Top Ten Archaeological Sites

Spinster’s Rock

This enigmatic monument, of a type known as a portal dolmen, is one of the most ancient in the National Park and dates to the Early Neolithic between 4,000BC and 3,000BC. This was a time when much of the landscape would have been forested and people were just starting to practice agriculture. Portal dolmens are usually interpreted as tombs. (Grid Ref SX 70090 90777)

Merrivale Bronze Age ceremonial complex

In addition to the two double stone rows which dominate this site, it also contains a range of other features including: a stone circle, an impressive cist grave and a variety of burial cairns. It is likely that the complex was constructed over time, probably between the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age (3rd to 2nd millennia BC), with different features added gradually although the beliefs which drove the process are difficult to interpret today. Don’t forget to look at the numerous roundhouses, dating to around 1500 BC, close to the road. (Grid Ref SX 55453 74780).

Grimspound

One of Dartmoor’s most iconic sites, Grimspound is a settlement dating to the Middle Bronze Age around 1,500 BC. It consists of a massive stone enclosure, unusual for its sheer size compared to other settlements of this date, containing a group of small hut circles (the remnants of Bronze Age houses).  Looking west from the site, the remains of medieval ploughing is visible on the flanks of Challacombe Down as it the eastern edge of the Headland Warren mining landscape (see below).  (Grid Ref SX 70058 80885)

Holne Moor reave system

The famous Dartmoor reaves are low, stony banks, now usually covered in turf which are the remains of Bronze Age field boundaries dating to the centuries around 1,500BC. They form extensive patterns of ancient fields, especially around the southern and eastern sides of Dartmoor, mixed with contemporary settlements. Holne Moor is arguably the best preserved of these and forms the southern end of a system which extends almost 5 kilometres to the north.  (Grid Ref SX 66995 71783)

Lydford Anglo-Saxon burgh

Lydford is one of Dartmoor’s most ancient settlements - archaeological excavation suggesting a possible origin as early as the 5th and 6th centuries AD. However, the first solid indication of its existence comes when Alfred the Great established it as a burgh, a fortified settlement designed to counter the Viking threat. The earthwork defences constructed at this time are still visible at the eastern end of the village, but there are also two later castles within the settlement. (Grid Ref SX 50977 84756)

Hound Tor medieval village

Dartmoor contains numerous abandoned medieval farmsteads around the edges of the high moor which were established around the 13th century during a period of population expansion and beneficial climatic conditions. Climate deterioration and the Black Death are thought to have been responsible for abandonment during the course of the 14th and 15thcenturies. Hound Tor, a small hamlet of 4 longhouses (main dwellings) and another seven ancillary buildings is a well-preserved example which has been subject to extensive excavation.    (Grid Ref SX 74639 78783)

Higher Uppacott

The longhouse was the quintessential medieval farmstead; a rectangular, single storey structure housing people at one end and livestock at the other, accessed by two opposing doors set in the centre of the building’s long sides. Many of these survive on Dartmoor, both as archaeological features and upstanding structures which are still lived in today. Most of the latter have been much changed and adapted over the centuries. However, Higher Uppacott, constructed in the late 14th or early 15th century, preserves much of its original form, including the ‘shippon’, where livestock was kept, which remains almost unchanged. (Grid Ref SX 70133 72871)

Headland Warren mining landscape

Evidence for tin extraction on Dartmoor extends from the 20th century back to the medieval period and probably into prehistory. Nowhere are the effects of this better seen than in the Headland Warren area where the entire landscape has been altered by tin working over the course of many centuries. Most prominent are the enormous trenches and gullies created by tinners working deposits through opencast methods. These probably date to the later medieval and post medieval centuries and were succeeded by the shafts dug by miners from the 18th century onwards and by the remains of 19th and 20th century buildings which were part of the mines worked during this period. (Grid Ref SX 68251 81122)

Haytor granite tramway

Granite has been worked on Dartmoor for centuries but it was not until the early 19th century that its qualities for construction and other applications reached a wider world. This was the result of the construction of the Haytor granite tramway by the Templer family of Stover, which enabled the material to be transported form the quarries on Haytor Down to the canal at Ventiford from where it could be shipped to Teignmouth. The tramway did not use expensive iron, but was constructed of granite ‘setts’ or rails on which horse-drawn carts ran to transport the extracted granite and which are still visible today on Haytor Down. These enabled Haytor granite to be used in the construction of buildings such as the National Gallery and London Bridge. (Grid Ref  SX 76179 77747)

RAF Harrowbeer

A reminder of a darker time in the history of Britain, RAF Harrowbeer was constructed using rubble from the Plymouth blitz to provide a base for aircraft defending the city. Over the course of the Second World War, pilots from many nations, including the U.K., Canada, France, U.S.A. Poland and Czechoslovakia operated from the airfield flying a variety of aircraft including Spitfires, Typhoons and Mustangs. Following decommissioning in 1950, much of its infrastructure was demolished but its aircraft dispersal bays, some of its defences and the concrete bases of many of its buildings remain. (Grid Ref SX 51566 67615)