Dartmoor Explorations

A collection of walks, discoveries, insights and pictures of exploring Dartmoor National Park

North Dartmoor Peat Passes

Across Dartmoor there are dozens of ancient tracks which have, over the centuries been used by travellers, merchants, cattlemen, farmers, hunters, peat cutters and ramblers amongst others to enable traversing the rough, tussocky and sometimes boggy terrain. These tracks, by their locations and by design were foot and hoof friendly enabling safe navigation across both the northern and southern fen (aka ‘Blanket Bog’). Most of the ‘old moormen’ knew these routes very well. However, into the late 19th century and early 20th century, the hunts and moor farmers were still finding, especially in the northern fen traversing the terrain still very difficult in spite of these tracks.

A little over 100 years ago, many new tracks (known as peat passes, causeways or cuts) were constructed. In the southern fen, between the River Avon and the eastern flank of Green Hill a ‘cut’ known as Tanner’s Path was constructed named after E. Fearnley Tanner, who was “a prodigious huntsman” (description afforded by Eric Hemery in High Dartmoor on page 324). He cut (or instructed the cutting) of a path during the early years after WWI being assisted by Jan Waye of Huntingdon. Around 15 years earlier (between 1895 and 1905), in the northern fen, nine peat passes were cut by a William Francis (Frank Phillpotts), most of which today are marked by plaques mounted on a small granite pillar. 

The Phillpotts peat passes were cut, across the blanket bog / fen between major water courses, especially to enable the hunts so they could chase their prey (ie foxes) further. The peat passes also assisted the moor farmers in their movement of their livestock. The passes, due to the weather and animals, eroded the peat around them and choked up / blocked the drainage gutters. The annual maintenance work of the passes was at that time undertaken by the Mid-Devon Hunt. The Phillpotts peat passes were cut by a team of ‘moormen’, only worked in the summer months and had their bases at Headland Warren initially and at Fernworthy latterly.

After the death of Frank Phillpotts in 1909, his brother James Surtees Phillpotts (1839-1930) and his son Sir Ralegh Buller Phillpotts (1871-1950) paid for a number of markers to indicate the peat passes. These were granite marker stones, which were cut by the Duke’s Quarry at Merrivale. All the peat passes were marked with the exclusion of Huggaton Cut on Okement Hill for some reason. The marker stones with their commemorative plaques (made by Vickers, Maxim and Co.) were sited by 1919. In 1988, a couple of the markers (e.g around Whitehorse Hill) were replaced / renewed. The original markers were taken out to the moor by George French and his pack-horse, with the last two being erected at the Walkham Head Cut.

This post covers the nine Northern Dartmoor Phillpotts peat passes plus three others in the northern fen detailing their location and were information has been obtained a little history about them.

Bibliography

  1. Brian Le Messurier, 1965, ‘The Phillpotts Peat Passes of Northern Dartmoor’
  2. Eric Hemery, 1983, ‘High Dartmoor’
  3. Legendary Dartmoor, website
0. Map
This sketch map shows the relative locations of the nine Frank Phillpotts peat passes (eight of them with memorial markers / plaques) plus three other tracks through the peat, namely; Sand Path, Cut Lane and Lamerton Lane (albeit the latter was a failed venture). Note that the North West Passage is in two parts and Huggaton Cut does not contain any memorial markers / plaques.
0. Table
This table details the National Grid References (NGR’s) for all the peat passes and memorial markers / plaques covered in this post. The length of each pass has either been obtained from the Historic Environment Record or by calculation of the distance between peat pass markers (indicated with a *)
1. Frank Phillpotts
William Francis (Frank) Phillpotts was still winning point-to-point races at the age of 65 and still competing at the age of 71. He died at the age of 72 in October 1909. (Ref: Legendary Dartmoor). The picture was taken with him at the age of 71.
1. Huggaton Cut a
The most northerly Phillpotts peat pass is Huggerton Cut which can be entered from north-west corner of Ockerton (Huggaton) Court. This is the only Phillpott’s Peat Pass which does not have any memorial stones with plaques. That said, around 2006 one appeared at the west end of the pass (ref: Legendary Dartmoor) but disappeared very soon afterwards
1. Huggaton Cut b
Huggaton is the old Dartmoor name for Ockaton or Ock-a-ment (ref: Hemery). Huggaton Cut is also known as Hammond’s Cut’. The cut is recorded as measuring 210 metres long
1. Huggaton Cut c
Evidence of a stone which possibly was placed here to mark the peat pass at Huggaton Cut as mentioned by Brian Le Messurier in his 1965 in his article ‘The Phillpotts Peat Passes of Northern Dartmoor
1. Ockerton Court
Huggaton (Ockerton) Court / Pool near the north west end of Huggaton Cut
2. Black Ridge Peat Pass North a
To the south of the West Okement river (close to Cranmere Pool) is the entrance to Black Ridge peat pass, which is the longest on Dartmoor at just over 1km. There is a Phillpott’s peat pass plaque at the entrance to the pass which is located at SX59768 85855
2. Black Ridge Peat Pass North b
All the peat pass marker stones are 2ft 6 in. high, 5 in. thick and 7 in. wide, with plaques measuring 6 in. by 6 in. Each plaque is inscribed : “THIS STONE MARKS A CROSSING THROUGH THE PEAT, WHICH MAY BE OF USE TO HUNTERS AND CATTLEMEN. THE CROSSING WAS MADE BY FRANK PHILLPOTTS, WHO DIED OCTOBER 1909, IT IS KEPT UP IN HIS MEMORY BY HIS BROTHER AND SON”
3. Black Ridge Peat Pass a
The are two branches to Black Ridge Peat Pass with the original being the eastern one. Small cairns mark the route. These small cairns would have originally been small wooden poles but these quickly eroded or were knocked over by animals using them as scratching posts
3. Black Ridge Peat Pass b
The true Dartmoor wilderness can be experienced in Black Ridge peat pass.
3. Black Ridge Peat Pass c
There are open stretches in the pass, so keeping an eye out for the small cairns is a must
3. Black Ridge Peat Pass d
There are some magnificent islands of peat and peat hags (reminiscent of Cut Hill) in the peat pass, which add to the splendour of this place, which is the authors favourite of all the passes!
3. Black Ridge Peat Pass e
More peat hags in Black Ridge peat pass
3. Black Ridge Peat Pass f
Moving south through the peat pass, the unmistakeable outline of Fur Tor will come into view on the skyline just over 2km distant
4. Black Ridge Peat Pass South
The southern Phillpotts peat pass marker at Black Ridge is located at SX59530 84880, just over 1km from its northern counterpart
5. Whitehorse Peat Pass West Bottom
East from Black Ridge, crossing Black Hill and the East Dart river, the Dart Head Cut peat pass can be found. The author uses this peat pass when hiking between the Dartmoor 600m peaks (this being between Cut Hill and Whitehorse Hill). At the western most end of the pass is a Phillpotts marker and plaque at SX61380 85020. It is easy to find it approaching from the river, less so if descending from Whitehorse Hill
5. Whitehorse Peat Pass West Middle
Dart Head Cut peat pass is 165 metres long (between the two Phillpotts markers). The length of the pass has been found by the author to be variously recorded as being only 40 yards to 60 yards in spite of the distance between the two markers.
5. Whitehorse Peat Pass West Top
At the eastern most end of Dart Head Cut peat pass is another Phillpotts marker, which isn’t original, having been placed here in 1988. The marker is located at SX61540 85058
6. Whitehorse Hill Cist
Between Dart Head Cut and Whitehorse Hill peat pass, near the summit of the hill is the much documented cist which was excavated in 2011 (having been found many years earlier, circa 1999). It is speculated that the 19th century peat cutters’, who stripped away the peat that blanketed the hill for fuel, deliberately left a few isolated ‘hags’ which thus preserved this highest cist burial (currently) known on Dartmoor. Whether the peat cutters’ actually knew what they had left is impossible to confirm. Although, the accepted date for the find of the cist is 1999, most Dartmoor enthusiasts from before this date would have been ‘aware’ of these prominent slabs whenever they passed this way.
7a. Whitehorse Peat Pass East Top a
A short distance (north-ish) from the cist is the entrance to Whitehorse Hill peat pass. It is marked by a replacement Phillpotts marker with plaque(s), which was placed here in 1988. The marker is located at SX61760 85500. Note the peaty pool surrounding the marker, which disappears in the Summer
7b. Whitehorse Peat Pass East Top b
The peat pass marker at the west end of the Whitehorse Hill peat pass in the Summer, without the peaty pool. The group of walkers with the author were enroute between Postbridge and Okehampton, taking in all the Dartmoor 600m peaks and are shown entering the pass.
7c. Whitehorse Peat Pass East Middle a
This picture of Whitehorse Hill Peat Pass shows the authors father circa 1990 (we had been camping near Teignhead Farm and walked up via Great Varracombe). The peat pass was widened and cleared with a bulldozer in 1963 by the military (ref. Brian Le Messurier). The widened pass enabled vehicular links from Quintin’s Man to Hangingstone Hill and onto the military ring road.
7d. Whitehorse Peat Pass East Middle b
Whitehorse Hill Peat Pass appears paved in parts especially as it reaches the curve which takes the walker from a easterly direction to a more northerly direction towards Hangingstone Hill. It is just below this curve where the lower (east end) Phillpotts marker and plaque are located. The pass length (between markers) is 265 metres
7e. Whitehorse Peat Pass East Bottom
The lower (east end) Whitehorse Hill peat pass marker is an original and is located at SX62020 85540
8. Sand Path 1
The Sand Path lies around 165 metres to the south (and almost perpendicular) to the Whitehorse Hill peat pass Sand Path is in reality a causeway which is around 220 metres long (SX621854 to SX622852) and is another ancient path which would have been constructed before the Phillpotts Peat Passes.
8. Sand Path 2
The Sand Path is mentioned by Eric Hemery in High Dartmoor, 1983. He records: “A turf and stone causeway formerly crossing an area of marsh and peat cuttings on the eastern flank of Whitehorse Hill”. An entry in the HER describes it thus: “This now ruinous feature measures on average 4.0m wide and remains about 1.5m above the present ground surface. It consists mostly of peat with some stone used in the construction chiefly to pave the top surface. This feature has been breached in several places and now only exists as a series of isolated lengths of bank running roughly 220m south east to north west”. There is also the remains of a probable peat cutter’s shelter near the southern end of the path at SX62271 85231
9. Rush Bottom
Rush Bottom is named in Mike Brown’s gazetteer (SX594 839). The “bottom” contains a small feeder stream for Cut Combe Water. Beyond Rush Bottom is an area called Pinswell, which is the location of another Phillpotts peat pass.
9a. Pinswell south 1
South end of Pinswell Cut with Fur Tor in background. The Phillpotts peat pass marker was found recumbent – June 2024
9b. Pinswell south 2
Close up of the Pinswell Cut recumbent peat pass marker, no doubt the victim of being used as an animal scratching post
9c. Pinswell south 3
The recumbent peat pass marker didn’t appear to have been fixed in the peat for some time.
9d. Pinswell south 4
The Pinswell Cut Phillpotts peat pass marker temporarily re-erected
9e. Pinswell south 5
The south marker in Pinswell Cut is located at SX59056 84044
9f. Pinswell cut
Pinswell Cut looking north
9g. Pinswell cut
Some bedrock in Pinswell Cut
9h. Pinswell cut
Peat hags in Pinswell Cut looking north
9i. Pinsell cut
Near the north end of Pinswell Cut, still wet with bog cotton in the summer. Fur Tor on the horizon
9j. Pinswell north a
Pinswell Cut north Phillpotts peat pass marker set against a peat hag
9k. Pinswell north 2
This peat pass marker is hidden behind the peat hag when coming from the south. It is located at SX59155 84345
9l. Pinswell north 3
Close up of the bronze plaque on the north Pinswell Cut Phillpotts peat pass marker
10. Lamerton Lane Post
In the 1920’s, Sir Ralegh Buller Phillpotts, attempted to create a new “cut” (peat pass) from the East Dart across to the col between Cut Hill and Black Hill to Rush Bottom near Little Kneeset. The “cut” was called the ‘Lamerton Lane’ as it led to what was known as Lamerton Hunt country. This cut was not completed and was abandoned until 1958/9 when further (failed) attempts were made to open the peat pass. Sir Ralegh Buller Phillpotts was the son of Frank Phillpotts and died in Newton Abbot in 1950 (aged 78). The cut is marked by a solitary standing stone located at SX60198 83744
11a. Cut Lane
The medieval Cut Lane with view to Fur Tor. Picture was taken in late Autumn. This ‘pass’ enables passage between Cut Lane Stream (in the east) to Cut Combe Water (in the west). Note that the OS map marks Cut Lane Steam as Cut Hill Stream
11b. Cut Lane
The ancient cut of “Cut Lane” links what Eric Hemery called Tavy country and East Dart country. Hemery surmises in “Walking Dartmoor’s Ancient Tracks” (page 54) that Cut Lane is perhaps “Dartmoor’s oldest peat pass” and dates from medieval times. The cut certainly pre-dates the Frank Phillpotts peat passes of late 19th and early 20th centuries. Cut Lane was part of the ancient South- North track from Harford Moor Gate to Moor Gate (Okehampton). Some observers (Jeremy Butler – Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities – The North) suggest this route was an alternative to the Lych Path.
11c. Cut Lane
Cut Lane peat pass runs from approx. SX600832 in the east to SX597832 in the west and is around 220 metres long.
To the west of Cut Lane is an area of clitter, within which there are a number of upright stones (at least 8), which probably were guide stones for the medieval “cut” (Cut Lane) further uphill to guide the traveller from Tavy country in the west to Dart country in the east. The standing stone in the picture is located at SX59724 83288. Eric Hemery mentions the cluster of standing stones in High Dartmoor (pages 965/6) where it is stated: “As the way descends towards the foot of Cut Combe, it is marked by small granite posts set in little stone heaps, or cairns. The ancient route to Okehampton (North-South Track), crossing a right-bank feeder (Rush Bottom), ran along the south foot of Pinswell…”
12a. NWP extension north
To the south west of the summit of Cut Hill is a peat pass marked on the OS map as North West Passage. There are two parts to the peat pass (main and extension), with each part having a Phillpotts marker and plaque at each end, thus there are four markers in total. The rather old (1st January 1992) and out of focus picture is of the Peat Pass marker at the east end of the North West Passage ‘extension’ At that time the marker had its bronze plaque.
12b. NWP extension north
The Peat pass marker (without its bronze plaque) circa June 2022
12c. NWP extension north
A letterbox stamp located in this area made reference to William Francis (Frank) Phillpotts, who was the grandson of the Bishop of Exeter and a distant relation of the famous Dartmoor author Eden Phillpotts. Recorded by Legendary Dartmoor : “Phillpotts was educated at Winchester College and then New College during which time he developed a fondness for field sports, especially shooting and hunting. In 1864 he was called to the Bar and for several years reported for The Times, later he practiced in the Chancery Courts. Despite a handicap (deafness) and busy workload he continued with his passion of horse riding and would often visit Devon to compete in local point-to point races or ride with the hunt”.
12d. NWP extension north
The Peat Pass Marker is located at SX60266 82263
12e. NWP extension
The North West Passage ‘extension’ peat pass is quite deep and narrow and partly choked with fallen peat. The letterbox stamp dates from 1990’s.
12f. NWP extension south
At the southern end of the peat pass is another Phillpotts marker, this one has its bronze plaque being extant. it is located at SX60247 82220.
12g. NWP extension south
Close up of the southern Phillpotts marker of the North West Passage ‘extension’. The distance between the two markers is 45 metres
13a. Benchmark
Near the lower end of the ‘main’ North West Passage is a benchmark (B.M. 1818.5) which is shown on 19th century maps (courtesy of National Library of Scotland – side by side).
13b. Benchmark
Benchmark B.M. 1818.5 is located at SX60256 82384
14a. NWP south
This Phillpotts Peat Pass Marker (with bronze plaque) is located at the south-east end of the ‘main’ part of the North West Passage.
14b. NWP south
Another view of the lower (south east) Phillpotts peat pass in the ‘main’ North West Passage.
14c. NWP south
This marker is located at SX60150 82430
14d. NWP south
The Peat Pass Marker after a light dusting of early winter snow
14e. NWP south
The ‘main’ North-West Passage is recorded on the Dartmoor HER as being located between SX602824 and SX598827.
15a. NWP
The ‘main’ North West Passage in early Summer.
15b. NWP
The ‘main’ North West Passage in late Autumn.
15c. NWP
The name “North West Passage” is said to have been given to the cut by Mr Sam Adams who was master of the Lamerton Hunt from 1896 -1904. The ‘main’ pass (between the two markers) is 375 metres
15d. NWP
Marker cairn in North West Passage
16a. NWP north
The top (north west) Phillpotts peat pass marker at the ‘main’ North West Passage. From this point through the of two sections of peat pass (ie main and extension), there is a combined length of about 457 yards or 418 metres (Ref: Dartmoor HER). The authors measurements were 420 metres (between each pair of markers)
16b. NWP north
The top (north west) Phillpotts peat pass marker is located at SX59793 82554
16c. NWP north
Phillpotts peat pass marker at higher end (north west) of North West Passage in early Summer.
16d. NWP north
Early Winter
16e. NWP north
Top end of the North West Passage in Autumn.
17. Walkham Cut 1
From the North West Passage on Cut Hill, the next peat pass lies to the south west. Walkham Cut peat pass connects Walkham Head with the upper Tavy. The north Phillpotts peat pass marker in the cut is located at SX57850 81495
17. Walkham Cut 2
Sadly, the south Phillpotts peat pass marker in the cut does not have its plaque anymore. It is located at SX57795 81380
17. Walkham Cut 3 - Tavy Hole
Walkham Cut peat pass is around 130 metres long. There is evidence of its use by the moormen by the Tavy about 275 metres from the eastern entrance of the cut in the form of a ‘ring rock’ (a boulder with an iron ring affixed, used for tethering horses). The ring rock is located at SX58107 81771.
See also: https://dartmoorexplorations.co.uk/north-dartmoor-tethering-rings/
18. Johnsons Cut 1a
To the east of Walkham Cut, just to the south of Flat Tor, the next peat pass called Johnson’s Cut is located. This peat pass connects Cowflop (local name for a foxglove) Bottom in East Dart country with the West Dart. The cut is quite inconspicuous and can be difficult to locate amongst the long grass, especially in Summer. The picture shows the west end Phillpotts peat pass marker on a rather wild and stormy August afternoon
18. Johnsons Cut 1b
The westerly Phillpotts peat pass marker at Johnson’s Cut is located at SX61110 81395
18. Johnsons Cut 1c
Johnson’s Cut is recorded as being around 180 metres is in length, albeit the distance between the peat pass markers is only around 110 metres. The cut appears to have suffered at the hands of the tinners’ with its causeway linking several stretches of good ground.
18. Johnsons Cut 2
The easterly Phillpotts peat pass marker from Johnson’s Cut is located at SX61204 81445
19. Marsh Hill North a
The last (and 9th) Phillpotts peat pass covered in this post is located at Marsh Hill on Winney’s Down and is usually referred to as Statt’s House Hill peat pass, due to its proximity to the ruined peat cutters shelter (Statt’s House) located close by. NOTE: Eric Hemery spells the name as Stat’s not Statt’s (OS map spelling)
19. Marsh Hill North b
The picture shows the north east Phillpotts memorial marker with Statt’s (Stat’s) House just discernible on the near horizon around 90 metres away
19. Marsh Hill North c
The Phillpotts marker at the north east end of Statt’s House Hill peat pass is located at SX62076 82501
20. Statts House a
Statt’s House is a ruined peat cutter’s shelter with walls around 0.8 metres wide and up to 1 metre high.
20. Statts House b
Statt’s House is around 3.2 metres by 2 metres internally and has a fireplace at the south end and a paved interior
20. Statts House c
Statt’s House is always a great spot for lunch or a coffee break due to its prominent location at SX62151 82471
21. Marsh Hill Peat Pass a
Returning to Statt’s House Hill peat pass, this ‘cut’ can easily be followed between the Phillpott’s markers. The picture shows the pass looking from north east to south west and the ‘pip’ of Rough Tor is just discernible on the horizon
21. Marsh Hill Peat Pass b
Continuing along Statt’s House Hill peat pass
21. Marsh Hill Peat Pass c
The lower end of Statt’s House Hill peat pass. The lower (south west end) marker just about discernible in this photograph
22. Marsh Hill South a
The lower (south west end) marker is located at SX61859 82291
22. Marsh Hill South b
The peat pass on Statt’s House Hill is shown on OS maps
22. Marsh Hill South c
Near the lower (south west) peat pass marker there appears to be a short ‘paved’ section which may well be natural
22. Marsh Hill South d
The distance between the two Phillpotts markers on Statt’s House Hill is 302 metres.
Total Page Visits: 1914 - Today Page Visits: 2

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