Sourton is a small village, lying to the northwest edge of Dartmoor National Park, below Sourton Tors. The road forms the National Park boundary at this point. The village developed to support the farming and associated trades, including lime production. It also lay on the turnpike road between Okehampton and Tavistock. The Southern Railway line ran through Sourton until its closure in 1968. The old track up behind the church leads to the disused railway which is now used as a cycle track called the Granite Way. You can walk or cycle from Okehampton to Lydford.
Sourton provides a convenient and accessible starting point or visits to the high moor.
In the centre of the village green is the Sourton Green Cross. The Cross is decorated with carvings of crosses, saltires and circles. It was discovered in the 1980’s supporting a roof! Following its discovery the National Park Authority erected in its present site in the centre of the village.
Sourton makes a great base for excursions into Dartmoor Forest. Nearby is the Sourton Tors circle which consists of 32 stones all but 6 of which remain were they have fallen. The Sourton Tors Stone Cross Circle lies between the hills of Cornridge and Sourton Tors.
Between Sourton and Okehampton you can see the line of the old KING WAY and KING WALL. This was the old coaching route between London and Plymouth. The King’s mail was taken on this route, probably Charles 1. It is thought that this route was in existence during the Saxon times but was only discovered in 2010. The cross can be seen on the King Way see Dartmoor National Park website for more information.
Sourton Cross SX 5474 9179 (Ordinance Survey Grid Ref)
This Cross is one of the earliest Dartmoor stone crosses dated around 6th to 8th century. It stands near the caravan park on Sourton Down and has had 3 purposes over the last few centuries.
- It was used as a grave stone or memorial with traces of a Latin inscription and a Chi Rho cross. The original was probably a single menhir shape. Further details can be found on the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project database and the English Heritage Pastscape database.
- It is thought to have been transformed in 9th-11th century into a wayside cross with very short arms!
- In the 18th century the cross became a sign post and the letters, O, T, H, and L were carved on its 4 sides to guide travellers to Okehampton, Tavistock, Hatherleigh and Launceston. In 1986 when the Okehampton by-pass was built the cross was removed and was later re-erected in its present position in 1993.
St Thomas à Becket Church -Sourton
Christians have worshiped in Sourton since 970 or earlier, probably around a preaching cross on the Green or in a simple building. Recent conservation work on the present building has revealed the tower to be fourteenth century. This church was licensed in 1374 and may well have been re-dedicated at the time the tower was built. Local descendants of the two Devon knights involved in the murder of St Thomas à Becket (the Archbishop murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170) may have wanted to salve their consciences by dedicating the church to him.
The mediaeval wagon roofs still retain traces of colour. The original wall plate in the north aisle has carvings of angels holding shields. Eighteenth century angels adorn the slate gravestones in the churchyard. The church is light with clear windows except for one tiny window in the Victorian chancel, made up of fragments of old glass. There is also a stained glass panel, recently donated, made up of mainly Victorian glass from Canterbury. The wooden panel on the north wall bears the coat of arms of Charles 2nd, a reminder to the people of Sourton to remain loyal to the Crown after their parliamentary involvement in the Civil War, when the Battle of Sourton Down was fought nearby in 1643.
Things to spot:-
A frieze of carved wooden angels
The Charles 2nd coat of arms
Angels with fat faces carved on slate gravestones
The Old Ice Works
If you follow the track up just beneath Sourton Tors and around to the north you will find the site of the old ice works (SX 546901). All that is left is a level grassy area about 32 yards x 6 yards, with the remains of an old wall. There are also the remains of a 10 foot square chamber and grassy terraces which were once the trenches where the ice was formed.
The demand for ice to preserve food was high during the 19th century. In 1875 the site at Sourton manufactured ice mainly because there was a good spring which never dried up and because it was exceptionally cold here. Water was piped from the spring into trenches where it could freeze. The resulting blocks of ice were stored, probably in underground insulated chambers covered in turf. In spring and early summer the blocks were taken out and transported by horse and cart and later by train to Plymouth!
Rattlebrook Peat Works
Rattlebrook Peat Works (SX 559872) had a narrow gauge railway. The industry started in the 1850’s and the railway, completed in 1879, connected with the London and South Western Railway at Bridestowe Station. It cost £6000 to build and zigzagged for 5 miles ascending a thousand feet. The iron rails were originally used for horse drawn trucks and later for a short time, for light petrol -driven lorries adapted for running on rails.
This is best approached from the car park (SX526853) just up the track from the Dartmoor Inn at Lydford, further along the A386. The walk, following the track about 7 miles takes one right out on to the high moor. The reversing points/later roundabout can be seen on Coombe Down in Sourton (SX 546887)
On 25th April 1643 Royalists and the Parliamentarians clashed at the Battle of Sourton Down. In one fierce night of fighting in terrible weather a handful of Parliamentarians under John Chudleigh ambushed and scattered the Royalist Cornish Army under Sir Ralph Hopton. Two days before, the Royalists had beaten them at the Battle of Polson Bridge just outside Launceston. There is an excellent display in Okehampton Museum if you want to find out more about this important battle.
Tourist Attractions in the area
Visit the Dartmoor National Park website for events on Dartmoor
The Granite Way - The route passes near to the Museum of Dartmoor Life in Okehampton, Okehampton Castle and Lydford Gorge (National Trust - reduced entry for those arriving by bicycle). Look out for the spectacular Meldon Viaduct, from where there are wonderful views of Meldon Dam and Dartmoor beyond. The route is a traffic free off road route making it very family friendly.
Sourton Tor Circular Walk - This walk is a Basic hike: from Sourton (just south of Okehampton on the Tavistock road) up onto the moors, heading north east to the Ice Works and then south onto Sourton Tors. Back via the path opposite Lake Down.
Lydford Gorge - The gorge is an amazing place to visit at any time of the year. The wildlife, river, plants and trees provide a stunning show each and every day so make sure you visit this place if you are in the area.
Finch Foundary - The last working water-powered forge in England. The water wheels power massive hammers, shears and sharpening stone. It was once the South West's most successful edged tool factory producing over 400 tools a day.
Brentor Church - The church at Brentor is the smallest church on Dartmoor.
Lydford Castle - Two castles: a post-Conquest castle, of which only the earthworks remain, and a 13th Century tower, build on top of a 12th Century predecessor.
Okehampton Castle - Remains of the largest Castle in Devon
Two Castles Trail - This is a 24 mile route between Okehampton and Launceston Castles.
Dartmoor Letterboxing - Letterboxing is an outdoor pursuit with similarities to orienteering.
Ten Tors - if you have a team taking part in Ten Tors why not book the hall as a base for your tea
Dartmoor Railway - The route of the Dartmoor Railway is part of what was once the London South Western Railway main line from London Waterloo to Plymouth and North Cornwall opened as a through route in 1876. Trains st
Places to Eat and Stay in or near Sourton
Bearslake Inn - Thatched former Devon Longhouse which offers bed and breakfast and a restaurant specialising in local produce.
Fox and Hounds Hotel - Provides bed and breakfast, camping barn and campsite offering seasonal local produce with restaurant and bar meals available.
Highwayman Inn - Quoted as being the most unusual pub in Britain offering
Prewley Moor Arms - provides bed and breakfast and traditional, homemade English food and real ales are served in the on-site pub and restaurant.
All pubs are within walking distance of the cycle route.