Snow on the ground, snowflakes dancing through the trees, and icicles adorning all surfaces. For the past few days, white stuff has covered the moorland, leaving the entirety of the National Park in the midst of a Narnia-esque landscape. Here’s a freezing photo diary of the snow on Dartmoor and a few legends about snow in Devon over the years.
When it comes to snapping photos of the snow, make sure that your camera is fully charged, as well as your smartphone (though the latter will probably run out of battery incredibly quickly no matter how much battery it has). Cold weather saps technology batteries as fast as anything, and so you’ll want to fully charge your devices before heading out in order to make the most of the limited time you have.
Wanting to capture photos of the snow for yourself? Read my complete guide on how to snap photos of the snow; tips, tricks and practical advice for photographs to take, as well as camera setting tips! Hint: a faster shutter speed will capture the snowflakes as they fall, and post-processing is everything!
Snow on Dartmoor: myths, legends, and tales from centuries past
Since time immemorial, Dartmoor has been characterised by its harsh and extreme weather conditions. Deep snow in the winter often coats the grassy plains of the high moors, while pea-soup fog can descend at a moment’s notice on any given day of the year. And even on the sunniest, clearest of days, wind often whips through the thick brush and heather, leaving anyone even in the warmest of coats feeling a little chilly.
Childe the Hunter, Foxworthy Mire
One of the very oldest stories of snow on Dartmoor comes in the form of Childe the Hunter, who was reputedly a Saxon King, Prince or respected Warrior. On one particularly chilly night, Childe was attempting to cross one of the very harshest parts of the moor, the bogs that form Foxworthy Mire. Even today, the marshy landscape is often impassable, there is no phone signal, and the area remains entirely remote.
As Childe was crossing the moorland, sometime during the middle ages, a mist descended on the moorland, rendering visibility to nothing. Snow on Dartmoor accumulates quickly and Childe soon became lost. Seeking refuge, Childe the Hunter drew his dagger and slaughtered his own horse, hoping to seek shelter in the still warm corpse. Unfortunately, this make-shift shelter was not enough for Childe, and he too died.
A few weeks later, his remains, as well as that of his horse were discovered by a fellow traveller. Today, a cross stands on the point where Childe allegedly died, a solemn reminder of how unforgiving the Dartmoor landscape can be. Though the cross only dates back to the Victorian era, it’s thought to stand on the site of a much older memorial.
The Salty Corpse of the Warren House Inn
Elsewhere on the moor, in the Warren House Inn (which also happens to be the highest pub in Southern England and sits at 434 metres above sea level), one legend tells of one weary traveller settling in for the night, only to find a salted corpse in a chest within his room. The tale goes on to explain that a tired voyager was lost in the snow on a particularly snowy winter’s night on his way across the moorlands.
Tired and chilly, he somehow made his way to the Warren House Inn. And upon arrival, he was told that he was most welcome to rest in a small room upstairs, as long as he didn’t mind sharing with the ‘salted down father’. Apparently, the body of the family of the Inn’s grandfather had been salted for storage as there was simply too much snow for a burial to take place or to transport the ‘feyther’ to Tavistock or Lydford.
The Princetown Drift of March, 1891
In more recent times (and with apparent photographic evidence, which can be found on the Dartmoor Archive Website), a great blizzard in 1891 left a train stranded for 36 hours, with six or eight passengers actually trapped on board (the records are unclear as to the exact number of passengers)!
The train was departing from the remote town of Princetown, a place which is best known for its prison of the same name, as well as a museum documenting the history of Princetown Prison. Other places of interest in town include the only church in England to have been built by French and American prisoners of war, as well as plenty of nearby walks onto the nearby open landscape of Dartmoor National Park.
Trapped close to a farm, the 6:34 PM from Princetown became stuck in a snowdrift. Though the passengers were fortunately rescued within a few days (though I still can’t imagine how cold and tired they must have been!), the train itself remained trapped in the snow for some ten days. During this particularly fierce winter, it’s thought that up to 6000 sheep perished and 14 trains were stranded throughout Devon.
Heavy snow on Dartmoor in the 20th century
The snowy (and incredibly cold) period of ice weather is only the latest episode in a long series of snow weather on Dartmoor. In around 1920, snow fell all winter long, and snow was even recorded as falling on Dartmoor in September. Just a decade later, in the winter of 1928-29, six foot of snow fell within fifteen hours at Holne Chase on the high moors.