This project aims to collect stories about Dartmoor – its landscapes, weather, dwellings, art and industries, and, above all, its inhabitants, both residents, or former residents, and passers-bye.
Dartmoor is an area of outstanding natural beauty located in Devon, South West UK. The name comes from the principal river that flows through it, the river Dart. Whilst being relatively small in size (Dartmoor is about 368 sq miles), it includes the largest area of granite in Britain, and its rivers have provided a source of power for industries like tin mining and quarrying throughout the centuries.
Most prehistoric remains on the moor date back to the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. The moor hosts numerous menhirs, standing stones or longstones, stone circles, cairns and stone rows, such as Scorhill near Chagford (above), a standing stone circle, or Merrivale, between Princetown and Tavistock, an old ceremonial complex dating back from the Bronze Age and consisting of a double stone row, with a leat running in between, a stone circle, a menhir and burial cairns (below).
There are also numerous medieval settlements, some ancient tenements or farms, as well as sites and surviving buildings from the tin mining industry.
Large areas of the moor are covered in peat and contain dangerous bogs. Some are used by the army as a training camp. The moor also hosts a notorious prison, Dartmoor Prison, originally built for prisoners of war during the Napoleonic period.
Known for its tors, hills topped with rounded boulder-like formations (above), Dartmoor is protected by its National Park status. It has been written about on numerous websites, such as Legendary Dartmoor; or the National Park’s own map of Dartmoor legends; Dartmoor.co.uk as well as Virtual Dartmoor; Dartmoor Archive, an online database of images relating to Dartmoor; and Moor Memories, an oral history project which run between 2001 and 2008 and aimed to collect stories by people who live on the moor, to name but a few.
Dartmoor inspired significant works of literature. For example, Fox Tor Mires was allegedly the inspiration for Great Grimpen Mire in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-2), the story of an attempted murder inspired by the legend of a hound. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (1982), a story of bravery and friendship set at the outbreak of Word War I, was filmed on the moor, even though the original story took place in the parish of Iddesleigh.
Dartmoor also inspired significant works of art. Among the most recent ones, is Richard Long’s A Hundred Mile Walk 1971-2, documenting a walk on Dartmoor made by the artist in 1971-2, following a circular route (see above). Long in fact did numerous works on Dartmoor, often involving moving rocks from one site to another.
Over time, ‘displacement’ became for me a trope for the project. The objects in the RAMM collection that originate from Dartmoor, primarily flints (that appear on the project map), have been displaced. The objects in the Hems collection (that form our game) were also displaced, by Hems himself. The stones that form one of Long’s most significant works on Dartmoor (and that I have written about in another project, Art Maps, a collaboration with Tate) had been displaced. Most people I have met who come from Dartmoor no longer live on the moor.
Maybe by telling us your story, your Dartmoor story, you can help us to relate objects, peoples and places. Maybe you can help us to imagine what it means to look at these objects on the actual moor. Maybe by doing this you can help us to see Dartmoor not just as a tourist site, but as a place. Maybe knowing what Dartmoor is like as a place will tell us all more about ourselves.