Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960) was a prolific writer of fiction in a Dartmoor setting. He
spent most of his adult life in Devon, and was a close friend of another of the county's
famous literary icons, Agatha Christie, who claimed to be influenced by Eden in her early
years as a writer. This extract from Children of the Mist, one of his 20 volume Dartmoor
Cycle of 18 novels and two volumes of short stories, evokes the dramatic moorland
landscape unfolding from Steeperton Tor to the south-west of Belstone.
From that distant sponge in the central waste, from Cranmere, mother of moorland rivers,
the man presently noted wrinkles of pure gold trickling down a hillside two miles off. Here
sunshine touched the river Taw, still an infant thing not far advanced on the journey from
its fount; but the play of light upon the stream, invisible save for this finger of the
sun, indicated to the solitary that he approached his destination. Presently he stood on
the side of lofty Steeperton and surveyed that vast valley known as Taw Marsh, which lies
between the western foothills of Cosdon Beacon and the Belstone Tors to the north. The
ragged manes of the latter hills wind through the valley in one lengthy ridge, and extend
to a tremendous castellated mass of stone, by name Oke Tor.
Today Cranmere Pool is no more than a depression in the moorland peat, having been drained
in the early 19th Century. The phrase 'mother of moorland rivers' should not be taken
literally as the pool is incapable of holding water in any quantity. However three of the
major rivers of Dartmoor, the Dart, the Taw, and the Okement all rise in the morasses that
surround it. Crossing relates this folk
tale accounting for the Pool's emptiness:
Tradition tells us that the pool was drained dry by one Binjie Gear, who being condemned
for some reason, but what the legend does not inform us, to dip out its waters with an
oat-sieve, one day found a sheep skin on the moor, and covering the sieve with it was
enabled to empty Cranmere, and no water has ever collected within it since.
Phillpotts revisted Steeperton Tor seven years later in The Secret Woman to paint an even
more dramatic word picture; an eloquent image of this rugged terrain being wondrously
transformed by the ever changing light of the autumn sky. Here we have protagonist Jesse
Redvers sitting aloft reflecting silently on his recent misfortunes, when he suddenly
awakens from this reverie to be overawed by the magnificence of his surroundings.
So silent Jesse sat that heath-larks fluttered to his feet. His eyes narrowed again to focus
distance, then fell on Taw river where she glittered, an infant stream, from her cradle in
Cranmere. And still the sun reigned over the north, burst the cloud-meshes, and scattered
glory into the amphitheatre of a mighty vale, where it spread, all decked for the pomp of
the time, between Cosdon and the jagged Belstones. Here Nature, working in loneliness upon
the loom of morass and winding river, water-worn gravel reaches, heather ridges, vast banks
of furze and slopes of dying fern, had fashioned a triumph for the victory of Autumn.
Blended, inwrought and inwoven; leavened with the light that burns on the brink of rain;
like a jade cup brimming with jewels; rich in all imaginable harmonies of primary colour;
stately in primitive strength of huge and simple forms, there spread forth the marshes of
Taw. Here the mists generate, and the great cloud shadows sail; here is a trysting-place
for rainbows and the rain; and here lie regions wide enough to display the whole pageant of
the seasons, to exhibit the ephemeral procession of all the hours.
Children of the Mist, A.D.Innes, 1898, and The Secret Woman, Methuen 1905, both by Eden
Crossing's description of the Legend of Bingie Gear is taken from "The Land of Stream and Tor" by William Crossing, reprinted by Forest
Thanks to Richard Knights for permission to reproduce the Dartmoor images on this page from
his spendid Dartmoor