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History and Folklore of Bovey Valley Woods

The valley once contained a number of medieval farmsteads. The best preserved are the three buildings of Bovey Combe Farm in Hisley Wood which originate from the early 14th Century.

There is also another medieval farmstead, Vinnimore, in this wood, adjacent to the river Bovey. Hisley pack horse bridge is shown on the tithe map of the 1840s but is likely to be much older. Near the bridge there are the remains of an old weir which is marked on maps from about a century ago. It was probably built to create a fishing pool.

The farms were gradually abandoned and native woodland has re-established itself in the former fields. This naturalisation process was disrupted in the post-war period when areas of former oak coppice were converted to conifer.

Much ancient woodland remains and shows many features resulting from at least 400 years of coppice management. There are also stone walls, earth banks and charcoal hearths, flat, circular areas about five metres across, which produced the charcoal needed to smelt iron, lead and copper during the Industrial Revolution.

Pullabrook Wood was purchased by the Trust in 1985 with grant aid from the Countryside Commission. Hisley Wood was purchased in 1988 with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the Nature Conservancy Council. The purchase of Houndtor Wood in 2001 was partly funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since acquisition, the Trust has been working to replace some of the conifers with native trees.

Origin of name

The name ‘Bovey’ is pre-Roman and probably means ‘the river’. Houndtor Wood is named after the nearby Hound Tor, which appears in the Domesday Book as Hundatora. Pullabrook Wood is named after Pullabrook Farm, which appears as Polebroch in the Domesday Book.

Folklore

According to legend, a witch turned a pack of dogs to stone at the nearby Hound Tor. It’s thought that this story inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles. An episode of BBC’s Sherlock, ‘The Hounds of Baskerville’, was filmed here.

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