at work in this lonely spot? I wouldn't choose to visit at Halloween to find out!
Another 2 km east and you will find yourself heading off the moor in the direction of Buckfastleigh. I wouldn't breath too easy yet though, on this most serious of nights. You are not very far away from the Abbots Way here. Generations of monks have crossed Dartmoor using the old monastic ways and some of them didn't make it through the mist and the bogs. If you glimpse a hooded figure, it may well be the spirits of one of them trying to return to the abbey at Buckfast with you!
I hope you've enjoyed your Virtual Halloween Walk. Walking on Dartmoor is a fascinating past time both at day and at night. Things always look very different at night and, if you are a competent navigator, I can thoroughly recommend a night-time exploration. I am not sure that I would choose October 31st though. This “night of the dead”, was the night when pre-christian pagans would attempt to communicate with the souls of their dead family members. There are a lot of dead people up on Dartmoor and 364 other nights to go up there – the choice is yours!
Who are the Two Blondes? Well I am not going to tell you that because it is a secret but let me describe a perfect Two Blondes Dartmoor day and you can see if you like the sound of it...visit twoblondeswalking.com or chat to us on twitter @BlondesTwo.