Dartmoor Explorations

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

Target Railway and other military artefacts on and to the north of East Mill Tor

There are some ‘linear’ features on the northern and north eastern flanks of East Mill Tor, which were once recorded and described as leats, based on 1969 aerial photography alone. In 1993, this description was changed by the Royal Commission Historic Monuments of England following a ground based study and they are now recorded as products of military activity. It is suggested that these features are the remains of a target railway. The (probable) target railway has been partially destroyed by a military track which runs from the west side to the east side of the old ring road.

Following some further research in readiness for an detailed exploration of the area, the author discovered the area also has a couple of old redoubts / artillery target butts, some late 19th / early 20th century target supports and a short length of a turf and stone bank, all of which are of military origin. This post records the exploration of all these aforementioned military artefacts, plus the current and former Observation Posts (OPs) in the area. Additionally, the post covers a couple of features along the Black-a-ven brook, namely: a former weir and a tinners’ hut.

Sources of information for this post were obtained from the Historic Environment Record (Royal Commission for the Historical Monuments of England and Nigel Machin) and from the fabulous publication “Dartmoor Observation Posts” by John Deakins.

0a. Map
Sketch map showing all the features covered in this post with the exception of the OP6 target railway which is covered by another post on the Dartmoor Explorations website.
0b. Google Map 1
This google earth image shows the target railway starting close to the Black-a-ven Brook, New Bridge and the former OP1. It is easy to see why using aerial photography alone, this feature could be initially recorded as a leat.
0b. Google Map 2
Crossing the military track the two sections of the target railway can be discerned from a google earth image.
0c. OPB BS
En-route to the exploration area from Row Tor car park, just above the old ring road is an Okehampton Parish Boundary (OPB) boundary stone. This boundary stone is unusual insofar as the O, P and B are on three different sides. East Mill Tor and Oke Tor beyond. This boundstone can be found at SX58682 90770.
1. EMT from South a
Approaching New Bridge on the old ring road, the lines of the military track and target railway can be seen viewing across Black-a-ven Brook
2. EMT from South b
Another view across Black-a-ven Brook from the old ring road.
3. EMT from South c
Dark and moody views of East Mill Tor
4. New Bridge a
New Bridge on the Black-a-ven. There is a large area of tin streamworks here defined by a series of spoil mounds and water channel diversions. The bridge is possibly Medieval, though of unusually large size
5. New Bridge b
First named “New Bridge” on the 1907 OS map, this bridge is a double clapper. The bridge is described in the Historic Environment Record as having: “…. a central and two side piers each 1.4 m wide and 1.2 m high, with slabs and parallel post-type stones laid between them. The bridge is 7.2 m long and 5.2 m wide”.
6. New Bridge telephone point
Military telephone point at New Bridge at SX59601 90316
7. New Bridge Tinners Hut 1
A short distance (40m) to the south of New Bridge on the eastern bank of the Black-a-ven Brook is a ruinous tinners’ hut
8. New Bridge Tinners Hut 2
The tinners’ hut is recorded by the Royal Commission for the Historical Monuments of England as being “revetted into the eastern edge of an area of streamworking debris and measuring 4.0m by 2.3m”. It was recorded at SX59614 90280
9. New Bridge Tinners Hut 3
The western wall of the tinners’ hut is absent. An irregular gap in the north eastern corner is said to mark the site of a former entrance.
10. New Bridge Tinners Hut 4
An additional description of the tinners’ hut states: “The walls are of randomly coursed boulders which form revetments up to 0.9m high”. The left hand picture shows New Bridge and the old ring road.
11. Black-a-ven
The Black-a-ven downstream from New Bridge
12. Weir a
There is a weir shown on mid-20th century maps on the Black-a-ven Brook. The author believes the probable site of the weir was where there are some large granite boulders which are on the line of an old wall which crosses the brook.
13. Weir b
More views of the probable weir. Its location was recorded at SX59678 90472
14. Weir c
The wall (and foundations) either side of the weir.
15. Weir d
View of the probable site of the weir in relation to the start of the target railway.
16. OP1 a
OP1 (Observation Post1) was one of 22 numbered OPs which were (and still are) located on northern Dartmoor. Successful military manoeuvres rely on observation and communication and originally basic huts were constructed to assist with this aim. The OPs were built in the 1920s replacing these earlier, more flimsy structures after one was hit by a shell, which was occupied by four military personnel. OP1 sat on a stony platform 11m x 7m but was abandoned by 1970s. The phone point is the only real evidence that remains today at the site. (Source: Dartmoor Observation Posts by John Deakins).
17. OP1 b
The telephone point is located at SX59712 90407
18. Target Railway 1a
The start of the target railway can be traced to SX59671 90404. From this point the feature runs gently uphill between the right bank of the Black-a-ven Brook and OP1. It is clear that this could never have been a leat (as per 1969 aerial photographs) as the water would have had to flow uphill.
18. Target Railway 1b
The remains of the target railway consist here of a flat, stone-free terrace on average 5.0m wide and 0.8m high with a slight turf and stone lip on its downslope side.
19. Target Railway 1c
In places the rear of the terrace is cut up to 0.5m into the slope. Such railways were devised to assist with anti tank training. A target trolley would have carried a fabric representation of a tank.
20. Target Railway 1d
There is no evidence of any rails, sleepers or track chairs which are apparent on other target railways (e.g Row Tor and OP6). That said, there are other target railways on the moor which do not contain these features either.
21. Target Railway 1e
The course of the target railway is punctuated by the military track which connects the east and west sides of the old loop road.
22. Military Track
Close to the junction of the military track and the first part of the target railway, there is a rock which appears to have been “squared off” which probably indicates military origin. Location is SX59765 90489
23. Target Railway Branch a
A probable branch of the target railway runs from SX59844 90558 adjacent to the military track
24. Target Railway Branch b
Start of the probable branch of the target railway.
25. Target Railway Branch c
Next to the probable branch of the Target Railway is a square “dug out area”. The area looks too square to have been a shell hole and the author speculates it is related to the railway and certainly of military origin. This area is located at SX59877 90579
26. Target Railway Branch d
The course of the branch of the target railway is easily followed as the ditch is quite pronounced. It exists as a flat bottomed linear hollow up to 1.4m deep and 1.8m wide. Its course runs almost parallel with the military track.
27. Target Railway Branch e
Approaching the end of the target railway branch is another “dug out area”, similarly as square as the first one. This one is located at SX59956 90600
28. Target Railway 2a
Returning back to the junction of the military track and the target railway branch and then climbing the slope by a few metres a small mound can be found which marks the start of a third section of the target railway, which the author has dubbed as the ‘higher’ section. The start of the ‘higher’ section is located at SX59835 90539
29. Target Railway 2b
A short distance from the small mound, a view of both the ‘higher’ section and ‘branch’ section of the target railway can be seen in one view.
30. Target Railway 2c
The ‘higher’ section is not as discernible as the other two sections. That said, it can be followed with care and some features can be seen along the way.
31. Target Railway 2d
Next to the ‘higher’ section of the target railway another “dug out” area can be located. Could this have been a small building / construction ? It is located at SX59996 90437
32. Target Railway 2e
A turf and stone bank running east to west. The bank is 1.2m wide and 0.6m high doesn’t appear to have an obvious function but most likely military in origin. It runs approx perpendicular to the ‘higher’ section of the target railway.
33. Target Railway 2f
The stone and turf back at SX60014 90406 cuts the terraced platform of the ‘higher’ section of the target railway.
34. Target Railway 2g
The southern end of the ‘higher’ section of the target railway peters out on stony ground at approx. SX60033 90373
35. Redoubt Target Butt 1a
An earthwork component of a former infantry redoubt which has been reused as an artillery target butt can be found up the gentle slope from the ‘higher’ branch of the target railway en-route to the northern outcrops of East Mill Tor. Near the east end of the earthwork is a square ‘cut out’ at SX59890 90495
36. Redoubt Target Butt 1b
The west end of the redoubt / target butt is located at SX59846 90483
37. Redoubt Target Butt 1c
The Royal Commission for the Historical Monuments of England entry in the Historic Environment Record describe the redoubt / target butt as “….comprising a crescentic turf and stone bank 7.5m wide and a maximum of 1.1m high with a length between the ‘horns’ of 35m”.
38. North slopes EMT
Climbing the slope towards East Mill Tor northern outcrop more stone and earth banks can be found. The one in the picture was recorded at SX59894 90440
39. Shell Hole
The northern hillside of East Mill Tor is stony and littered with small shell holes.
40. East Mill Tor northern outcrops
East Mill Tor northern outcrops
41. East Mill Tor top
Highest point of East Mill Tor.
42. OP10N a
Under the southern lip of the highest point of East Mill Tor was the location of the only two levelled Observation Post. It was numbered OP10N with the N meaning north. A drystone granite revetment 5.5m long and a up to 1.5m high on the south side of an enhanced natural mound provided the access point to the former OP. This can be seen behind the telephone point in the photograph.
43. OP10N b
The OP was made entirely out of reinforced concrete. The top story had slits in it to afford views to the east, west and south. The OP was demolished around 1992. A remaining wall collapsed and had to be rebuilt in 1994, which is what is seen today. (Source: Dartmoor Observation Posts by John Deakins)
44. OP10N c
Overlay combination of the original OP10N with the view from 2022.
46. OP10N e
The rebuilt wall covering the original OP at SX59933 89863
47. OP10N f
View from OP10N looking west down the line of the original access trench.
48. OP10N g Telephone Point
The telephone point at the start of the access trench is located at SX59924 89858
49. OP10N h
Retaining wall ‘behind’ the mound where OP10N was located.
50. East Mill Tor north outcrop
East Mill Tor southern outcrop
51. OP10S a
The original East Mill Tor OP was located next to the southern outcrop of the tor. It was a freestanding building but had limited views. Thus OP10S, as it was known (S for south) was replaced with OP10N (the two level OP).
52. OP10S b
OP10S resembled a range clearers hut. It was originally known as Splinterproof Hut 5. (Source: Dartmoor Observation Posts by John Deakins)
53. OP10S c
Overlay combination of the original OP10S with the view from 2022.
54. OP10S d
Demolition of OP10S took place in 1992 with final clearance in 1995.
55. OP10S e
The demolition and clearance of OP10S has left little evidence with the exception of the telephone cupboard which is at SX59962 89638
56. EMT view a
Returning to the northern outcrops of East Mill Tor there are commanding views towards East Okement Farm and Belstone Tors
57. EMT view b
Views towards Oke Tor and Cosdon. The valley below is known as Skit Bottom. A scooped out area in the foreground is one of many to be found in the area. This one was at SX59907 90149
58. OP6 Target Railway a
Looking east, Observation Post 6 can be seen with its associated target railway running in a northerly direction. This target railway is not covered in this post as it was covered in a previous post at: https://dartmoorexplorations.co.uk/east-mill-op6-incline-target-railway/
59. OP6 Target Railway b
Zoomed in on OP6. The structure was originally built as a target carrier shed and housed about ten target trolleys. once the need for a target railway passed, a half height concrete blast wall was added and thus OP6 was born.
60. Military Detritus
Military detritus on east side of the tor.
61. Standing Stone
This standing stone is located at SX60042 90245. It appears to be a worked stone and could easily have been a reference point for military training / operations. It doesn’t appear to have been located on any known boundary.
62. Redoubt Target Butt 2a
To the east of the ‘higher’ section of the target railway a second redoubt / target butt can be found. The northern end is at SX60176 90324
63. Redoubt Target Butt 2b
The redoubt / target butt comprises a crescentic turf and stone bank on which has been recorded as averaging 3.5m wide and a maximum of 1.3m high. It is 31min length and possesses a ditch 1.4m wide and 0.4m deep. The southern end is at SX60202 90308
64. Target Mechanism Supports a
Described by Nigel Machin in the Historic Environment Record thus : “A pair of metal supports spiked into the ground that held a beam on which was mounted a pulley or the mechanism for targets that would be pulled up from a safe location, such as splinter proofs, on the instructions of the officer conducting the live firing exercise in the late 1800s to early 1900s”.
64. Target Mechanism Supports b
The target support mechanism is located approx 275m south-south-west of OP22 at SX60047 90899
65. OP22a
OP22 was constructed 1923/4 for the officers to view all the operations. It is twice the size of other OPs
66. OP22b
OP22 lies next to Hart Tor on the old ring road and is the furthest point on the east section of the road which is still accessible by the public. The OP internally has a dividing wall, sectioning off a stable to the range clearers horse. This is now the only OP which is still in regular use today. (Source: Dartmoor Observation Posts by John Deakins)

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