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Bellever

The Walk

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Bellever Forest Walk

01 Kraps Rings.
This is the least impressive part of the walk as the ring is very overgrown. It is the only settlement that has been relatively undisturbed by the forestation of Bellever. A plan of 1891 shows 15 huts enclosed by the ring wall of which 11 are discernable today. It is thought that the original enclosure wall would have been about 2m thick and over 1m high. The huts vary in circumference from 3.0 - 5.5m and are considered as being small to medium sized in Dartmoor standards. The Dartmoor Excavation Committee excavated the huts in 1895 when all but one hut was found to have been 'dug over'. In the intact hut the antiquarians found a cooking hole and hearth.

This is the plan from Butler but it needs the eye of faith to match the plan to the actual site.

Kraps1

The pictures below show a few hut circles.

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001a

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02 Hut Circle
One larger hut stands outside the enclosure wall

002

002A

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03 Cairn and retaining circle
This cairn has a retaining circle of 13 kerb-set visible stones and has a circumference of 6.0m. Much of the cairn has been removed and some has been deposited outside the circle.

 

003

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04 Cairn
This cairn has been completely despoiled, all that remains today is the kistvaen. Burnard excavated the ruined kist in 1898 when on initial inspection all the contents had been looted. However, when digging down through the floor he discovered many artefacts including six flint knives and scarpers, numerous sherd of pottery from at least two vessels, one of which was of a decorated beaker type. He also discovered wood charcoal but there were no human remains.

004

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05 Stone Row
Today there are only 12 stones standing in the row, there are spaces for 3 or 4 missing ones. The alignment is almost east/west and it appears as if some time in the past the stone row has been poorly re-erected by some early antiquarian.

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005B

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06 Circle, kist and stone row
Now covered by trees this monument consists of a retaining circle of six remaining stones. These encircle a kist of five slabs which are topped by a massive capstone. A row runs downhill from the kist and shows evidence of 11 stones although there was socket holes where two more stones would have stood. The Dartmoor Exploration Committee restored the circle, kist and row in 1895 and it was thought that their interpretation was fairly inaccurate there were no finds in the kist.

006

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006B

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07 Stone Circle
Consisting of 10 erect stones with spaces for another 3 - 4 slabs, its circumference is 6.8m. There appears to have been no central kist although to the south-east 3 or 4 slabs possibly indicate the one-time presence of a stone row.

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08 Stone Circle
This circle has a circumference of 5.6m and consists of 10 slabs and a central kist covered by its covering stone. This kist was excavated by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee in 1896 but nothing was discovered.

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09 Cairn
This has been very badly damaged but was estimated to have measured about 19 x 0.9m. The large kist has only two side slabs left with a possible further one lying nearby.

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10 Hut circle

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11 Cairn
Another badly damaged cairn with a kist comprising of two side and one end slabs. This was excavated in 1914 but nothing was found apart from some charcoal which came from the infill and a shallow pit below floor level of the kist.

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12 Settlement

A plan view showing the rosette layout. Huts and smaller fields are in the centre with progressively larger ones added

Settlement

The settlement can just be seen on the sunlit patch of Bellever Tor .

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012a

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13 Field System
An extensive field system completely obliterated by the forest.

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14 Hut Circle
An excavated hut circle in good condition. This was revealed when trees were brought down in a storm several years ago. Detailed report in pdf format can be read here and a lighter newspaper report can be read here.

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15 Hut Circle

On the map I have shown it as a hut but Butler says it is a Cairn and I believe him but can't be bothered to re-do the map. Especially as there is nothing much to see and we probably won't go there.

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16 Cairn and cist

Probably the best preserved of the cairns, it was recorded in 1890 the cairn had been dug into and the kist rifled. At this time the retaining circle was described as being in fair condition but today only 3 stones remain. In 1901 the spoil inside the kist was examined by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee but was found devoid of any artefacts.

An impressive slab. This cairn seems worth looking at but is away from the others so a visit will depend whether tiredness or complete boredom has set in by the time we get this far.

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17 Lychway - Ancient Trackway

017

The word lych survived into modern English from the Old English or Saxon word for corpse, mostly as an adjective in particular phrases or names, such as lych bell, the hand-bell rung before a corpse; lych way, the path along which a corpse was carried to burial (this in some districts was supposed to establish a right-of-way); lych owl, the screech owl, because its cry was a portent of death; and lyke-wake, a night watch over a corpse.

In the Middle Ages when most people were buried in just shrouds rather than coffins, the dead were carried to the lych gate and placed on a bier, where the priest conducted the first part of the funeral service under its temporary shelter. (Wikipedia)

Before 1260, it was compulsory for internments to take place in the deceased’s own churchyard. The whole of the forest is in the parish of Lydford and funerals were therefore obliged to cross the moor from their farms to the churchyard. The Lych Way, also known as the Corpse Road, is the route the dead were bourne for burial at Lydford. The 12 mile (19km) route started at Bellever. After 1260, permission was given by Bishop Bronescombe to allow burials at Widecombe.

The quote below is from S. Baring- Gould's A Book of the West, Vol-1: Devon (Methuen, 1899):

"The Lych Way, or Corpse Road, is that by which the dead were borne to burial at Lydford, till licence was granted by Bishop Bronescombe in 1260 to such people on the moor as were distant from their parish church, to recur to Widecombe for their baptisms and interments. The Lych Way is still much used for bringing in turf, and for the driving out and back of cattle, The paved causeway is fine, but in parts it has been resolved by centuries of use to a deep-cut furrow. It was said formerly that of a night ghostly trains of mourners might be seen flitting along it."

There is an interesting account of the Lychway here.

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