Dartmoor once supported many small industries, chief among them being tin mining. Today’s ride took us up through Holne and past Venford Reservoir on a chilly but dry morning to find the remains of one of the Blowing Houses from the 15th or 16th centuries.
We parked out bikes at Saddle Bridge, just beyond Combestone Tor, and walked down the path along the O Brook. Both Dillan and Jude managed to get wet feet in the boggy areas either side of the first stile, and there were plenty more boggy areas along the way, but the ancient woodlands lining the picturesque brook made the quarter-mile walk very interesting.
To get to Week Ford we had to cross the O Brook, and whilst the high water levels left no easy crossing we managed to get across safely after a few abortive attempts and then started searching for the Blowing House. It was not far from the river, but we had to cross a broken fence and negotiate some boggy marshes to reach it.
This Blowing House is a listed building as it represents the rare combination of stamping mill and blowing house in two adjacent buildings. Water was brought in from the nearby O Brook by leat to power waterwheels used to operate iron stamps for crushing tin ore in the stamping house and a pair of bellows to blow air into the furnace in the Blowing House so they could reach temperatures high enough to melt the tin (232 degrees C). We found four mortar stones in the Blowing House, used to finely crush the ore ready for the furnace, and a mould stone, used to form ingots of white tin typically 40-90kg which were then sold at the nearest Stannary town, probably Ashburton. Very little had changed here since our last visit in June 1981.
Dillan chose a poor route back through the marshes and ended up with drenched feet – not ideal when the weather is so cold. We carried out the obligatory traversal of the stepping stones before heading back to the bikes, by which time our plans for continuing to Dartmeet or Widecombe in search of an open café did not seem quite so appealing. Both lads had cold, wet feet so we headed back to Holne café and ordered hot drinks and food.
We hadn’t been there more than ten minutes when John, George and Will arrived: John had been out on his first test ride since his November kidney donation, accompanied by his two lads, and Holne café had seemed like a sensible first destination. We ended up spending an hour there before heading back to Buckfastleigh together via Ridgey Cross.
Parking the bikes at Saddle Bridge ready for the quarter-mile walk to Week Ford
The footpath from Saddle Bridge, following the O Brook
Jude and Dillan enjoying the magnificent scenery by the O Brook
Approaching Week Ford Blowing House from the river, with the wheel pit and furnace areas at the back
The Mould Stone at Week Ford Blowing House, used for forming ingots of tin
One of the four Mortar Stones that we found, used for grinding the small rocks of tin ore
View of the Blowing House from the upper end
View to the rear of the Blowing House showing the Mould Stone, furnace and wheel pit
Close-up of another Mortar Stone
Dillan tries to find a novel way back to the river through the boggy marshes
The stepping stones over the East Dart River at Week Ford
Jude and Dillan negotiate the stepping stones at Week Ford
John, George and Will (off-camera) joined the group at Holne café and rode home with us, shown here at Ridgey Cross