Last Updated on 30th August 2017 by Sophie Nadeau
High up on the windswept expanse of the High Moors on Dartmoor, you’ll find the remains of a Bronze Age Settlement, Grimspound. Ever battling the elements, the barrier wall and remains of 24 small hut circles once formed a tight knit community in one of the remotest parts of the UK. Surrounded by sheep, cattle and on the wild moorland, a trip to Grimspound makes for a great hike… If only to experience Devonian weather first-hand!
Grimspound: 3000 years of history in the making
Reminiscent of nearby Hound Tor Medieval Village, Grimspound too provided inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when he was penning his Sherlock Holmes Novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Only this time, the settlement dates back 3000 years, rather than a few hundred.
Despite its status as a ‘forest‘ during the time of William I, Dartmoor is not home to lush green forests and sweeping fields. Although the region was wooded during the Stone and Bronze Ages, today, the reality is completely different. Centuries of weather changes and over de-forestation have transformed the land. Instead of green woodland, there are no expanses of wasteland, where only heather and gorse bushes can grow. Here, the soil is inhospitable and even metal rots away in a mere matter of decades.
The settlement at Grimspound dates all the way back to the Late Bronze Age. Lying in a little valley below the striking Hookeny Tor, you’ll find all that remains of a village dating back millennia. Here, you’ll find the ruins of roundhouses which were constructed out of local granite. Roundhouses were standard in the Bronze age and typically consisted of a hut with a straw roof. Owing to the acidic nature of the soil, the only archaeological finds to be found in the area are pottery.
A note on the name, Grimspound
Rather curiously, the name of ‘Grimspound’ itself is only a few hundred years old. First recorded in 1797 by a certain Reverend Polwhele (in his writings on the History of Devon), various theories have surfaced over the years regarding the origins of the name. The ‘pound’ part of the name is easy to decipher; it’s the name for any walled enclosure found on Dartmoor.
But it’s the ‘Grim’ part of the name that presents more of an issue. My favourite theory is that the name derives from the Anglo Saxon word, Grima, meaning the Devil. Back in the 1700s, any prehistoric settlement found on Dartmoor was associated with Druidry and non-Christian as a result. Considering that Reverend Polwhele was writing in the 18th-Century, it’s not surprising that the village was gifted the name ‘Devil’s Enclosure’. After all, even today this part of the world is bleak.
“My previous letters and telegram have kept you pretty well up-to-date as to all that has occurred in this most God-forsaken corner of the world. The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm”.
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Looking down onto Dartmoor from Hookney Tor
A Trip to Grimspound and Tips for Visiting
Today, the site is owned and managed by English Heritage. The hut circles and surrounds are free to visit and offer breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside. There are 24 stone huts to explore and a boundary wall to walk around (which is approximately 150m in diameter).
You can park your car on the road below (sadly, this part of the moorland can only be navigated by foot and car) and walk up to the hut circles. The climb is quite steep and requires a fairly large amount of exertion. If you’re looking to visit a Neolithic site with less walking, then nearby Spinster’s Rock is a fairly flat walk.
Dartmoor is known for its rapidly changing climate. As a result, make sure to prepare sufficiently; I highly recommend taking sturdy walking shoes, a rain coat, phone, and compass. Many parts of the Moors are lacking in phone signal so a compass and map are absolutely necessary if you’re planning on walking long distances.