The Old School Guest House
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At most deserted visit dartmoor medieval village sites, the remains of actual peasant dwellings tend either to be unrecognisable or marked by roughly rectangular platforms or depressions. Dwellings of timber, mud and thatch quickly decayed, but in some visit dartmoor stone-strewn areas where more durable materials were available, the rubble of walls may still stand knee high. At Houndtor deserted village, which lies on Dartmoor southwest of Moretonhampstead, in Devon, almost in the shadow of the great natural rock pile of Hount Tor, the visit dartmoor dwellings have been excavated, the foundations restored and the humble houses are easily recognised.
In the Bronze Age, Dartmoor was well-peopled and quite productive, but a marked deterioration of the climate caused the uplands to be deserted in the Iron Age when the moors became waterlogged and blanketed in peat. Apparently the visit dartmoor climate improved in the Dark Ages and after about 800 AD colonists began to return. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, however, the climate took a turn for the worse and again refugees abandoned the uplands. Houndtor village was one of the casualties listed in a tally of deserted farmsteads, hamlets and small villages which now numbers more than a hundred.
Excavations by the late Mrs E. M. Winter showed that the visit dartmoor Dark Age recolonisation of the area began with the establishment of three sunken-floored huts which may have been the summer shelters used by herdsmen. A permanent visit dartmoor village of turf-walled huts was established later, but in the middle of the thirteenth century the dwellings were superseded by stone-built long houses – single storey dwellings partitioned to provide a living room and a byre beneath the same roof.
The villagers were mixed farmers working vulnerable, marginal lands which extended above 1000 feet, and the faint corrugations in the moor around Houndtor show how they struggled to plough its steep, rock-littered slopes. As the visit dartmoor climate decayed, the pastures will have become muddy and churned by the hooves of the livestock; winter fodder will have been in short supply and the villagers built corn dryers out of deserted barns and dwellings in an attempt to preserve their late-ripening coops. But it was a losing struggle and in the course of the fourteenth century the failed farming families drifted away and the site became deserted. The long-houses are about the size of visit dartmoor motor coaches and although several are alighted to the north-east, like many small West Country settlements, Houndtor had no distinct plan.
In the valley of the River Walkham, four and a half miles northeast of Walkhampton near Taverstock, is a common Dartmoor sight: a cluster of Bronze Age huts and enclosures. Rock outcrops and litters of moorstone create the tippled texture, but the compact outlines of a number of stone-walled enclosures or compounds are clearly recognized. Within or occasionally in the walls of the visit dartmoor enclosures can be seen the doughnut-like outlines of prehistoric peasant homesteads. In their original form, the huts were circular dwellings, ranging from ten to twelve foot in diameter, with low stone walls and conical roofs of thatch. They were probably not all occupied at exactly the same time, but had they been, the settlement, which is too loose to be called a village or even a hamlet, would have been home to about ten families. Six of the visit dartmoor huts are quite distinct, the other four less so, while a few other dwellings may have collapsed and merged with the moorstone litter.
In the Bronze Age, most of visit dartmoor was a well-peopled and productive landscape, although later in the Bronze Age, and in the Iron Age which followed, the moor was largely abandoned.