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This walk: 2017-3-25.  North Roborough Down Tin Mine, gert, cycle track, The Old Station, memorial benches, pony eating gorse, RAF Harrowbeer features, bomb ramps, signals square, control tower, compass platform, pill boxes, rifle defence trench.

Walk details below - Information about the route etc.

Previous walks in this area: 17th October 2012 and 21st January 2015

Google Satellite map + GPS track of the walk 

Bing map of the walk area  

Old maps   
OS 6-inch, 1988-1913
OS 1-inch 7th Series 1955-1961
- shows remains of the airfield.


General view of the RAF Harrowbeer area of Roborough Down.


North Roborough Down Tin Mine consists of open works of approximately 10 shallow lodes, none deeper than 10 fathoms. Twenty-three tons of tin were gained in 1863, although the mine ceased working two years later.

North Roborough Down Tin Mine on AditNow web site - gives the location - gives the location and states the site is still marked by old surface workings. It was worked for tin, but indications suggest the overall grade was low.

Heritage Gateway - reports a few undulations on the west of the Horrabridge-Yelverton road mark the site of the small North Roborough Down  tin mine which functioned in the early 1860s. Rowe states that Barclay found remains of medieval pits + ginnies + remains of C19th engine house and buddles at the workings.

Other web sites

Wikipedia - Dartmoor tin-mining - General description of Dartmoor tin mining, from streaming, open cast and underground. 

Tin and Copper Mining on Dartmoor, Devon, c.1700-1914 - Phil Newman PhD Thesis

1856 Mines in Devon and Cornwall - interesting but does not include this mine.


Looking down into the topmost end of the open working or "gert" at SX 5119 6844 .....


The gert is crossed by the cycle track ..... looking towards Tavistock .....


Looking down into the gert on the downhill side of the cycle track, at SX 51295 68416 .....

On the east side of the Horrabridge-Tavistock road, undulating ground marks the site of the Sortridge Consols Mine. Over 7,000 tons of copper ore was mined in the 1850s and at the turn of the century it was worked for tin. Source: Helen Harris (1968), Industrial Archaeology of Dartmoor, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, pages 60 & 199.


Down in the gert as seen in the above photograph, not so deep here .....


Further down the gert - whoever left this bit of old-style fence panel here will never get it back in one piece - it is totally absorbed into a large tree! Seen very close to SX 51410 68461. 

How to age a tree: rule of thumb says 1-inch (2.5 cm) in bole i.e. trunk circumference per year, depending on various factors: crown, crowding, nutrients, competition, sheltered or exposed location, maturity and old age (old trees stop growing). This tree measured 5 ft 6 inches = 66 inches. As the tree is in a crowded location, one might guess the tree to be over 70 years old.


Further down the gert, beyond the white arrows is a steep drop of perhaps thirty feet?


Looking up into the gert from near the bottom, towards the road. Note the height of the side wall at top right.


Rhododendron growing on the lip of the gert.



Youtube video: Yelverton to Tavistock (via route 27, Gem Viaduct and Grenofen Tunnel) - this shows the RAF Harrowbeer information board and "Polish Memorial" at Leg O'Mutton - 0:40 min, cross the mine gert - 2:48 (note the two dark trees - see the photo below) cross road into Old Station Road - 4:40 min; We branched left up the track to the higher part of the Down.   Continuing on the video: Magpie Bridge -  7:14 min.,  Screw (Skew?) Bridge - 8:40 min,  Gem Bridge - 9:15 min and Grenofen Tunnel.- 12:00 min.


Back on the cycle track: the two evergreen trees either side of the cycle track appear in the Youtube video at 2 minutes 47 seconds - this is where the path crosses the tin mine gert - most of the gert and the extensive surface mining disturbance is down the slope on the right of the track.  The mined area extends down to the A386 road. 

The track is part of Drake’s Trail, Route 27 – this section constructed 2008, whole section to Tavistock completed September 2012.  There are twenty-one miles between Tavistock and Plymouth. It runs 103 miles, coast-to-coast, from Plymouth to Ilfracombe.


Apparently the base of a shower block - I was told by a passing jogger as I stood there musing to myself .....


Another view.  Presumably, this was to do with the wartime airfield and its dispersed sites where personnel were housed away from the field in case of enemy attack. 


A view along the track .....


Zoomed view. 


More tin workings are seen all along this section of the cycle track.


The cycle track approaches a road (Horrabridge to Long Ash and Crapstone) .....


Crossing the road into The Old Station


The signpost: This was the site of the old Horrabridge railway station. The Plymouth – Tavistock railway was built by the South Devon & Tavistock Railway. led by Lord Morley. It opened in June 1859 and closed December 1962.   It was a broad gauge line but from 1876 also carried the standard gauge (then referred to as narrow gauge) trains of the London and South Western Railway between Lydford and Plymouth: a third rail was provided, making a mixed gauge. In 1892 the whole line was converted to standard gauge only.


Our walk headed up the lane to the left.




Robin singing high in a tree near the Kilmantain property on one of the reconnaissance walks.  When the photograph was taken, I couldn't see what the bird was, being almost silhouetted against the light sky, but photo-processing is a wonderful thing!


Mike Brown's CD Guide to Dartmoor: 5051 6944  (GPS SX 50522 69453)

After the last property passed up the track from The Old Station, Kilmantain, there are some fields on the right.  In the corner of the last field (private land) stands one of eight numbered stones erected to mark the bounds of Horrabridge Consolidated Chapelry, this one inscribed ‘HCC 1867 No 2’.  I still haven't seen it!


William Crossing: In the 1200's, known as Roburg and Rugheburgh and later as Rowborrough. Among the possessions of Buckland Abbey at the time of the Dissolution. An 18th Century map shows Roborough Rock as Ullestor Rock.  William Crossing (1912, reprinted 2001) Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor, Peninsula Press, Newton Abbot, page 444.


Tree with a memorial bench, at SX 50242 69571 .....


The plaques on the bench.

Wikipedia - Roborough - Roborough Down is the name given to the long stretch of undulating moorland over which the road to Yelverton and Tavistock passes. It lies within Dartmoor National Park, but is owned by Lord Roborough's Maristow Estate. The down has a rich array of wildlife such as ravens, buzzards, foxes, deer and semi-wild ponies and its vegetation consists of pasture, gorse and bracken with frequent stands of hawthorn, oak and birch. However, the down's unique wildlife and environment is threatened by increasing deforestation and grazing pressure.


Another memorial, somewhere near SX 50182 69468 ..... on the uphill section of the walk .....


Closer view.

BBC Domesday Reloaded - Roborough Down


Another bench ("Bench 3") at SX 50513 69212 .....


The memorial plaque.

Roborough Down – exploited for 1000’s of years. Britons, Saxons & Normans have coppiced, felled, hunted and cultivated crops –  superimposing fields, pastures  and boundary  markers as  the need arose. Evidence of divisions for agriculture, ridge and furrow, lynchets and lazy beds? While there seems to be no records of land use in this area, other areas of Roborough Down towards Clearbrook do have recorded field systems: Heritage Gateway 1, Heritage Gateway 2 & Heritage Gateway 3.


Pony eating gorse .....

Dartmoor CAM movie. TIPS .....

  • once viewing, make movie viewer "Full Screen"

  • click the loop or "continuous play" icon (if there is one)

  • press F11 to make more "Full Screen", remembering to press it again to regain Normal Screen.

Dartmoor pony eating gorse.

Click the photo to download>

File size: 5.5 MB.
Length 36 secs



View to Cox Tor, SX 530 761, elevation 442 metres (1450 feet), Great Staple Tor, SX 542 760, elevation 455 metres (1492 feet) and Great Mis Tor, SX 563 769, elevation 538 metres (1765 feet), with Pew Tor in front - to the right, SX 532 734, elevation 318 metres (1043 feet) .....



Great Staple Tor .....



Group photo. we were twenty-two altogether. 


Panorama from Cox Tor (left), Great Staple Tor, Pew Tor, Great Mis Tor, King's Tor, Swelltor Quarries, North Hessary Tor, Ingra Tor, Princetown trees, South Hessary Tor, Sharpitor to Peek Hill (right).   Click the image to see a larger LABELLED version.



Brief History
This WW2 airfield was part of 10 Group, Fighter Command.  It was opened 15th August 1941 and closed in July 1945.
Rubble from the Plymouth blitz was used as hardcore during construction of the runways etc, also stone from local mines and quarries.
Nationalities known to have served here were British, Polish, Canadian, American, French and Czechoslovakian.
At times, there were more than 2,000 personnel serving on the airfield. 
Aircraft known to have flown from here include Spitfire, Hurricane, Blenhein, Walrus, Mustang, Typhoon and Anson. 
Harrowbeer provided escorts for bombers searching for enemy E and U-boats in the English Channel and in the area of the Brest peninsula.

And, from the web site's "History" page  ..... one very unexpected visitor arrived on 2nd August 1945 when an aircraft, due to land at St. Mawgan, was diverted due to fog to Harrowbeer. On board was the President of the United States, Harry Truman on his way home after the Potsdam conference.

The site was proposed for an airport for Plymouth in 1960 but this was rejected.  The site was demolished in 1961.

Dispersed sites as part of RAF Harrowbeer.  The airfield was the main site with the runways, operational buildings and huts: but there were also twelve other sites in the area, away from the airfield. These were situated towards Crapstone and Buckland Monachorum. They housed the aircrew and ground staff in groups of huts in the corners of fields with some larger sites that also had dining halls and shower blocks.  After the war, these sites were converted into emergency housing for victims of the Plymouth blitz.


360° panorama view of the main tarmac area of the old WW2 airfield. Click the image for a larger view.


Part of the aviation fuel store - the concrete base is where petrol tankers would stand during their filling.


The "duck pond", SX 50606 68813. surrounded by trees, part of the decoy farm that was the small arms ammunition store.


Bomb ramp. at SX 50793 68655, one of a pair, located in the NW extremity to minimise impact of hit by enemy fire.  Bombs were delivered from Horrabridge Station off-loaded onto the ramp, carefully "trammelled" i.e. rolled down presumably under the control of ropes - there are iron "trammel rings" near ground level on the reverse i.e. road side of the ramp. The bombs were somehow stacked onto racks and taken by tractor-pulled trolley to the store and to Whistley Down  Detonators were inserted prior to use. 


Two trammel rings, on the road side of the ramps.


Face view ..... Face view of one of the ramps


Showing both ramps.


The side entrance to one of two lined, roofed-over rifle trenches. These had e.g. four firing slits down each side as defence against attack by enemy paratroops. They would have been manned by the Home Guard or a local army unit, and later by the RAF Regiment. Not a place to get caught in against highly mobile attacking troops. The second trench is shown further below - it is more exposed and more detail can be seen.


Temporary pond, SX 50785 68283, where Fairy Shrimp (Chirocephalus_diaphanus) can be found. These are protected and endangered ..... 

Fairy Shrimp, 13 mm long
Female (top) & male (bottom)
Youtube video


Pill box within the car park area, SX 50923 68448.


There are two squares of concrete in the middle distance - one was the control tower and one was the signal square that showed various symbols, esp. wind direction. In the distance is the compass circle - this is a non-ferrous area where planes were aligned to north and their magnetic compasses adjusted for accuracy for navigation.

Google Satellite view of this part of the airfield


A Google Satellite image of part of the airfield - the signals square (with associated QB radio code letters) is prominent, the smaller control tower base is just north of the signals square and the circular compass platform is in the lower right corner .....


Control Tower (aka Watch Office) concrete base .....


The Signal Square ......

From the RAF Harrowbeer web site .....

"The Signals Square was situated close to the Watch Office. On an airfield the runway-in-use for landing and take-offs was dependant on the wind direction. For an aircraft coming in to land a "Landing Tee" would be positioned in the Signals Square pointing in the approximate direction. There would also be a second "Tee" positioned at the downwind end of the runway. The crossbar was always nearest to the approaching wind." 

From the Atlantikwall web site, about the Signal Square .....

"An aid to show the pilots the landing conditions on the airfield. QB is RAF Harrowbeer's pundit code, a radio code for the airfield. Usually they used the letters of the airfield but as there are several airfields beginning with H another code had to be found."


The 3-inch signals mortar - for firing a bright flare high up through mist or low cloud when a normal flare was not enough to help guide lost aircraft to the field.


The Compass Platform.


Pill box, at SX 51117 68288.


Rifle defence trench, at SX 51041 68364. I have found nothing online that is similar to this, although it is essentially a form of pill box. The nearest item is the cantilever pill box, which shares some design aspects but is not very similar - there seems to be no room for a central anti-ricochet wall. 


Looking inside the trench from the blocked-up entrance at one end - showing four rifle slits on each side.

The other side of the airfield has the base of an Allan Williams Turret - this link is "parked" here in readiness for a later walk (25th June). .


Google Earth image of the north-west sector of the airfield with various items of interest indicated by yellow map pins. Copyright: Google 2018. 




Ten short Youtube videos

1 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER AIRFIELD - Introduction     

An in-depth look at “Plymouth’s” Wartime Airfield – introduction. Opened for service 15 August 1941, after the Plymouth Blitz. Original square white tower added to Victoria Lodge as the original Control Tower or Watch Tower. After a new tower was built in 1942 it became HQ for 276 Squadron Air-Sea Rescue – became a major role of the airfield.   Ravenscroft (now a nursing home) was a copy of Merrivale (in the trees). 12 dispersal bays. Planes always left fully fuelled and fully armed, ready for scrambling. 2 sizes – fighter or fighter bomber, RF Harrowbeer had fighter bomber size because later the airfield went to fighter bombers for offense – Typhoons, Westland Whirlwinds. Concrete in centre of the pens was aded in 1942 becase fuel leaks dissolved the tarmac. Tie-down points against Dartmoor winds!! Work started  by Sep/Oct 1940. Runways built by January 1941. Not Plymouth rubble, although there is a little here.  Runway 3 from Yelverton to main entrance near old watch tower was 1st, Runway 1 from Yelv to Crapstone was 2nd and Runway No 2 (there is some blitz rubble under the end of this runway). Plymouth Blitz was March/April 1941.  



2 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - Air-sea rescue function. Originally "downed" pilots in the Channel relied on the Navy and fishing boats to rescue them. RAF decided things needed to improve. RAF Harrowbeer was tasked to come up with solutions. Ideally, pilots radio'd their position. Two radio direction finding stations on the airfield wold indicate the area to search. Spitfire scrambled to look, drop a dinghy, smoke floats etc. and circle to mark the pilot's position. A Westland Lysander could drop extra dinghies and smoke floats. Then a Walrus amphibious plane would go out and land on the water, but it was not a flying boat. There were Sunderland flying boats at RAF Mount Batten. Bristol Blenhems were the first aircraft here. The first squadron posted to RAF Harrowbeer were 302 Squadron (Polish), who were fearless in the Battle of Britain. NB - 312 Squadron (Czech) arrived on 2 May 1942 to recover from serious losses in the Battle of Britain.
3 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - Dispersal bays - inside the air-raid shelters. Tie-down points, inside a dispersal bay (air raid shelters) built of earth, but the metal shelters were delivered by lorry. Designed to shelter personnel against bomb blast. Emergency exits.

4 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - Armoury building. Designed in two halves – in one half the armourers worked on the guns, cleaning and repairing; in the other half – machine gun belts were filled with ammunition.

5 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - Parachute store. – packing bench truly earthed because many ‘chutes were nylon and could be charged with static electricity and then fail to open. Inspection was strict and parachutes were randomly examined, in detail - if any fault was found then all 'chutes previously packed were unpacked and packed again.

6 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - Post war. In 1944 the front line moved further away from here. Many airfields went to France. Harrowbeer became rest and recuperation. Closed 1945 and records end. Used by ATC and gliders continued into the 1950s. Originally commandeered from Maristow Estate. Should it have become Plymouth Airport?

7 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - Gun camera lab. A cine camera recorded the firing of the aircraft's guns to support pilot claims of "hits" and to improve their shooting technique. The camera was fitted in the root of the wing.

8 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - An American President.  President Harry Truman, August 1945, just after the airfield officially closed – no records. Had been at the Potsdam onference. St Mawgan was fog-bound so RAF Harrowbeer was used for transfer to boardthe destroyer USS Augusta. There was a delay while the cars had to drive from St. Mawgan to Yelverton.

9 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER AIRFIELD - Bomb store. This was added in 1943 when the airfield went from defensive to offensive action. Bombs, without fuses or fins, were unloaded from a lorry by ropes. Without fuses, the bombs are inert. Fuses stored elsewhere for safety. When an operation was planned, bombs were tractored on small trollies to the fusing store at the far side of the airfield. Fuses were screwed in and the vanes were attached and then they were transferred to the aircraft. Unused bombs were not brought back to the airfield because landing with  "live" bombs is dangerous - they were jettisoned in designated areas of The Channel. There were 250 and 500 lb bombs and rocket projectiles stored at Harrowbeer.

10 of 10. RAF HARROWBEER - Those who gave their lives. Sixty-six personnel lost their lives while serving at RAF Harrowbeer, including pilots and ground crew.  There were accidents involving Spitfire, Defiant, Mustang, Mosquito aircraft.


Items not visited on the walk

Machine gun pit, at approximately SX 51402 67568, on the lip of the dispersal / bomb blast bay. This at the second bay along the road from the Knightstone tea rooms (this being the original watch or control tower). It is on the lip nearest the tea rooms.  A stump of what was presumably the mount to hold the machine gun is left embedded in the floor .....  a similar defence structure .....


Closer view of the of the presumed mount for the machine gun.  Another such pit is located on the lip of the third bay along the road, furthest from the tea rooms.  A similar gun mount can be seen in a Sywell airfield gun pit. Another Stork mount with a Lewis gun is depicted HERE, near the bottom of the page.  A very informative description of the defences and many other features at RAF Harrowbeer can be found HERE.  The area under here, within the walls of the pen, was a Stanton type air raid shelter capable of holding 28 persons.



The stone above, often known locally as "The Polish Memorial" is located at SX 5177 6791, on the road into the car park at Leg O'Mutton (so-called because on the map, this piece of land is in the shape of a leg of lamb).   The stone is a granite block that originated from Swelltor Quarries in the mid-19th Century. It fell off a tramway wagon and was abandoned on Roborough Common until it was retrieved by helicopter and moved to this location.


Walk details

MAP: Red = GPS satellite track of the walk.

© Crown copyright and database rights 2016  Ordnance Survey Licence number 100047373
Also, Copyright © 2005, Memory-Map Europe, with permission.


This walk was reached by parking in the old road network in the middle of the airfield, at SX 50857 68406, reacjed from tyhe Yelverton roundabout, at the yellow cross that is near the  P  symbol on the map.


Distance - 5.02 km / 3.12 miles






All photographs on this web site are copyright © Keith Ryan.
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