And why not the River Avon , Well, I think Eric Hemery is right when, in the pages of High Dartmoor, he quotes a moorman who suggests that Aune or Auna should be the name of this pretty river, given that there are lots of Avons and only one Aune.So let’s call it Aune on Dartmoor, though it might be the Avon as it winds a gentler course through the South Hams. afon in Wales

And why not the River Avon

 Well,  I think Eric Hemery is right when, in the pages of High Dartmoor, he quotes a moorman who suggests that Aune or Auna should be the name of this pretty river, given that there are lots of Avons and only one Aune. So let’s call it Aune on Dartmoor, though it might be the Avon as it winds a gentler course through the South Hams.

Aune Head defines Dartmoor for me.

 A little while ago I was asked to write a piece for an anthology on a wild place that defines Dartmoor.  After some deliberation I chose Aune Head, given that it is unspoiled and not usually very crowded. I often ponder on the tinner’s hut there, imagining the man who must have lived and worked in that solitary place. The great mire is vast and untouched for all his efforts, with the cry of the curlew being one of the few sounds to break into the great silence. In the early summer the skylarks fill the air round about, and a lonely heron might flap overhead.

Boggy ground it is too if you choose to explore in search of the exquisite mire flowers. A slight trudge through the mud on its edge reveals the Luckombe Stone, that great boulder that seems pointless in the landscape, yet somehow completes the view.

It must have all been a familiar scene to the traders and hucksters who used the nearby Sandy Way to get to the market at Princetown’s War Prison so that they might barter with those incarcerated French and Americans two centuries ago.

 Sometimes, if you lie on the edge of the mire and close your eyes, it seems as though you can almost hear the gossip of those ancient travellers above the soughing of the breeze through the moorgrass.

When I was a small child, this was only a country of the imagination for me. My first contact with the Aune was a childhood picnic at Shipley Bridge. Wandering away from the others I climbed up to Black Tor and looked northwards to these distant and yet to be explored hills. A few years later I spent my first night bivouacking without a tent on Dartmoor, in a hollow on the hillside opposite Huntingdon Warren.

The Aune has some of the best bathing pools on Dartmoor, many of them a few minutes stroll up from Shipley. We used to bathe in the Aune’s chill waters, dousing our heads under the many little waterfalls where the river tumbles through Long-a-Traw (Long Trough). We would sunbathe ourselves dry, turning the pages of William Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor, before continuing our exploration of the Moor. Sometimes we would meet and talk with Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey, who kept his bees here to bring the taste of the moorland heather to the famous honey.

Long-a-Traw is one of the finest valleys on Dartmoor, ruined only by the dreadful concrete of the Avon Dam (and I revert to Avon for the name of this appalling intrusion) towards its head.

I mourn for the archaeology that was lost when the reservoir was built. More might go yet, for the dam was designed to be raised if circumstances made it necessary. To imprison a moorland river behind a dam, letting it pass only in fits and starts is a crime against nature.

Still, archaeology remains and one of my favourite areas is Rider’s Rings, a perfect place for a rest on a summer walk, though I do hope the bracken will be tackled soon. I like the little clapper bridge on the Aune above Huntingdon Cross.

I have stopped here for lunch on countless occasions, both on my own and with considerable numbers of Dartmoor walkers, fellow spirits in discovery, many of them now sadly passed on.

The focus for walks was often Broada Falls, that great mass of boulders through which the river forces its waters on the first stretch of its journey from Aune Head. I can remember, on one of my earliest visits, the late and much-missed Dartmoor expert Joe Turner showing me the ancient stone vermin traps just a little downstream.

From the high hills around, the slopes of Huntingdon Warren or the White-a-Barrows, the Aune winds through the land like a blue ribbon against the yellow, brown and green of the surrounding moorland, as it reflects the blue of the sky on summer days. I have seen it as a sprawl of raging white foam after prolonged Dartmoor thunderstorms, though that is rare, for despite a fairly rapid descent the Aune is a gentle river. Above the reservoir it is quintessentially a high moorland river, free of much vegetation beyond the occasional overhanging rowan.

Below the reservoir the trees creep in to the landscape, with rhododendrons in the lower stages. I always think it a pity that Brent Moor House has gone, just a few low walls to mark its passing. I used to know a lot of moor folk who remembered it, and a few walkers who had stayed there during its brief incarnation as a youth hostel. Nearby, hidden high in the bushes, is the memorial to the young daughter of the Meynell family, killed when out horse riding in 1865.

Shipley Bridge is fortunate in that it stands some yards away from the nearby car park, thereby having its ancient view preserved without too much 21st century intrusion.

But even though the river ceases to be a moorland water at this point, I think we should continue our journey down through Didworthy, using the public right of way, to Lydia Bridge and then South Brent, where the Aune leaves the National Park.

I always think Lydia Bridge is one of the delights of Dartmoor and is too seldom visited. And what a beautiful name. South Brent should be visited too, not least as a homage to William Crossing who lived and explored Dartmoor from this useful base, using the valley of the Aune as an approach to so much of Dartmoor.

The Aune is a beautiful river and it is a privilege to walk here in the footsteps of Dartmoor’s greatest writer, the incomparable William Crossing.

There is a track through Aune Head Mire that can be taken with safety by one who knows it.

Fox Tor Mire once bore a very bad name.The only convict who really got away from Princetown and was not recaptured was last seen taking a beeline for Fox Tor Mire.

One afternoon, in the year 1851,I was in the Walkham valley above Merrivale Bridge digging into what at the time I fondly believed was a tumulus, but which I subsequently discovered to be a mound thrown up for the accommodation of rabbits, when a warren was contemplated on the slope of Mis Tor.

Charles Thomas  originally identified the former with The Rumps, a pre-Roman defended enclosure.More recently,he suggested that it might be Tintagel, the site of an important sub-Roman trading settlement, although its Romano-British status is not clear Vernilis may be the same as Ptolemy’s Οὐολίβα , perhaps near Liskeard (Strang 1997, 30); the correct RomanoBritish form may have been *Verleua.

The Cosmographer’s form would have arisen by way of a transposition of -l- and -u-, the latter being miscopied as -n-.
The next name must be for *Fl Deruentione, the River Dart, so the Cosmographer’s eye may have moved from travelling along the spine of Cornwall, following the poorly known road along the centre of the peninsula, and he has possibly now turned his attention to the road south from Exeter, closer to the south Devon coast.

Deuionisso Statio and *Deruentio Statio which are wrongly divided in the text are probably unlocated Roman government establishments, perhaps tax offices.The latter may have lain in the Dart valley (Dart being Brittonic Deruentiu: , perhaps at Buckfastleigh or Totnes , and the former perhaps near Newton Abbot or elsewhere  on the River Teign.,Earliest times to present day

Vikings were active in Devon

Bloody Pool

On the south eastern edge of Dartmoor is a rather unspectacular pool known as ‘The Bloody Pool’. It is rumoured that this was once the site of a furious battle between a marauding band of Viking warriors and the local army. Many a brave soul lost his life that day in the shield wall and many were wounded. For hours the two mighty armies stood shield to shield, hacking and slashing at each other. Eventually the invaders were forced to flee back to their longships and return to the sea. The mighty dragon of the Norsemen had been sent home in disgrace but this was no consolation to the widows and fatherless children left weeping at their losses.

To this day it is said that the ghostly sounds of battle can be heard coming from the pool. At certain times, tradition has it that the marshy pool turns red, this is from the blood of the slain warriors who lie buried beneath its still waters. In 1854 a hoard of what were thought to be bronze spears were found near to the pool, it was first thought that these were spears used in the battle but then early archaeologists indicated that they were Bronze Age fishing spears.

If we first start with the belief that there was a battle between local warriors and marauding Norsemen – this cannot be confirmed. However it is a known fact that for many years the Vikings were active in Devon with attacks and raids all around the coasts and inland at Exeter, Tavistock, Lydford. Totnes lies about 6 miles to the south-east of Bloody Pool and was one of the four Devonshire Saxon burghs.  which lies about 10 miles south-east of Bloody Pool. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle, Swanton, 2003 p.65,  records that in the year 850:

“Here Ealdorman Ceorl with Devonshire fought against the heathen men at Wicga’s stronghold and made a great slaughter there and took the victory.”

The footnote on page 64 tentatively suggests that although the place has not been identified, Wicga’s Stronghold  or Wicganbeorg could be modern day Wigborough in south Somerset. Gore 2001 p.35-6 on the other hand states that Wicganbeorg is possibly now a small hamlet called Weekaborough which lies about 10 miles east of Bloody Pool. Glover, Mawer and Stenton in their definitive book,  Place Names of Devon, p. 506, are non-committal as to whether Weekaborough was Wicganbeorg because they note that in the transformed 1827 version of the place name, i.e. Wickaborough,  the vowel development needed to change the voiced cg to the unvoiced k would be difficult though not impossible. But it still could be possible that there was a battle or skirmish at Bloody Pool If Weekaborough was the Wicganbeorg mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.

As to the story that in time of flood the water runs red from the spilt blood of the warriors, clearly that is a nonsense but as always there is a possible reason for the strange occurrence. This time it is necessary to look at place names and also local geology. As can be seen from the map below there are two places above bloody pool called Reddacleave and Reddacleave Brakes.

There are many place names on Dartmoor with the descriptive element red and when applied to streams or brooks it usually indicates that the stream bed literally is of a red hue. This is due to the presence of limonite and Hemery, 1983, p.58, describes it as being “a reddish substance of paste-like consistency that clings to stones in the peat-bog stream-beds in their upper reaches, during periods of drought when the water is low and the current sluggish. It results from the oxidation of ferrous carbonate, a derivative of the bog.” Could it possibly be that the reason the pool turns red is due to the limonite giving the water a red hue as it does elsewhere on the moor?

With regards to the hoard of Bronze Age fishing spears, this is a fact and they were discovered in 1854, a fact first noted in Crossing’s book ‘The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor, p.10. He also notes that they could be seen at the Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. Today the findspot is recorded as being SX 7029 6263 and they are classified as being “four bronze spearheads and ferrules, each broken in three places”. They have been dated to the Bronze Age and carry an ID Record of NMR SX 76 SW 14, described as consisting of “four bronze ferrules, 7″ long found with four barbed bronze spearheads which are 14″ long, all but one was broken. suggested as a Merchant’s or Founder’s hoard.”

Adapted from Pearce, 1981, p.127.

The map above clearly shows many Bronze Age features such as Enclosures, settlements, cairns and a standing stone so therefore it is no surprise to have discovered a Bronze Age hoard. What is interesting is that it should have been discovered by a pool, according to the NMR report they are considered to  have belonged to a founder’s or merchant’s hoard but was this in fact a votive offering of some kind? Pearce, 1978, p.76, remarks that:

“… spearheads like this form a well-recognised type and are often found as groups or hoards in contexts which suggest they were ritual offerings. The Bloody Pool spearheads may have been thrown into water, and everything we know about the late prehistoric religion suggests that this was a characteristic method of dedicating offerings to the gods.”

Hundreds of votive offerings have been found in Britain and many of them have been deliberately placed in water. Another similarity that most show is that they have been deliberately broken. Parker-Pearson notes that this act of deposition and destruction at Flag Fen was as if the site was being used as a “wishing well on a very grand scale, 2005, p.109. 

There may be no connection but as can be seen on the above map, there is a standing stone near the source of the river Harbourne which is just upstream from Bloody Pool. None of the other identified standing stones on Dartmoor are sited so close to a head spring as this standing stone, known as Harbourne Man. Could it possibly be that sometime during the Bronze Age the main cult of worship in this area was one concerned with water?