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THE “MOTHER OF RIVERS.”
THE PLYM, FROM THE SOURCE TO PLYMOUTH.
The Rivers of Devonshire-Sources of the Plym-Old English
Names - Sheepstor - The Dewerstone-Shaugh Bridge-
and Memories – Sir Joshua Reynolds - Approach to ZIEK
rivers,” and whilst springs and well
heads abound in all its quarters, there are two broad table-lands, one in the northern and one in the southern division of the forest, in which nearly all the principal rivers of Devonshire have their sources.* In the north, round the desolate region about Cranmere Pool, rise the Dart, the Teign, the Taw, and the Torridge. In the south are the fountains of the Plym, the Yealm, the Erme, and the Avon. Both districts are high solitary stretches of bog and stunted heather, broken rather by long ridges than by the usual granite tors of Dartmoor, and marked by patches of fluttering cotton-grass, and black “turf-ties,” where the moormen cut their peat. Both, as is so often true of such up-raised, marshy wildernesses, are held to be favourite haunts of all manner of hill and water spirits. Pixies frequent the green,
The exceptions are the Exe, rising on Exmoor, and the Tamar, of which the sources are near the northern border of Cornwall.
treacherous morasses, where the Plym and the Avon steal from their sources, and they may be heard grinding their corn and “pounding” their cider far within the recesses of the neighbouring Sheepstor. In Cranmere Pool, or in the deep bogs which surround it, dwell certain southern representatives of the kelpie, whose wailing cries often sound through the mists and wintry darkness of that lonely region. These table-lands are by no means the most picturesque or the most attractive portions of Dartmoor ; but their very solitude and remoteness impart to them a special charm; and if the head-springs of Dart and of Plym be not so world-famous as those of the Danube and the Rhine, they have nevertheless all the interest which belongs to the sources of rivers whose outfall has influenced the history of a country. Dartmouth and Plymouth have played, and still play, important parts in the history, and contribute not a little towards the welfare and prosperity, of England. Both are largely indebted for their well-being to the rivers from which they are named, and which have assisted in forming the safety of their inner harbours. Accordingly, both Dart and Plym were present at that great feast of the rivers which, as we learn from Spenser, celebrated the wedding of the Thames and the Medway; and neither stream has decreased in importance or in honour since the days of the “ Faërie Queene."
The courses of the Dartmoor rivers are necessarily short; but the changes on them are as marked as those encountered by the river-voyager in Thalaba, though they may succeed each other more rapidly. The moorland course through mosses and over granite is followed by one through woods and cultivated fields, until, “a broader and a broader stream,” the river joins the deep-sea inlet, and so finds its way to the ocean. One peculiarity of these short courses, and of the country itself, is that there are high points on the tors or outskirts of Dartmoor, from which the sources and the distant outfall of the stream are visible at once, thus affording the contrast of entire solitude with the shipping, the towers, and the houses of the town and harbour; and of the silence of the hillside with the stir and bustle which we know to be filling the great port. This is a view which may be gained from high ground not far from either source of the Plym—or rather from the source of either branch of the Plym ; for two streams, generally known as the Cad and the Mew or Meavy river, join at Shaugh Bridge, and so flow onward to Plymouth. Neither stream would seem to be the more important; but the source of the Cad, or eastern stream, is known as Plym Head, and a crossing somewhat further down bears the name of Plym Steps ; so that this branch has been generally regarded as the true Plym. We must be content to leave the etymology doub-ful. There is an old English word, "plim,” which signifies "smooth,” "even," or, as a verb, to “make smooth;” but such smoothness is hardly an attribute of the Plym—at least, before it enters the estuary. In its upper course it is a rocky, dashing mountain stream; and below, where it flows between woods and fields, it is not more “smooth” than any other Dartmoor river becomes after it leaves
the hills. It is possible that Plym, like the names of many other Devonshire streams, ! may be of Celtic origin; but it occurs nowhere else, nor, apparently, in any cognate
form. How far the name of Cad, which is Celtic, and signifies“ brawling," "strife,” was anciently applied to this stream is uncertain. It occurs, however, at Cadover Bridge, and seems to reappear at the harbour of Plymouth, in “ Catwater” and “ Catdown."
SCENERY OF THE UPPER PLYM.
Plym Head lies not very far within the southern boundary of the royal forest of Dartmoor. Syward's Cross, which marked the limit where the lands of the Buckland Cistercians joined those of the forest, and the rocky masses and cairns of Eylesburrow, over which the boundary passes, are both within sight. The scene is wild and lonely, well in keeping with the legends that belong to it, with the grey earthmen and pixies, and with the wish-hounds, the unearthly pack which sweeps across these upper solitudes in the stillness of noonday. For “forest” has here the same signification that it bears in the Scottish Highlands, and without implying the presence of trees, means only a wide-spreading, unenclosed track, over which the deer might wander at liberty.
deer might wander at liberty. The “purlieus,” or stretches of wild
land which border the actual forest, have the same general character; and it is not until the river has passed some miles from its source that it begins to change the scenery of its banks. At its source we are some 1,200 feet above the sea, and in the heart of the moorland. The air is sharp and bracing. The streams murmur and tinkle among rushes and boulders of granite. The turf beside them is starred with marsh flowers bog pimpernel, sundew, ivy-leafed campanula, and the faintly-scented marsh violet. Cloudshadows flit across the silent waste, the withered bent grass and the heather; and gleams of sunlight, as they come and go, seem to vary the colouring of the lichen-stained torcrests. As we pass downwards the flat summit of Sheepstor lifts itself toward the west, a mass of broken granite, grand in outline, and conspicuous as one of the chief heights along the southern border of Dartmoor. There is a natural hollow formed by overhanging rocks in the “clitter” (to use the true Devonshire word) streaming down the hill-side, which was used for some time as a shelter by one of the royalist Elfords, whose house lay under the tor, and who, it is said, during his enforced solitude amused himself by painting the rough walls of his cavern. His cavern is known as the Pixies' House, and the neighbours hold it to be a “critical place for children,” to whom the small people occasionally take a fancy. It is not safe, they say, to pass near it without dropping a pin as an offering between the chinks of the rock. As for the “clitter "* of the Dartmoor tors— by which is meant the torrent of granite blocks that has streamed downward from the crest of the hill—it has apparently been formed, in all cases, by long-continued frosts; and perhaps, as has been suggested by Mr. Spence Bate,f by the action of ice, which at a very remote period may have affected this high land in a manner which is now unknown. There is no indication of violent glacial action on Dartmoor. No "roches moutonnées have been found, and no striated markings. But the climate may have been at one time sub-glacial; and a peculiar ice formation, locally known as “hamel ice,” still occurs now and then in severe winters, “coating over and enclosing everything as it were in a stiff and firm protection.” However this may be, the “clitter” of Dartmoor is one of its chief peculiarities, and aids not a little in producing the rugged and picturesque aspect of the district.
The valley below Sheepstor is tufted with copse - wood, and the grey church-tower overshadows the grave of a noble man, Sir James Brooke, Rajah of Sarawak. He died in 1868, at his own house of Burrator, a quiet resting-place in the valley, where a waterfall dashes over the rocks to join the lower stream. With this pleasant region, however, we are at present unconcerned. We pass downward along the banks of the Plym, which from time to time receives a small tributary-a “Blackabrook,” or a “Cherrybrook," as the little streams are called from the colour of the peat which stains them. Gradually the desolation of the upper moors gives place to something more cheering, although the scene is still wild, and few trees have yet appeared, except a cluster of wind-swept ash or sycamore round some remote steading in a sheltered hollow. But in spring or in autumn the broken ground that rises in waves and “goyles” or deep clefts toward the splintered, sharp-crested tors in the distance, is ablaze with colour. The gold of furze and the purple of heather vie with each other in splendour, and light up the hill-side with a sunshine of their own. And here, before we reach Cadover, where the first bridge crosses the "riveret” (the word is happily used by Risdon in his ancient “Chorographie” of Devon), we must climb on the left bank toward Trowlesworthy Tor, and visit the striking remains of an unknown -perhaps British-period which lie on the western slope of the hill. They are the best examples on this side of Dartmoor of the rude-stone relics occurring with more or less frequency throughout every part of the moorland, which must at one time have been frequented, at least during the summer, by a numerous population of shepherds and miners. Great clusters of circular hut foundations, and adjoining them, remains of sepulchral or religious character are found, sometimes in sheltered positions and by the stream-sides, but quite as frequently on
* The word may be Celtic. “Cludair," in modern Welsh, signifies a “heap” or “ pile," as of rocks. But it is known on the Scottish border, and is used by Sir Walter Scott
“ And still beneath the cavern dread,
Among the glidders grey,
Marks where the wanderer lay." + “On the Clitter of the Tors of Dartmoor,” by C. Spence Bate, F.R.S.-in “Transactions of the Devonshire Association " for 1871.
the higher moors, where there can have been little or no protection from “winter or rough weather.” The settlement at Trowlesworthy was perhaps not large; but there is on the hill a remarkable walled enclosure or "pound,” of which the entrances have been defended in an unusual manner, so as to allow of the passing of but one person at a time; indicating that the position was one of importance, and perhaps of more than ordinary danger. The enclosure is circular, and measures 150 paces each way.
There are two entrances facing one another, north and south. One is
Erma defended by a star-shaped arrangement of wall, the other
Plum m by a more complicated device. Close within the southern entrance is a single large hut-circle, a very good example of the foundations (for nothing more remains) of an
Yealitat aboriginal dwelling. At no great distance, on the same
sheepston hill, are two of the mysterious "stone-avenues," as they have been called, which of all primitive relics are the least understood. They are parallel rows of upright stones passing over the heath for some distance, and ending, one
Shaugh Prior in a circle of eight stones, the other perhaps in a similar circle, of which however only two stones are in place. By far the greater number of this class of monuments
Nathang have been found on Dartmoor. They occur in Cornwall and in Wales, but very rarely. The great “avenues” of
foraminion Carnac in Brittany may perhaps be of the same character. In so far as it is possible to judge, these “stone-rows”
Past Mars seem to have been designed for certain ceremonies con
Buckland nected with interments in the circles attached to them. But what was the nature of the ceremonies, or in what
Plymstock manner the rows were used, who shall tell us ? On Dartmoor the best-preserved and most striking examples are at Merivale Bridge, near Tavistock, and on Batworthy Down above Chagford. The stones are nowhere large,
Diales and the height rarely exceeds four or five feet.
In spite of these primitive memorials, which take us back to a past whose distance from us we are unable to measure, the name Trowlesworthy—the "weorthig" or small farm of some Saxon Trowl or Treol—reminds us that we are on the border of the moor, to which the first Saxon settlers rapaly pushed up their conquests. Soon we arrive at Cadover Bridge, and beyond it, pass into the wild rocky ravine through which the river foams and struggles toward its junction with the western branch. On the left the steep hillside, covered with a ruin of granite rocks, is crowned by the moorland church of Shaugh. On the right the hill rises, thick with oaken coppice, from which, at a bend of the river, projects the towering crag of the Dewerstone. This is one of the finest points on the Plym, before it passes