No matter your beliefs the Dartmoor crosses are fascinating and rich in history. Some have stood for a millennia, silent sentinels of the Moor.
There is a legend attached to the origin of the crosses. The story says that there were four evil monks who broke from their brotherhood and robbed and murdered a wealthy Jewish man.
In making their escape they crossed the Moor but as night fell a dark figure could be seen following them. As the figure approached they realised in terror, that it was the ghost of the man they’d mugged and killed.
The ghost hypnotized them, and they wandered into the mire, fell through the ice, and were sucked into the thick bog. Their Abbot, who knew nothing about the murder of the Jew assumed they had simply run away and ordered that the crosses be erected to mark the tracks from one monastery to another, to prevent future monks from getting lost.
Of course this is all nonsense, in truth the crosses have been erected as far back as a 1000 years ago, to just 100 and are mostly navigational and commemorative.
Marking boundary lines and medieval routes between Abbeys or for prayer as town, market and churchyard crosses.
Most of them are now micro chipped thanks largely to the Dartmoor National Park Authority, to prevent them from being stolen.
There are 132 known crosses on Dartmoor and many more have been “lost” or stolen. Some were used in buildings during the industrialisation of the Moor and can still be seen as lintels and gate posts. Many of the crosses have lost their arms and now stand as straight pieces of rock which you could easily mistake for ancient standing stones.
Some are embedded in stone walls and others only have the socket stone base remaining.
Some of the more well known crosses
Nuns or Siward’s cross, depicted in my previous post about our walk around Fox Tor mire. It is situated next to Nuns cross farm.
This is the largest and oldest recorded cross on Dartmoor, being mentioned in the 1240 Perambulation of the Forest of Dartmoor.
The cross was probably erected during Edward the Confessor's reign (1042–1066), and stands at the junction of two main tracks across the moor: The Monks’ Path and the Abbots’ Way, both of which link Buckfast Abbey to Tavistock Abbey and Buckland Abbey.
Located on Ugborough Moor, three miles north-east of Ivybridge, this cross is at the crossroads of an ancient east–west track between Exeter and Plymouth, and the north-south Blackwood path that was once used by peat cutters.
The cross is unique to Dartmoor for having spurred limbs which were popular in the 14th century.
There were two crosses on Ter Hill — a southwest one and a northeast one. The southwest cross was badly damaged and was moved to the Jack Wigmore Memorial Garden (High Moorland Centre, Princetown). A replica of the southwest cross was erected on Ter Hill in 1994. The northeast cross was removed from its original place in the 17th century by a Mr. Coaker of Sherberton, who used it in his courtyard. Eventually the cross was returned to its original spot and re-erected in 1885.
I like to photograph the crosses as we find them and have been known to go for a walk in a specific location just to 'collect' the cross. They're extremely useful when navigating and the children and I recently used two of the crosses while map reading, looking for Crazy Well Pool.