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The Heathercombe estate is located in a delightful valley nestled between Vogwell Down and Heatree Down to the east and King Tor and Hameldown to the west. It is largely a private estate but can be accessed in a north/south direction via the Mariners Way and east/west from Heatree to Hookney Down via a road and public accessible bridle paths. In spite of the limited public access, the explorer can find two longhouses, view some of the many species of trees, shrubs, flora and fauna that abound and visit the three fishes stones, erected between 1969 and 1977 by Claude Pike as a doxology to the Lord’s Prayer. The gardens within the valley are open in the summer months and well worth a visit as they have been developed as an amenity for nature conservation. This post covers a circumnavigation of Heathercombe starting at the most westerly of the three fishes stones (no. 3) and taking a anti-clockwise route via paths, bridleways and roads to visit the RAF memorial on Hameldown, the “PIT” boundstone, three fishes stone (no. 1), the two longhouses of North and South Heathercombe, three fishes stone (no. 2) and finally back onto open moorland via Higher Heathercombe. More information can be found at : http://www.heathercombe.com/
Sketch map showing the principle features covered in this post
The three fishes stones were erected by Claude Pike between 1969 and 1977 each containing a doxology to the Lord’s Prayer. The picture shows stone no. 3, which is located just inside the boundary of the estate on the west side and was the last to be erected in 1977. Alongside the three fishes stone are two memorial stones erected by the Pike family. With the de-afforestation and replanting of this part of the estate, these stones are now (April 2022) clear to view from the newtake gateway at approx. SX71380 80890.
Zoomed in view of the three fishes stone no. 3 and the memorial stone to Claude and Margaret Pike. This three fishes stone is engraved “and the Glory”.
The Three fishes stones are each about 5ft (1.5m) tall and have the three fishes carved in relief inside a rectangular panel. The three fishes are representations of the early symbol of the Christian belief which reflected the faith of Claude Pike, who lived at and owned Heathercombe estate. This stone required the use of a mobile crane to be transported and erected, which given the topography of the land must have been a torturous journey even with the access tracks laid by Claude Pike.
In his 1993 book entitled Heathercombe – The History of a Dartmoor Valley (page 91), Claude Pike states “ These stones record the owner’s philosophy of mans’ stewardship; power derived from whatever source, to be exercised responsibly as a steward. Similarly, the Kingdom – all one’s worldly assets to be held on trust; and finally, the beneficial outcome to be for the Glory of the Lord“.
The three fishes stone no. 3 appears to have been re-cycled as it still has a metal hanger on it which suggests that it once served as a gate post. The two Pike family memorials are approx 1.2m high.
Margaret and Claude Pike moved to Heathercombe in 1966 and during their stewardship completed the afforestation of the estate, constructed numerous access rides and restored perimeter fences. They also made substantial alterations to their longhouse home at North Heathercome. The latin phrase under Margaret Pike “Non Sibi Sed Omnibus” translation is “Not for self, but for all”.
The memorial stone facing away from the camera (ie eastwards) was erected by Claude and Mervyn Pike in memory of their parents. This view will ultimately be obscured once the tree growth has re-established.
No trip to this area is complete without paying respects at the RAF Memorial at SX71280 80693. At 22:50, on 21st March 1941, six of 49 Squadron’s (Bomber Command) Hampden bombers took off from RAF Scampton. They set course for the German naval base at Lorient, in occupied France. On their return, Hampden X3054, experienced problems with a radio that was unable to receive. The aircraft struck Hameldown and caught fire. The memorial at the site was commissioned by Lady Marjorie Cecilia Wilson, the mother of the pilot (Robert Wilson). Having taken off on the 21st March, the Hampden X3054, must have struck Hameldown in the early hours of 22nd March. The date on a plaque on the reverse of the memorial is 22nd March.
Berry Pound can be seen best from the footpath which leads down from the RAF memorial to Natsworthy Gate. It is difficult to discern in summer due to the bracken. The picture shown was taken in December . Berry Pound is prehistoric and it served a dual purpose to protect both people and livestock (mainly from the wild animals that roamed the moor such as wolves).
The southern boundary of the Heathercombe estate next to the Heatree leat. The Mariners Way passes through this area.
The Duke of Somerset (Edward Adolphus Seymour) owned both the manors of Ilsington and Natsworthy and in 1853 and 1854, he had the bounds of both these manors marked. This boundary marker lies just north of the former manor house and is known as the PIT stone. It is typical of the Duke’s dressed boundary markers and this one has DS 1854 marked on one side. SX72096 80187
A benchmark, B.M. 1254.5 can be found on the east gatepost at Natsworthy Gate. SX72113 80222
View of the Heathercombe estate from below Heatree Down, with the de-afforestation evident on the slopes of Hameldown, where the three fishes stone (no.3) is located.
This bench is dedicated to the memory of Claude Pike’s wife, Margaret. It can be found at SX72414 80758.
The Margaret Pike memorial bench with Heatree Down behind.
View from Margaret Pike’s memorial bench to the west.
View from Margaret Pike’s memorial bench to the north.
View from Margaret Pike’s memorial bench to the north east.
View from Margaret Pike’s memorial bench to the west, zooming in on the three fishes stone no. 3.
The Three Fishes stone no. 1. was erected in 1969 and stands at the junction of the Heathercombe lane and the Natsworthy road.
The inscription on this stone reads, “Thine is the Power”. F.H (Harry) Starkey, in his 1984 publication Odds and Ends from Dartmoor, states: “… The Fishes Stones were erected in the 1960’s and 70’s by the owner of the estate. The intention I am told, was to demonstrate his concern over the world-wide abuse of power. The result has been the erection of three beautiful and dignified artefacts to add to the splendours of the Dartmoor landscape”.
Signpost in front of the Three fishes stone no. 1, which includes advertising for the opening of the gardens at Heathercombe for the summer of 2022.
In a religious context the symbol of three fishes generally relates to the Holy Trinity, namely Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Three fishes stone no. 1 can be found at SX72450 80850
Part of the broadleaf section of woodland of the Heathercombe estate.
Descending the lane from the Natwsorthy road towards Heathercombe.
On the descent to Heathercombe, the stone on the left (south) of the lane caught the authors eye as it looks like it probably had a purpose for its deliberate placement here. Possibly part of an old gateway ?
Heathercombe valley has three small tributary streams which run from the open moor to the central watercourse which is known as Heathercombe Brook.
The pond (with its ornate artwork) at the lowest part of Heathercombe valley, which is fed by Heathercombe Brook. Between 1966 and 1991, Claude Pike emptied, repaired and re-instated the “duck” pond having found it in an overgrown state.
Heathcombe sign. The medieval name was Heddercumb (1244). The “Manwood” connection relates to John Manwood, who was known for his treaty of “The law of the forest” first published in 1598, which essentially stated that forests were a franchise for princely pleasures and therefore had their own particular laws, differing from the common law of the realm. Manwood was the name that Claude Pike gave to the rebuilt Burn Cottage in 1966-7 with John Manwood being part of his doctorate of law studies on the subject of trees.
The formal Heathercombe gardens are set in 30 acres which come to life in spring and summer. The gardens have daffodils in spring followed by carpets of bluebells. There are also extensive displays of rhododendrons and azaleas.
Spring (April 2022) colour in Heathercombe (viewed from the road).
On the formal website for Heathercombe it states: “We have many unusual specimen trees including maples and flowering dogwoods, lovely cottage gardens, an orchard in a meadow of orchids and other early summer wild flowers and a bog garden”
South Heathercombe was originally a 15th century longhouse with a converted shippon. It would have originally been single storied though no early features appear to have survived. Source: Early Dartmoor Farmhouses – Longhouses in Widecombe by Elizabeth Gawne and Jenny Sanders (1998)
North Heathercombe is also a 15th century longhouse. In his 1993 book entitled Heathercombe – The History of a Dartmoor Valley Claude Pike records that this building was developed over 7 phases between the 15th and 20th centuries. The house includes a piggery at the rear and some bee boles (see curved wall at front left of the picture).
An informative poster on the junction of the crossroads of the Mariner’s Way (north-south) and the road leading up to Higher Heathercombe (east-west).
The Heathercombe gardens have a number of arched bridges, the one shown in the picture is located at the orchard and wild flower meadow to the west of north Heathercombe.
Three fishes stone no. 2 was erected at Easter 1971. It is located at the top of the steep lane which leads to Higher Heathercombe. It is located at SX71661 81023.
The three fishes stone no. 2 is inscribed “and the Kingdom”. The set of three stones are mentioned in the John Hayward book Dartmoor 365 (1991 edition) on page 154, with designation I16. John Hayward correctly quotes the descriptions of all the three stones, however, Eric Hemery in his book High Dartmoor (1983) on page 722 unfortunately incorrectly quotes stone no. 2 as being inscribed “Thine in the Kingdom” and stone no. 3 as being inscribed “Thine is the Glory”.
View of the Heathercombe valley taken from near Higher Heathercombe, which is now accommodation for up to 25 people which can be booked by groups running courses or other events.
The two Heathercombe longhouses nestled in the centre of the valley.
Next to the bridle path leading onto the open moor (towards Firth Bridge) is a large man made flat area, which intrigued the author but for which no reason for its construction has been found. It is located near the Higher Heathercombe and the (former) Heathercombe Brake, the latter was a wooden constructed bungalow, which sadly was burnt down about 1980.
A final view of the upper western slopes of Heathercombe from the path as it heads off west to Firth Bridge, Grimspound and Hookney Tor.