The Adventures in Russell-Land Part V – Wandering Dartmoor

The continuing exploits of two Americans, lost in the moors of south-western England, expecting at any moment to come across a ghostly Hound… (Click on the photos to enlarge.)

The next morning we were treated to a wonderful breakfast in Baring-Gould’s study, a narrow room with a massive fireplace in the middle of one of the long wall, and parts of three walls lined from floor to ceiling with bookshelves filled by some of the books left from Gould’s collection. The tall leaded windows at the end of the room gathered the light and made the long narrow space cozy, and pleasing in the morning sun.


The night before we had discussed with the young man who served as host, our desire to venture onto Dartmoor, and he had suggested we lunch at the Prince Hill Hotel, almost in the center of the moor. He booked the table for us, and printed out driving instructions. If anyone gives you driving instructions to Dartmoor, accept that you will probably become lost, as it seems there are few signs at streets and what signs there are don’t have actual street names on them. The side streets are totally unmarked, and the signposts at the larger intersections merely direct you to an area, or something that requires local knowledge to understand.

We pulled out of the lane from Lewtrenchard,and made the first turn with no problem, but then we could not find the next street listed on our directions. We had decided to try the “faster route” as we were given two, and the faster one looked on the map to be easier, but looks can be deceiving. In fact we did not find any of the streets listed in our directions. The next few hours were frustrating, and at times quite hilarious. We tried to use Phillida (our Nav system) and she kindly directed us down a farm track just wide enough for our car. Unfortunately the sides of the vehicle were being brushed by weeds, and this caused the proximity sensors to beep for a good twenty minutes while Merrily masterfully negotiated this too narrow pathway with its towering ten feet hedgerows and stone fences on both sides of the car, all the time eloquently telling the beepers to shut up. There were no more than a few inches to spare on each side of the car the entire time we were on that path. When we finally emerged, we both were exhausted from the strain, and laughing at the entire situation.

Note: If you are going to become lost on the moor, make sure your traveling companion has a good sense of humor, and nerves of steel.

We eventually stopped a pair of hikers, who looked cold and damp as it was now overcast and misty, and they showed us where we were on their map, at least they thought it was where we were, as they admitted later in the conversation that they were lost. This led us to speculate that even with Holmes’ large-scale maps most people would have trouble finding their way on the moor. Still determined to lunch at this hotel, we tried several roads, were welcomed – by signs – on to and off of the moor a few times, until we eventually found Tavistock, but it was market day in the town and the roads were clogged with visitors. Not a situation conducive to parking and asking for directions.

We pressed onward, and stopped at a pub in Merrivale (actually the pub was Merrivale) and asked if we were anywhere near the Prince Hill Hotel. They assured us if we kept on the same road we just couldn’t miss the turning for the place. They were wrong. We found ourselves in Two Bridges, and knew we had gone too far so we again asked for directions and were told to go back three miles and there would be a wooden sign on the road at the turning (there wasn’t anything).

Back and forth we went on this road, turning around at the t-intersection each time, as we had been told that was too far, until we finally stopped at a Dartmoor information station and asked a gentleman there, who actually knew where the Prince Hill Hotel was, and he directed us to backtrack, turn left at the t-intersection we had passed three times, and we found the Prince Hill Hotel within five minutes. Of course we were 45 minutes later for our luncheon reservations, but they fed us anyway.

By now the mist was turning into fog and Dartmoor was treating us to a cold, damp and desolate vision that would set anyone’s nerves on edge for fear of hearing the pounding footfalls and bone-chilling howl of a gigantic hound. It seemed Dartmoor was displaying exactly the atmosphere necessary to satisfy anyone who wants to “experience” the moor of Conan Doyle’s story.


As you drive the narrow two lane roads (there are actually very few roads that cross Dartmoor) you are struck by just how isolated and wild the moor truly is, even in summer. We saw few cars, fewer people, and just sheep and ponies, and these animals seemed to huddle in clumps by the side of the road. It took little imagination to speculate that the animals were pleading for someone to rescue them from this horrible place. It may have been just a fancy, but the manner in which they hunched forlornly by the road did gave one the impression they were begging for rescue – either that, or they were enjoying the heat from the road and it was pleasure I was seeing in their eyes – hard to tell with sheep, and ponies.


After our much delayed luncheon, we opted to not test the fates further, and go looking for the prison, but instead to take the more direct route (but longer on the map) home. That brought us back to the A 30 road we had traveled from Exeter the day before, and then went around the perimeter of the moor to Lewtrenchard. The further from the moor we travelled, the clearer the weather became. The mists slowly lifted, and the sun was bright and warm at the inviting manor house when we arrived. Being once again in the sunlight, it seemed our sojourn on the moor was somehow unreal, something imagined, and the fog and penetrating cold we experienced nothing but imagination. But it was not, and we were only too happy to take our Devon cream tea in the front parlor of Lewtrenchard later that afternoon. A strong cup of tea, and a stiff drink are advisable if you are go’n up on the moor, particularly if you have dodgy directions, and your vehicle has a quirky Nav system and side sensors.

Next: Sussex

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  1. Bill Mosteller on July 9, 2009 at 5:28 am

    Puts me in mind of my native Boston. We don’t label the major streets, they being, after all, major streets. I believe that Massachusetts Avenue has, in fact, two street signs, one in Cambridge, the other in Roxbury. Good luck figuring out you’re on it if you’re visiting.

    In your situation, I might have used the trip odometer with the Mapquest directions, although knowing when to start counting 3.4 miles can be a challenge.

  2. Roxanne on July 9, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Alice and Merrily:

    Thank you so much for these installments and photographs. I am thoroughly enjoying each chapter.

    I can’t wait to read about Sussex and see your photos.

    Thank you for taking the time to do this.


  3. Merrily on July 9, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Bill is absolutely right, in New England the general feeling is that if you don’t already know where you are, why are you here? Alice’s essay perfectly captures the flavor of this experience, although when she says “eloquent” regarding my comments on the beeping car, translate that into “profane.” Still the moor was very beautiful in its bleak way and just as Russell describes it (I’m not sure I would ride a horse across it alone, even for Holmes!) Good job, Alice!

  4. Laidee Marjorie on July 9, 2009 at 7:17 am

    Thanks for another very interesting chapter of your amazing trip.

    I am so glad that you both did have the fog in Dartmoor. It would have been just wrong to not have it make an appearance at some point.


  5. Jessara on July 9, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Alice and Merrily, please know that we are enjoying your adventures mightily. It’s a great deal of fun to envision your ten foot hedgerows and foggy desolation. (I’m drinking iced tea in FL just now.) To add to your experience, I think you should try making dinner reservations for a small restaurant and set out just before dark. Mute Phillida, forget Mapquest and start with a quarter tank of petrol. Now there’s an adventure worth writing home about! I tried something very similar, only it was in Brecon Beacons park in Wales. Your vivid description brought it back, profanity and all. Ah, the joys of travel! Please keep posting.

  6. Pat Floyd on July 9, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Thank you for another delightful chapter. The weather changes remind me of San Francisco with its sudden fogs and chills in parts of the city.

  7. strawberry curls on July 9, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Heavens, Jessara, you are far more adventurous than I wish to be. Actually, thinking back, I don’t believe we ever saw a petrol station on that drive. Now running out of gas on the moor, even in the daylight (let alone at night), would have added just the frisson of real terror to our jaunt on Dartmoor. If I have my druthers I think I will pass on that challenge. 😉

    Thanks for sharing your adventure, and I’m working on part VI now. I’m so pleased so many are enjoying these posts.

    Merrily, I stand by my use of “eloquent” in regards to your dialog with our car. You were quite explicit and covered the subject throughly. LOL That is one drive neither of us will soon forget.

  8. Laraine on July 9, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    You two are putting the travel itch back under my feet . . . thanks for the stories. Your comments, and those from Bill, remind me of a holiday I took with a dear friend in 1980-ish: we left the men at home in Madison and drove across from Wisconsin to NY to Boston on the way to the shore of Cape Cod. Such fun and laughter we had, all the way to Boston, only to risk everything in careening around the insane (and unmarked) ‘traffic’ system of Boston with her saying ‘tell me when to turn!!’ and me, struggling to match map to puzzling intersections and always saying, ‘well, um . . .’ and then, ‘now!’ about half a block too late. First (and I think only) time we had reason to doubt the strength of our friendship. Glad that Merrily’s eloquence was equal to the occasion: these things matter!!

  9. Lizanne on July 9, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Alice and Merrily, thanks for another update.It is quite enjoyable to read of your adventures, “coorius sarcumstances” and all!

  10. Chris on July 10, 2009 at 2:10 am

    Another wonderful story, it’s a pleasure following your travels!

  11. Karen on July 10, 2009 at 7:42 am

    I returned a week ago from my own Russell/Holmes (and Churchill) mini tour and and it has been really enjoyable reliving my trip from a different perspective through you.

    Mine was a spur of the moment (three weeks notice), low-budget version of your tour. I spent 4 days in London, 1 day going to Chartwell (Churchill’s country home) 1 day in Eastbourne and exploring the Sussex downs, one day in Oxford and half a day at Blenheim. It is remarkable how many of the same pictures we took. I lucked out on the weather and it never rained on me the entire time! Shocking!

    As I said it was a low budget affair and I travelled very light (only a small backpack)! My car didn’t have GPS and so half the adventure was in trying to get from place to place. Challenging but totally fun since I try to avoid motorways since they are uninspiring and entirely too easy.

    I thought of Holmes and Russell often particularly as I wound my way from Eastbourne to Oxford. The roads are so narrow and people drive so fast I could totally sympathize with Holmes dismay as Russell raced to Sussex from Oxford at the end of the Beekeeper’s Apprentice. My car and I emerged unscathed but it was a close thing.

    Thank you for taking the time to provide us with such a great tour!

  12. Megan on July 10, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    I feel your pain, I was on a road trip once where we got severely lost (and never did find) an entire town in northern British Colombia.

    These travelogues are just brilliant, thank you so much for sharing your trip with us!

    PS, I second (or third) the need for certain types of eloquence on road trips…

  13. AmyLizzie on July 11, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Wow! So beautifully written Alice! I’ve been to Dartmoor and it is very desolate and scary if you don’t know where your going! I remember the most scared I’ve ever been is walking through the new Forest at night with my dad, we’d been for a meal and it was light then had to walk back in the dark…v.v.scary, we survived but only just!

  14. Jessara on July 13, 2009 at 3:44 am

    How very timely; “Dr. Richard Stephens and his team at Keele University in the United Kingdom just published a study that says swearing actually has a pain-lessening effect.” Taken from the CNN website, so it must be right. We’re waiting eagerly for your Sussex posts. Did you find a B&B run by Lulu’s granddaughter, perhaps?

  15. strawberry curls on July 13, 2009 at 7:28 am

    I heard a report on that study on this morning’s news, and have to say, I find an expletive useful for blowing off steam on the odd occasion. Not as a habit, mind you, but when the smoke is starting to come out of your ears, it does break the tension.

    No, we did not stay at a B&B, but a private hotel. It was on the east side of Hastings and was not quite what we were looking for. We spent only one night then decamped for better digs in Eastbourne. Don’t believe Foder’s. They said the place had well appointed bedrooms, and I guess that would be almost correct if you were back in the 1950s, but they left a great deal to be desired as did the lounge and the bar area. Both smelt of mildew and had red flocked wallpaper and an orange pattered rug that had been in there since the 50s, and looked it. We weren’t looking for posh, but this hotel was below the standard we would tolerate so we moved.

  16. Laura Brewer on October 28, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Hello – I am happily reading through the Mary Russell series on my Kindle and loving each book.

    I am writing because I am unable to zoom the map of Dartmoor in the beginning of “The Moor” adequately to view it. I was hoping I would find it on your Web site, but, alas, I don’t see it.

    Laura Brewer

    • Laurie King on October 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm

      Hmm, we’ll see what we can do, didn’t realize the map got lost out in Kindlization…

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