Tim Gents visits Bleak House, a ruined remote home with a history of spies on Dartmoor.
Dartmoor has experienced various attempts to strip it of its assets. Even swathes of the peat that blanket the hills have been dug up and hauled away. The remains of these endeavours are still visible today, and one of the most enigmatic is Bleak House. It’s worth a visit, suggests Tim Gent.
A license to extract peat near Great Links Tor was granted in 1878. Only a year later, The Rattlebrook Peat Works had installed a railway and drying kilns and built a home for the manager. Originally named Dunnagoat Cottage, early photos show an imposing dwelling, built using granite from nearby outcrops. Despite the investment in time and money, the works never flourished. The rails for the railway were lifted in 1932, and the army soon demolished the drying buildings. At some point, the crumbling remains of the manager’s isolated home became known as Bleak House. All Dartmoor features carry a tale of course, and during WWI, Bleak House was said to have been the hiding place of a German spy. The fact that the works employed a scientist called Muller at the time, may provide a rather less sensational explanation.
Bleak House: route description
START/FINISH: The car park to the east of Dartmoor Inn, Lydford (SX 522 852) | MAPS: OS Explorer OL28 | DISTANCE: 12.5.km / 7.8 miles | ASCENT: 349m / 1,145ft | DURATION: 4-5 hours
1. SX522852: Follow a broad track north-east from the car park, crossing the Lyd either at the ford or the pedestrian bridge just upstream. A clear path should be visible climbing to Bray Tor (Brat Tor on later OS sheets) with its distinctive stone cross.
2. SX539857: Head east from Bray Tor to cross Doetor Brook, before turning south-east to climb gently to Sharp Tor (there are no visible paths on this section).
3. SX550849: Continuing south-east beyond Sharp Tor, you will find the narrow but quite deep remains of a miners’ track. Follow this as it drops gently downhill and through old mining earthworks.
4. SX559847: Beyond the derelict earthworks, leave the miners’ track, which continues downhill to cross the Rattlebrook. Instead, keep fairly high on the valley side to head upstream. As the valley side steepens, drop down closer to the stream, negotiating more tin mining scars, to climb to the remains of Bleak House. After an exploration, continue beyond to find a good track that heads north to meet another track, the line of the old peat works railway.
5. SX559871: Turn left onto the track, but only for a short distance to avoid the worst of the wet ground around the infant Rattlebrook. Turn right off the track to climb gently improving ground that lifts to Hunt Tor, before following the remains of a derelict track (more of a broad grassy path) past Green Tor and down to cross the tiny Lyd and meet a good track (the old railway line), where you turn right.
6. SX548883: At any point beyond the Lyd where the ground on the slope falling away to the west looks clear, leave the track to drop downhill, turning left as the track is met again.
7. SX640878: If you want to climb Great Nodden, leave the track on the left to take an obvious path over the hill, before re-joining the same track. Alternatively, you could simply follow this track, which leads to Nodden Gate, where you follow clear footpath signs across fields to the south and a laddered stile. Turn right onto the track beyond the stile, which leads back to the car park.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Dartline Coaches bus 118 (01392 872900)
TOURIST INFORMATION: Okehampton TIC (01837 53020)
NEAREST YHA: YHA Okehampton Bracken Tor
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