Dartmoor: One of the UK’s 15 National Parks and the place where I live and work.
The National Park is exactly 365 square miles in size. Or, at least, it used to be, back when local teacher John Hayward started exploring the moor (it’s grown a little larger since then). Inspired by this curious coincidence (a square mile for each day of the year), John Hayward began to collect his vast library of sketches and experiences into a book.
Published in 1991, “Dartmoor 365” dedicates a page to each and every square mile of the National Park. On that page John Hayward talks about a feature that can be found there. It might be a historical feature, or perhaps particular plants that grow in that spot. Often it’s a natural feature such as a tor or a river.
The book works not only as an armchair companion to Dartmoor, but also as an encouragement to get out there and to explore somewhere new.
So come with me as we take a quick stroll across the moor, taking in a few of John Hayward’s Dartmoor 365 squares.
We begin at Hound Tor, so named because its silhouette looks like a pack of dogs. Although, if I’m honest, I’m struggling to see it as I stand beside the car and stare at the jumbled pile of rocks.
Turning to the Dartmoor 365 book and having a quick look at John Hayward’s grid of lettered rows and numbered columns, we find we are in square K17.
From here we walk a little way to the north west along one of the moor’s many narrow lanes, crossing over into a different Dartmoor 365 square in the process. Here, in J16, we find a grave. This is Jay’s Grave and you will always find flowers resting on the grave, placed there by a ghostly hand who refuses to let the sad story of Kitty Jay be forgotten.
What sad story is that?
Kitty Jay was an eighteenth century orphan delivered to the poor house as a child. As a teenager she found herself apprenticed to a farm on Dartmoor and it was there that she fell for the farmer’s son. She fell pregnant with his child but, rather than an offer of marriage and a future as a farmer’s wife, she was turned out of the farm, her reputation ruined. With no prospects, she took the only option seemingly available to her, hanging herself in the barn of the farm.
Unable to be buried in consecrated ground, she was placed at a crossroads on Hayne Down and her grave remains there to this day.
Beyond Jay’s Grave, our route takes us across open moorland to the top of Hayne Down and into a third Dartmoor 365 square (J17). Here another legendary Dartmoor inhabitant awaits: Bowerman the Hunter.
Bowerman lived at a time when witches were rife on Dartmoor. (Please add your own pinch of salt to this story.) A large, jovial man and a renowned hunter, Bowerman was famously unafraid of the witches and they, in turn, were not too keen on him. One day, out hunting with his dogs, Bowerman chased a hare into a wooded valley. There, he and his dogs (and the poor, befuddled hare) fell upon a coven of witches, doing witchy things around a bubbling cauldron. Unwilling to let the hare escape, Bowerman rode on through the witches, scattering them as he went.
Witches don’t look kindly on this sort of behaviour. Muttering and grumbling and brushing the dirt from their witch clothes, they decided that Bowerman had to be taught a lesson.
Disguising herself as a hare, one of the witches lured Bowerman and his hounds onto Hayne Down. There, exhausted by the chase, the hunter was surrounded and a curse placed upon him, turning him to stone.
And, presumably, making him grow to 40 feet tall.
Leaving our encrusted hunter behind, we walk the long way back around to Hound Tor.
Above the remains of a ruined medieval village, Hound Tor still hasn’t taken on the appearance of a pack of dogs. Despite that, it is rumoured to have been the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. The hound of The Hound of the Baskervilles is:
A foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon… [with] blazing eyes and dripping jaws.
As we saunter back across the brow of the hill past the tor, the nearest we come to encountering a hell hound is a close call with a particularly feisty terrier.
And there we are, back once more at the car park, the legends of Dartmoor safely negotiated.
The great thing about the Dartmoor 365 book is that it encourages you to try new places and to discover new things at the spots you already know. If you’re doing things “properly”, you can collect the squares, colouring them in once you have visited and located the feature of interest picked out by John Hayward.
As a local illustrator, I am taking a slightly different approach. If I have illustrated a scene then I tick off that square. After this particular visit and an hour or two working on that Bowerman’s Nose piece, I feel justified in colouring in square J17.
Only 364 more to go…
A selection of Devon and Dartmoor artwork can be seen in my online gallery and is available to buy from my Etsy shop.