I’m not sure there’s another place in England that can match Dartmoor for atmosphere. It’s certainly exerted a fascination over many authors. I discovered it as a child, in the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” I could write reams about the place, but will leave that to others.
As it is, today's introduction to the setting of “The Mad Earl’s Bride” will be rather longer than I prefer.
‘DARTMOOR,' So named from the Dart, to which it gives rise, as it does to most of the rivers in Devon, constitutes the south-west part of the county on the north of the ' South Hams.' On approaching this tract from the south and south-east, the eye is bewildered by an extensive waste, exhibiting gigantic Tors, large surfaces covered with vast masses of scattered granite and immense rocks, which seem to have been precipitated from deep declivities into valleys. These huge fragments, spread in wild confusion over the ground, have been compared to the ponderous masses ejected by volcanoes, to the enormous ruins of formidable castles, and to the wrecks of mountains torn piecemeal by the raging elements.
‘Dartmoor,' and the waste called the ' Forest of Dartmoor,'* include between two and three hundred thousand acres of open and uncultivated land. Of these, Dartmoor alone is supposed to comprise upwards of eighty thousand. Swampy declivities, unfit for cultivation, also abound in many parts of this district."—From The History of Devonshire, by the Rev. Thomas Moore. (1829)
The Great Grimpen Mire (Grimspound bog) was my introduction to quicksand. Following is an oft-repeated story.
There is a story told of one of the nastiest of mires on Dartmoor, that of Aune Head. A mire, by the way, is a peculiarly watery bog, that lies at the head of a river. It is its cradle, and a bog is distributed indiscriminately anywhere.
A mire cannot always be traversed in safety; much depends on the season. After a dry summer it is possible to tread where it would be death in winter or after a dropping summer.
A man is said to have been making his way through Aune Mire when he came on a top-hat reposing, brim downwards, on the sedge. He gave it a kick, whereupon a voice called out from beneath, " What be you a-doin' to my 'at ? " The man replied, " Be there now a chap under'n ?" " Ess, I reckon," was the reply, " and a hoss under me likewise."
There is a track through Aune Head Mire that can be taken with safety by one who knows it.
Fox Tor Mire once bore a very bad name. The only convict who really got away from Princetown and was not recaptured was last seen taking a beeline for Fox Tor Mire.From Sabine Baring-Gold’s A Book of Dartmoor.
* a forest, in England, does not necessarily include trees.
For some early 20th photos, try Dartmoor illustrated: a series of plates of its scenery and antiquities, with some short topographical notes.