Walking up the Zeal Tor tramway

A welcome opportunity for a walk on the moors with a friend took us to Shipley Bridge on the southern edge of the moors.  It was late February and, although not cold, the weather was best described as “mixed” I guess.  The car park there is often quite full and used for folk who park there to walk up the private road to the Avon Dam.  However when we arrived the car park was deserted.  The remains of the old building above was originally used for the production of naptha gas.  This was a short lived enterprise but from the mid 1800s the building was used for processing china clay.

This china clay was extracted from the upper reaches of the Bala Brook and the remains of an old tramway which head from Shipley Bridge up the side of the river valley onto the central area of the southern moors can still be seen and followed.  This is a view up the tramway.  At the top of the hill ahead is the ancient barrow at East Whitaburrow (or White Barrow).  The head of the Bala Brook is on the left and the tramway curves around towards it.

While you do need to look carefully there are some quite distinct remains of the tramway to be seen in places.  The image on the left shows the remain of the ironwork which attached the rail to the granite and quite a lot of those can be seen.  The image on the right is a “milestone” at least two of which remain.  In practice we decided this one probably should have read 1 and three quarters as the next stone which was not far away has “2 miles” on it.

While china clay was extracted here (and on other nearby areas of the moors) there was also tin mining here in the past.  Apart from the fact that the area has been dug out the heaps of small stones are very characteristic of such remains and are small spoil heaps.

While the weather that day was mostly good it was clear that there was worse weather not far away.  This is taken from the tinners remains looking south.  Ugborough Beacon is in the distance.

Once you get to the head of the valley you are on a main ridge that runs down to the south.  The ground there is not very good.  Usually wet and with long grass, it is not easy walking and feels as remote as anywhere on the moors.  The image above gives a feel of that and looks into the valley of the river Erme.  Caught in the patch of sunlight you can see the remains of pound which contains ancient hut circles.  The valley of the Erme has a number of neolithic remains and must have supported quite a population in those days.

A little further north along the ridge you get clear views of the above.  At a quick glance it might be taken as a natural hill.  However it is another spoil heap.  This time it is the china clay spoil heap at Redlake.  By comparison to the remains already passed on this walk these are relatively recent.  Work started here in 1910 and this and other parts of the ridge were worked until 1930.  Given the remoteness of this spot (there are no roads and only very rough tracks for at least 3 or 4 kilometres in any direction) it must have been a bleak spot to work.  Bleak it may be but it has a beauty to me.  We walked back to the car a different way but that will be another blog soon.