Fox Tor Mire

The Walk

Map of the Walk

The Hound of The Baskervilles.

This composition is intended to supply background information on the tale of the Hound and the locations on Dartmoor that may be visited during an OGWT event.

In 1900 Arthur Conan Doyle was returning from his service as a doctor in the Boer War. On the SS Briton he met Bertie Fletcher Robinson who was a war correspondent for the Daily Express. They were both writers with sporting interests and struck up a friendship.

On his return to England ACD suffered a recurrence of enteric fever and whilst recuperating arranged with BFR to undertake a holiday, including some golf, at The Royal Links Hotel in Cromer. During an afternoon break from the inclement weather the two friends got to talking about legends and ripping yarns. ACD wrote to his mother “we are going to do a book together, The Hound of the Baskervilles, a real creeper!” In a subsequent letter to the Strand magazine ACD wrote, “I can answer for the yarn being all my own, but BFR gave me the central idea and local colour!” He insisted that BFR was paid and recognised by name in the publication.

There were several hound legends that may have been discussed. Around Cromer there was the legend of “Black Shuck” or “Shuck” also known by the Scandinavian version “Scucca.” This was a single hound as in the Dartmoor tale. From the Welsh borders, where ACD’s first wife originated there were legends relating to the Vaughan’s of Hergest Court and The Norville Hound of Norville Hall in Beauton Norton in the Severn Valley. The Welsh borders were also home to a branch of the Baskerville family. Interestingly BFR lived at Park Hill House outside Ipplepen where the family coachman was named,  Henry (Harry) Baskerville. There were connections for both men here that probably added to the intrigue. A hound legend which certainly had Dartmoor connections related to the Whisht Hounds which belonged to the Devil (or Dewer) and hunted at night for un-baptised babies. One of the Devil’s haunts on the moor is The Dewerstone. ACD wrote about this legend in another tale entitled “The Winning Shot.”  The grave of Harry Baskerville is in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Ashburton, and near it is the grave of the Head of Ashburton Grammar School James Mortimer.

Other local colour may have been the antics of Richard Cabell  (Dirty Dick) who died in the 1670’s. The self styled squire and roysterer of Brook Manor (North of Buckfastleigh) could have been the  inspiration for the character of Sir Hugo Baskerville. Local legend has it that if you place your finger through the bars of the Cabell family sepulchre the Devil will bite off the offending finger tip. The only daughter from Dirty Dicks family line married a Richard Fownes of Stapleton House, Stapleton in Dorset. Elizabeth’s first husband was distantly related to the family of ACD.

The text says that Baskerville Hall is 14 miles from the convict prison at Princetown. If this is correct then the Hall could not be on the high moor, but the distance could relate to the road distance travelled which could follow the route from Brook Manor through Holne and onto Hexworthy and hence to Princetown. Baskerville Hall is also stated to be 9 miles from the farm of the yeoman whose daughter Sir Hugo abducted. In addition horsemen galloped those 9 miles at night so the path must have been good. This could work if the path mentioned was part of the Abbot’s Way and Baskerville Hall was Brook Manor and the ride is from Lud Gate under Pupers Hill by Huntingdon Warren towards Sheepstor. Another interesting link to this area is fact that the cab driver, John Clayton, who Holmes traces is said to work out of Shipley’s Yard. While this location is not to be found in London, there is a Shipley Bridge and Shipley Tor in this area and also Black Tor which is mentioned in the book. It is true that there are several Black Tors on the Moor!

Unfortunately the detailed description of Baskerville Hall does not fit Brook Manor architecturally, but it does fit Cromer Hall. Perhaps a little geographical juxtaposition here.

The Great Grimpen Mire which is central to the story is most likely to be in the Fox Tor Mires/Aune (Avon) Head Mires area which is linked by a good track through the Swincombe Valley to the village of Hexworthy. In terms of size and location this forms an attractive link in the neighbourhood of Baskerville Hall. However there is no great candidate for the home of the Stapletons near the mire. Nun’s Cross Cottage is a desolate dwelling adjacent to a great mire. It can be reached by carriage from the candidate for Baskerville Hall via Princetown. It can also be reached on foot by track from Hexworthy (Grimpen). However it is rather a small dwelling and quite a distance from the Hall.

There are no obvious locations for the exact setting of all the events because fictional place names are used as well as actual place names although the descriptions of the places and their geography do not always match. In the book Stapleton brings the hound to Merripit House by” walking it a long way across the moor from the N Devon line”. This is the line that sprang off the Exeter to Barnstaple line and went through Okehampton to Tavistock and thence to Plymouth. This indicates that Merripit House did not lie on the North Moor. Merripit House was in the neighbourhood of Baskerville Hall. This ties in with the rough geography as outlined.

 However there are some snags, The text says that Baskerville Hall is approached via Coombe Tracey and a wayside railway station. In ACD’s own hand there are notes which indicate that Coombe Tracey was Newton Abbot.  The journey then is  from Newton Abbot to a station which could have been Buckfastleigh or Moretonhampstead to Lafter Hall. Then travel north to Baskerville Hall. Then, travel north again to Grimpen.  Grimpen has many similarities to Hexworthy in terms of size and the existence of a post office. It is dangerous to assume that all details are accurate! Clearly the journey from Lafter Hall to Hexworthy and then to Baskerville Hall would be travelling southwards.

There is a letter from ACD to his mother in which he says that he and BFR enjoyed a 14 mile walk from their hotel in Princetown. It is tempting to surmise that it may have followed this route.

Head South to Nun’s Cross Farm overlooking Fox Tor Mires. Track heads eastwards along the ridge between Fox Tor Mires and Aune (Avon) Head Mire, then down the valley of the Swincombe to Hexworthy. Continue to Laughter Tor, close to the old Laughter Hole Farm, to the hamlet of Bellever. Several tracks are then available for the walk passing Higher and Lower  Merripit to Grimspound. This journey is approximately 14 miles and would have taken ACD and BFR through or near to the actual places named in the novel and also introduces Grimspound which when shortened and mangled by the locals could easily become Grimpen.

Lafter Hall, the home of Frankland could be Laughter Hole Farm.