Folkmoor: Y is for… Yar Tor

Tracey Norman
© Chris Saville

Back in the summer, I wrote about Dartmoor’s famous Lych Way and the Coffin Stone that can be found on the slopes of Yartor Down.

That is not the only interesting artefact in the area, however; the slopes of Yar Tor and nearby Corndon Tor and Corndown Down are littered with tantalising glimpses into our distant past. Heading north from the parking area at the foot of Yartor Down and crossing the road, one is immediately greeted by a cluster of Bronze Age hut circles.

Exploring the area around and between the two Tors, it quickly becomes evident that not only did people live and work here for a significant period of time, they also died and are memorialised here, too.

The East Dart flows to the west of the area and the River Webburn to the east, providing a plentiful supply of fresh water to the various industries and inhabitants. To the north-east of Yar Tor, beyond Corndown Down and not far from the Webburn, there is a disused quarry, with another to the south-west near the East Dart, and a third site not far from the road, on the southern slopes of Corndon Down.

There are traces of several ancient field systems, and to the south of Yartor Down are the remains of a sizeable mediaeval settlement alongside hut circles. Nearby are a number of pillow mounds – long, low earthworks which served as artificial warrens in a time when rabbits were farmed on the moors for their meat and fur, demonstrating the diversity of the industries represented in this one small part of the moor.

The slopes of both Yar Tor and Corndown Down feature cists and cairns, and just below Yar Tor itself there is a stone row. It is not only the dead of ages past who are remembered here, however. Not far from the stone row, on the other side of a track known as the Miller’s Mile, which runs to Babeny Mill, is a stone cross, the Cave Penney memorial. Erected in memory of Evelyn Anthony Cave Penney, a Lieutenant stationed in Palestine who died in action in 1918 at the age of 19, the cross sits atop a small granite outcrop, commanding breathtaking views across the moor in every direction.

Not far from Yar Tor, to its north-west, is the ruin of an old, remote cottage known locally as Dolly’s Cott. This is said to be the home of Dolly Trebble, an exceptionally attractive woman who was brought there to live by her jealous, possessive husband, to prevent her being stolen away by other men. Dolly had caught the eye of local nobleman Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt, who moved her and her brother into a lodge on his estate after they were orphaned.

This apparent altruism concealed his desire to have easy access to the attractive girl, a desire that was shared by George IV when he visited Tyrwhitt; it was claimed that he visited Dolly many times during his stay.

Dolly, however, married a local man, William Trebble, who selected the lonely cottage as a suitable home to ensure that his beautiful wife was kept away from the machinations of other men, regardless of wealth or status. It is said that after Dolly was widowed, she found work at the Hexworthy mine, where a shaft was named after her.

However, as she would have been in her late eighties at the time, this is highly unlikely.

Baring-Gould wrote a romanticised account of Dolly, inspiring other writers to do likewise, and thus, as we might expect, her story has become greatly embellished over the years, mythologising her and assuring her place in Dartmoor’s history.