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Headland Warren & Challacombe

This PAL contains all types of sites and features from all periods resulting in a very complex archaeological landscape of the highest importance.

From the prehistoric period (c.4,000 to 3,000 years ago) are the scattered remains of ceremonial sites – burial mounds (cairns) and a stone row - and settlement sites including the remains of stone-built round houses and enclosures.  The latter includes Grimspound, one of Dartmoor’s best known and most visited prehistoric sites, an enclosure containing 24 stone round houses; its importance is reflected in the fact that it was taken into the care of the State in the 1970s; only the finest examples of particular types of site have been designated Properties in Care.

Overlying the prehistoric features are extensive medieval field systems, dating perhaps as far back as the 12th or 13th century.  The most complete of these occupies much of the present-day farm of Challacombe, but also extends into Headland Warren.  The land has been divided into large squarish blocks by low stony banks (often corn-ditch in form), historically known as wares.  Each ware has been subdivided into narrow strips running along the contour; these appear as terraces, (or lynchets).  Challacombe is one of the most striking illustrations of the medieval practice whereby each farmer cultivated a number of scattered strips of land intermixed amongst those of his neighbours.  The homesteads of these farmers lie abandoned close to the present day farmstead.

Medieval field boundaries occur over much of Headland Warren; here, and on the top of Challacombe Down are also the faint traces of ridge and furrow, created by ploughing in the past.

A rabbit warren was established at Headland Warren around 1700 AD. The warren enclosures, known locally as “the playing card fields” survive well on the slopes below Birch Tor; there are a number of pillow mounds (artificial rabbit buries) in this area.

The Birch Tor and Vitifer Mining complex has been described as ‘the most impressive mining landscape on Dartmoor’ and probably in the West country; it represents extraction of tin ore on a huge scale over a considerable period of time – from the medieval period through to the early 20th century. All methods of mining are represented here; streaming the valley bottoms; digging pits; excavating large steep-sided gullies (openworks, or beams) and sinking shafts into the ground.  Leats, channels and reservoirs were created to harness water supply.  From the later period (late 18th century onwards) there is evidence of water being used (in the form of leats and reservoirs), to provide power to process the tin ore and there are scattered wheelpit, building and structure remains all over Headland Warren.

Extensive areas of both Challacombe and Headland Warren qualify for designation as Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs).

This area forms part of the East Dartmoor SSSI and the Dartmoor SAC which are designated for their heathland habitats. The area is important for a number of UK BAP species including: Insects-Marsh Fritillary, Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, Bog Hoverfly. Birds- Ring Ouzel, Red Grouse, Snipe and wintering Hen Harrier.

What it should look like: This area contains a mix of moorland and enclosed land. The preferred vegetation would be heather moorland managed on an appropriate rotation (c12 to 15 years) and short acid grassland (averaging between 5 cm and 15 cm in height). Bracken dominates some areas and should be controlled. The ultimate aim would be removal across substantial areas of the PAL. Localised regeneration of coniferous species requires control.

Page last updated: 23 Feb 2006
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