Dartmoor - Encyclopedia

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DARTMOOR, a high plateau in the south-west of Devonshire, England. Its length is about 23 m. from N. to S. and its extreme breadth 20 m., the mean altitude being about 1500 ft. The area exceeding 1000 ft. in elevation is about 200 sq. m. It is the highest and easternmost in a broken chain of granitic elevations which extends through Cornwall to the Scilly Isles. The higher parts are open, bleak and wild, strongly contrasting with the more gentle scenery of the well-wooded lowlands surrounding it. Sloping heights rise from the main tableland in all directions, crested with broken masses of granite, locally named tors, and often singularly fantastic in outline. The highest of these are Yes Tor and High Willhays in the north-west, reaching altitudes of 2028 and 2039 ft. Large parts of the moor, especially in the centre, are covered with morasses; and head-waters of all the principal streams of Devonshire are found here. Two main roads cross the moor, one between Exeter and Plymouth, and the other between Ashburton and Tavistock, intersecting at Two Bridges. Both avoid the higher part of the moor, which, for the rest, is traversed only in part by a few rough tracks. The central part of Dartmoor was a royal forest from a date unknown, but apparently anterior to the Conquest. Its woods were formerly more extensive than now, but a few small tracts in which dwarf oaks are characteristic remain in the lower parts. Previous to 1337, the forest had been granted to Richard, earl of Cornwall, by Henry III., and from that time onward it has belonged to the duchy of Cornwall. The districts immediately surrounding the moor are called the Venville or Fenfield districts. The origin of this name is not clear. The holders of land by Venville tenure under the duchy have rights of pasture, fishing, &c. in the forest, and their main duty is to "drive" the moor at certain times in order to ascertain what head of cattle are pastured thereon,. and to prevent trespassing. The antiquarian remains of Dartmoor are considered among those of Devonshire.

Dartmoor convict prison, near Princetown, was adapted to its present purpose in 1850; but the original buildings were erected in 1809 for the accommodation of French prisoners. A tract of moorland adjacent to the prison has been brought under cultivation by the inmates.

See S. Rowe, Perambulation of the. .. forest of Dartmoor (Plymouth, 1848); J. L. W. Page, Exploration of Dartmoor (London, 1889); S. Baring-Gould, Book of Dartmoor (London, 1900).

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