Stone Circle. Mardon Down. Dartmoor
Stone Circle. Mardon Down.
There's nothing more exhilarating than walking in the wilds of Dartmoor and coming accross an ancient monument such as this. It's not a famous stone circle. I certainly hadn't heard of its existence before I moved to Dartmoor, and it's no Stonehenge. But, when you stand on top of Mardon Down, and look around you at what has been described as the biggest stone circle on Dartmoor, you can't help thinking about the history involved and the people who built it.
I am fortunate that this is on one of my usual dog-walking routes, and I sometimes forget that people don't come accross these ancient sites every day!
Stone Circle. Mardon DownClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Circle sits at the top of Mardon, with a panaoramic backcrop of the HighMoor behind it. From the there, looking south you can see Hay Tor, Hound Tor, Manaton Rocks and Easdon down; on a clear day, the view is breathtaking, but usually windy!
At the centre of the Circle, people have built a small stone fire ring, and a trail goes through the middle of the stones. There was, at one time, a small fence announcing the monument and advising people to walk around it, rather than through it, but this seems to have vanished.
The stones area clearly visible, and the largest of them stands to the northwest of the ring. A lttle further down the hill, there is another circle of stones, but this is much smaller, and the Ordnance Survey Map lists it as a ruined cairn.
The stone Circle is easy to get to; the nearest town is Moretonhampstead, which sits at the base of Mardon Down. There are good car parks within Moreton, which also has plenty of Bed and Breakfasts, a hotel, a handful of restaurants, pubs and shops, providing all basic needs for the walker or holidaymaker (click here for detailed information)The round walk from Moretonhampstead is about three miles, but could be made longer if so wished.
The nearest car park, is probably the one on Station Road (382 towards Bovey Tracey), but there's less than a quarter of a mile between car parks anyway. The St. Andrew's Church is the landmark to look for, as its probably the easiest place to start your walk from. If we're out on the Moor, we always take an Ordnance Survey Landranger Map with us, and the Tourist information Shop in Moretonhampstead has a good selection of these. We also walk with Trekking poles, to reduce the strain on the knee joint (learn more by clicking here).
Stone Cirlces are ancient monuments, some dating back 5,000 years to the neolithic period. There are around 1000 such circles throughout the UK. They are difficult to date for certain, due to the unsuitablility of most materials for carbon dating, and the fact that they may have been rebuilt over time, but certainly they pre-date Christianity.
There is usually no evidence of human inhabitation at the sites, and rarely any burial ground artefacts, which has led researches to think that they were for ceremonial purposes, either religious or celebratory, or possibly could be a talisman of some sort.
Circles are often erected on sight-lines of the rising or setting sun or moon, at different times of the year, so experts believe that the seasons were important.
How to Get There
Once you have found the Church, stand with it at your back, facing away from town, the hill you see in front of you is Mardon Down. Walk through the wrought iron gate and into the Sentry Field, which has the children's play park in, continue across the field, through the wooden kissing gate. Continue downhill, alongside the ruins of the Sentry. At the bottom of the hill, to your right you will see a gate with a style, next to a stream. Cross over the style and carry on forwards, between the buildings belonging to Mardon Manor. Within a few yards you come to a junction of two paths. Take the path to your right, and within around 100 yeards you will see a house on your right. Continue on the same path. A few hundred yards leads to an iron gate at a farm. The lane to the left, Shute Lane leads back into Moretonhampstead, whilst the lane to the right leads on up to Mardon.
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Taking the path to your right, you walk past some old sheds which often have goats in, then a zinc farm gate on the left, just past this gate is a small wooden gate, which leads to the path up Mardon
This path is fairly steep in places, and has loose rubble and sticks on it, so you need to watch your footing. In summer it's lined with nettles (so watch out for those shorts), and in the wet it's crossed by springs, so can be pretty boggy. Continue up hill, stopping frequently as the lungs and the view require!
At the end of this path you will find a small gate leading to a tarmaced lane, by Yarningdale Bed and Breakfast. Continue a short way along the lane, looking for a gate on your left, signed as a bridleway. This path is a narrow channel through grass, and can also be quite boggy. You may be lucky enough to see Adders basking in the grass.
Continue along this path until you reach a wooden gate and then you are on Mardon Down.
Walk uphill until you reach the road. This road is circular and goes all the way around the top of Mardon, so if you want to extend your walk it's easy to do so. The local Fire Crew, think that this road provides some of the most spectacular views in Dartmoor!
The quickest way to the stone cirlce is to turn right, walk a few hundred yards and take the wide green path on your left, across Mardon Peak, roughly 1000ft above sea level. Staying on this path and describing a circle clockwise leads you to the stone cirlce on your left.
Any of the downhill paths from the peak will bring you to the road, and you can either find the path where you came up, or find the lower cattle grid (not far from the gravel car park) and walk back down into Moreton, entering the town via Lime Street, close to the Church.
From here its a good idea to visit a traditional tea shop for a Devon Cream Tea and a sit down!
Essential Hiking Equipment
Visit Dartmoor Hiking's online store for essential equipment before setting off on to the Moor. Click here to see the store.