Exploring Merrivale Standing Stones on Dartmoor

Merrivale on the western slopes of Dartmoor is said to be one of the best-preserved ancient landscapes on the moor.  It is also one of the most easily accessible, ideal for those uncomfortable with hiking into the wilds or with small children. The Merrivale standing stones on Dartmoor are quite fascinating to explore.

This is a guest post by talented Dartmoor based photographer Helen Northcott known as The Dartmoor Photographer.

Exploring Dartmoor

To the casual observer passing across Dartmoor,  it may appear to be a barren wholly natural landscape with only the hilltop tors to break up the bleak outlook.  This is especially true if you visit Dartmoor on one of its mist shrouded days.  Far from being a natural landscape though, the Dartmoor we see today has been shaped by man for many thousands of years. 

Merrivale is a great area to explore. You will find the man-made past of the moor everywhere, most recently with remains from the modern era such as quarries and tin mining.  However of interest here, dating back to the Bronze age and late Neolithic era are a stone circle, a menhir (a single standing stone) a stone row and burial cairns.  

Where to Start

The best place to begin your exploration of this area is by parking at the “Four Winds” car park (directions below)

Foggintor School

A walled enclosure behind the car park is all that remains of Foggintor School. Built in 1913 for local children, the area was at the time much more developed than today, with cottages for the many workers of the quarries at Foggintor and Merrivale.  It closed in 1936 as with the decline in quarrying activities families moved away.  The building was demolished in 1964.

Standing Stone and Abbots Way

With the road behind you walk around to the back of the walled enclosure. Cross over the small stream via the single stone slab bridge. Now walk down-hill bearing slightly to the right, towards a standing stone.  There are many worn tracks in the area which make progress across the open moor easier.

When you reach the stone you will see that it has a letter T marked on the right-hand face and an A on the opposite face. This stone is probably of medieval original and acts as a waymarker on the route across the moor from Tavistock (T) to Ashburton (A).  The route is now part of the Abbots Way long distance walking route which joins the Abbey at Buckfasteigh with the Abbey remains in Tavistock.  It is thought that the route was created by monks travelling between the two abbeys but it is probably an even older route following tracks used for thousands of years.

Merrivale Standing Stones on Dartmoor

Merrivale Standing Stone

Now turn with your back to the T of the stone you will see another stone marker in the near distance. Follow the line of the hillside towards this stone and onto a third that is a little way on.  All have the distinct A and T markings.

The third stone in the line sits at a convergence of many of the well-worn tracks in this area.   From here you can see the Merrivale standing stone or menhir down the hill towards a dry-stone wall which marks the boundary of the enclosed farmland.  Follow the trackway down to the stone.

The standing stone is about 3 metres high and has flat faces aligned to the north and south.  If you look across the valley (over the wall) you will see Kings Tor and below this, you can see the distinct line of the former Princetown railway which was closed in 1956.  Look along the line of the railway to the left you will see in the distance the rock mounds and remains of Foggintor quarry activities.

Standing Stones on Dartmoor

Dartmoor Stone Circle

Now turn to the north (up-hill) and walk away from the standing stone, you will find a stone circle. The stones are all quite small but are quite distinct.  There are no accurate dates for these features only that they probably date from the Neolithic (2500BC) to Middle Bronze Age (1000BC).

Ancient Stone Row

From the stone circle continue to walk uphill you will come to the first double stone row.  This row runs due east-west and is about 260 metres long.  All the stones are quite small but they have recently been excavated by one of the Dartmoor volunteers so they are all quite visible. There are taller stones at each end.  

Merrivale Stone Row Dartmoor

There is a second, shorter stone row a short distance to the north, running parallel, on the far side of the stream.  You will find about 150 stones in these two rows and a third less obvious row.

The purpose of these types of rows is unclear.  It is thought they may be religious or ceremonial.  

Merrivale Stone Row on Dartmoor

Bronze Age Settlement

Cross the stream by jumping over a narrow stretch, or there is a rough stone slab bridge a short way downstream of the stone rows if you prefer.

From the eastern end of the second stone row head roughly north, towards the road, to an area of the moor which at first glance, looks to be heavily rock-strewn.  This is the remains of a bronze age settlement featuring the distinct circular walls of a number of hut circles and an enclosure.  In this area there is also a large flat round stone which is often mistaken as the top of a burial chamber but is actually a relatively modern, post-medieval apple crusher stone once used in cider making.

Once you have finished exploring, head back to the car park following either the road, the stream or something in between.  The circuit is only about a mile in total. 

This area of Dartmoor is designated access land, so you are free to walk where you want without following a designated route.  The site is managed by English Heritage.

Kings Tor

You can easily extend your walk out to Kings Tor,  although the ground may be wet underfoot so be prepared.  It’s about another mile there and back.

From the first marker stone of the Abbots Way, head downhill following a worn trail, cross the stream at the ford and head up the other side of the valley.  Cross over the old railway line and head up to Kings Tor. From the top on a clear day you can see the Tamar Estuary and across to Cornwall.

Kings Tor Dartmoor

Useful Information

Even for a short walk on Dartmoor you should be prepared. As this walk is on open moorland it can be wet and uneven, so it is best to wear suitable footwear, good trainers, boots or wellies.  Dartmoor weather can also be very changeable, so you are always best to bring a coat and warm clothing, even if it is a sunny day.

There are no facilities at the car park.  As always do not leave valuables in the car (even if you hide them).

The Little Farm Shed is now open at the Dartmoor Inn, Merrivale. Serving hot drinks, real ale, ice cream and much more. Looking ahead in 2020 the Eversfield Organic Bar and Grill with B&B Rooms will be opening there as well.  Otherwise the nearest toilets and shops are at Princetown.

Maps

I am a fan of maps but to be honest they are no use if you are not a confident map reader, especially somewhere like Dartmoor. However I have been completely converted by the Ordnance Survey app I now have on my phone. You can subscribe for a year for the whole of the UK,  or if you buy an individual paper map there is a code on there to give you that map online.

It’s easy to plan routes on the app or on the computer and download maps onto your phone so they are off line. The beauty of it is that it shows you where you are so if you are not sure what direction to walk in the app will help you.

Walks on Dartmoor pin

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Directions

Four Winds Car Park is on B3357 between Tavistock (5 miles) and Princetown (3 miles).  As you travel from Tavistock,  after climbing out of the dip over the River Walkham at Merrivale,  you will see the carpark on the right of the road. It’s notable by a group of trees and stone walls, this is your starting point. 

Grid ref SX560749

Postcode PL20 6ST

What 3 Words https://w3w.co/hero.lifestyle.just

Thank you to Helen Northcott for supplying the lovely photos and text for this post.  Helen has an extensive gallery of photos that can be ordered as prints. Take a look here for Dartmoor but there are others as well.  Helen has other written blog posts with more ideas for places to visit on Dartmoor.