For a couple of years I have admired the small, dedicated community that engage with John Hayward’s book Dartmoor 365. The premise is simple, as explained on the back cover:
‘The National Park originally comprised 365 square miles, and in this work every one has been visited in order to record in word and illustration at least one item of interest in every square mile.
Whenever you are within the Park boundary you will be able to plan excursions of an hour, a half day, or a full day, to find the items suggested, and indeed many more as well…
…There is no other book that covers the moor in such a methodical way. Besides the expected pages about hills and rivers, fords and bridges, tors and crosses, topics such as plant lore, village life, legends, letterboxes, architecture and archaeology, all find a prominent place.’
This, then, was my my kind of book; particularly because I have spent time over the past few years in certain parts of Dartmoor finding geocaches. Therefore, I bought a copy at the start of the summer and have since the time to visit other areas of the moor with the aim of seeing more of the locations. Furthermore, the book comes with a map that can be shaded in, thereby ticking off each of the 365 squares.
At the start of August 2021, I visited the square of N2 with my daughter. We chose this location because of the title: Pixies’ Cross. Hayward explains this cross in detail:
‘This huge, rugged cross is one of the few undamaged ones still marking the old Abbots’ Way from Buckfast to Tavistock. Before the golf course invaded this once lonely stretch oft he Moor it would have made an impressive and welcome waymark to travellers coming from the East.’
The golf course that Hayward mentions is very dominant. After parking up, my daughter and I had to make sure that we didn’t get hit by flying golf-balls. Although luckily the cross is not too far from the road.
As for the reason behind the name: nobody knows. However, Hayward does recount ‘a delightful story’ which stretches back to the 17th century. Apparently a puritanical local vicar ‘wished to have the cross destroyed’, and such was his fury that he started the digging himself. Hayward further explains:
‘However, it was not long before he became aware of a large and obviously angry bull making a beeline towards him.
There was only one place of safety within reach, and he was able to shin up to the cross-piece before the bull arrived. The animal was thwarted but not at all impatient. For the rest of the day and all through the night it grazed and watched contentedly within a few years of the cross, and all that time the vicar sat on high.’
On this early August day the vicar and the bull were long gone (although my six-year old daughter was slightly concerned that the bull might make a return). The cross is seemingly oddly placed in the middle of a golf course, but it remains standing defiant to the the changes of time and the motivations of golfers or vicars.
I hope to post more photographs and short summaries of the other squares that I have visited. After all, there are another 364 squares to go.