Ten days ago a friend and I set out to follow in the footsteps of Jan Coo, the Dartmoor farmhand who was lured away by the pixies. It was to try out the route for a walk I’m doing, later in the year, for a group from the DPA.
The two of us, and Rocky the dog, set off from Bel Tor Corner on a beautiful spring morning, not too hot and not too cold, and walked down the lane to Rowbrook farm. As we had the landowner’s permission we were able to explore the farmyard with it’s ancient farmhouse now used as a barn.
There has been a farm here since at least the 13th century. Looking at how it is set into the valley, with running fresh water, and how many Bronze Age settlements there are in the immediate vicinity it seems likely there has been a farm here much longer.
The little Row Brook runs through the adjacent fields, under the simplest of bridges, before disappearing down the hill and into the Dart.
The tale tells how Jan Coo, a stockman at Rowbrook, heard his name being called down in the river valley. Several times he and his colleagues went to investigate, but found no-one there. One fateful evening Jan heard his name called again and set off on his own, even though his friends told him not to go. When he didn’t return his friends went to search, but no sign of Jan Coo was ever seen again!! If you want to read more about the story the best place is on the Legendary Dartmoor website.
The farmer kindly showed us the path that leads from the farm out onto the open moor at the top of Eagle Rock, as Luckey Tor is also known. Was this the path that the luckless Jan followed?
Luckey Tor is a hidden tor, it sits down in the Dart river gorge, so can’t be seen from anywhere else. It is rather strange to have a tor at the bottom of a valley instead of sitting up above it.
I tried to memorise the path as the next time I walk it the bracken will be 5 feet tall and it will look very different. I don’t want anyone walking off the edge of the tor.
There was a steep path that led down the right-hand side of the tor to the valley bottom, where we walked downstream to Broadstones. The river is very low at the moment as we’ve had so little rain, but there is still plenty of force in the numerous waterfalls along the way.
Simon’s Lake stream runs into the Dart at Broadstones, over a natural water feature that would grace any Chelsea Flower Show award winning garden.
The view downstream is always spectacular here, whether the river is high or low.
After a leisurely lunch by the water it was time to face the lung-busting walk back up the valley to Mel Tor – all 500 feet of it! Needless to say we had quite a few stops on the way, but it is a great feeling as you come out of the wooded valley onto the open moor with views across to the rolling southern moor.
As we had almost reached the top we heard the strangest commotion from down in the river valley. It wasn’t pixie voices calling us, but gradually became clear that it was a pack of foxhounds out, very unsuccessfully it turned out, with the hunt. The way the sound reverberated around the valley, which makes a sharp bend there, made me realise how a simple noise could sound quite eerie in the right conditions.