I bought a common

Common Wood part 1

On 19 October 2011 I bought a common. 

I hadn’t expected to become a landowner, but when Common Wood, near Horndon on the western side of the Dartmoor National Park, came on the market, along with other parcels of land owned by South West Water, I was anxious that it should remain in safe hands.

I have known Common Wood for nearly 50 years (not that I knew its name).  I first visited Hillbridge Farm at Peter Tavy in 1965 for riding holidays – pure magic for a ten year old – and returned year after year, falling in love with the moor, the farm and the Tavy valley.  Hillbridge is unchanged, thanks to Marion Saunders who, having lived and worked there for 30 years, inherited the farm from Dee Ivey when she died 11 years ago.  I visit regularly, and must have walked through Common Wood countless times over the last half century.

Common Wood

Common Wood

Marion went to the auction to bid for me.  I was astounded and overjoyed when she rang me to say that the 17-acre Common Wood was mine.

Well mine nominally – it’s really for everyone.  It is registered common land, so graziers have rights there.  It  comes under the aegis of the Dartmoor Commons Act 1985 which gives the public the right to walk and ride over every bit of it.  That is not practical because of the steep terrain and dense vegetation, but there is a path-cum-scramble by the river, and public footpath, Mary Tavy 22, along the leat which follows the contour and bisects the land.

The footpath along the leat looking north east

The footpath along the leat looking north east

So the best way to visit Common Wood is either to follow the River Tavy, which is the southern boundary, or the leat.  If you start at Horndon Clam, the bridge over the Tavy at GR SX 523 795, and follow the river you are on the land at once.  If you enter by the leat path a little way up the hill you reach Common Wood after crossing three fields.

Looking upstream from Horndon Clam, Common Wood is on the left

Looking upstream from Horndon Clam, Common Wood is on the left

Much of the land is a steep slope of ancient mixed woodland, such as oak and hazel with a rich covering of lichens.

In the north-eastern part of the site there is a substantial, damp open area with patches of willow carr.

The open area in May

The open area in May

If you cross the leat by the granite slab pictured below you climb up onto open ground.

Bridge over the leat

Bridge over the leat

From there you can enjoy wonderful views across the Tavy valley to Cudlipptown Down on the flank of White Tor, or you can look upstream to Baggator and Standon Hill.

Smeardon Down from Common Wood in March

Cudlipptown Down from Common Wood in March

The land has been included in the higher-level stewardship, thanks to the persistence of the Mary Tavy Commoners’ Association.

Path by the river

Path by the river

My friend Hilary Marshall is carrying out a botanical survey for me, updating the survey undertaken for the Dartmoor National Park Authority in 1995 (which recorded total species 159, key species 7).  Jenny Plackett from Butterfly Conservation is advising on butterflies as it’s a potentially good habitat for Marsh Fritillaries, Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries.  The Dartmoor Preservation Association volunteers worked there in the pouring rain in November to improve the habitat for butterflies.

The view from Common Wood

The view from Common Wood

It is a fascinating site for botanists, ornithologists, lepidopterists, ecologists, archaeologists and historians and a lovely peaceful place to walk.

More news and information will follow in future blogs.  You can see more photos here.

Boundary stone at western end

Boundary stone at western end


About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
This entry was posted in Birds, butterflies, common land, common rights, Common Wood, Dartmoor, Devon, National parks, Natural history, Open country, Public paths, riding, walking, Woods and forests and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to I bought a common

  1. Hugh says:

    Will you be joining the Dartmoor Common Owners’ Association?

  2. Estelle Pickard says:

    Campaignerkate I was fascinated to read that you spent a lot of time at Hillbridge on riding holidays. I too spent a riding holiday there (1965) and remember the whole place with much affection so pleased to know it has not really changed. I was fourteen at the time and was living in Surrey but moved down to Devon in 1978. We now live about 35 miles from Peter Tavy and took a trip back there a couple of years back. So happy to know you bought Common Wood.

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