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Hive Trees and Whirlpools: Describing Dartmoor in the 11th Century

By Ellie Jones, Cathedral Archivist

This week we have an Anglo Saxon curiosity from the Archives. There is a small early 11th century document, written in Old English, which describes the boundary of an area of land somewhere on the edge of Dartmoor. It includes parts of the parishes of Ashburton, Widecombe, Manaton and Ilsington, but the bounds do not conform to any known later parish boundary. It is a formulaic but lovely description – almost poetic – using streams, hills, trees and stones as waymarkers, as it describes a small portion of the Devon landscape. Here is a translation of the text, so you can try and picture the scene; has it changed much in 1000 years?
This is Peadingtun’s land share where Ash bourn runs out . into Dart stream as far as where raging bourn [Webburn] runs out . up into raging bourn as far as willow-withy marsh [Withymore] from Withymore to cealfa dune [calves’ down] midward from calves’ down as far as seven stones . from the seven stones to hyfan [hive] tree . from the hive tree to hordburh [treasure fortification] . from hordburh to deer ford . from deer ford to long stone . from long stone to eofede tor . from eofede tor to high down forwards . from high down to the blind well . from the well to the ƿritelan [bubbling] stone . from the stone to rough barrow . from rough barrow to fyrs penn [furze hill] . from furze hill to wort [herb] combe’s head . from herb combe’s head to rammes horne [Ramshorn Down] . from Ramshorn to lulca stile . from lulca stile to ƿice cumes [wych-elm combe’s] head to lymen [Lemon] stream until ƿocgga [Ogwell] spring watercourse runs out . into the watercourse as far as Ogwell spring’s head . from Ogwell spring’s head onto the way as far as the great dyke . from the dyke to the spring on the marsh’s head to the watercourse to the whirlpool . from the whirlpool to yeðeres barrow . from yeðeres barrow to stone down lower down as far as the gretan linde [great linden tree] . from the linden tree to dyra snæde [dear land] . from dear land to white ford [Whitford] . from Whitford to foul ford [Fulford] . from Fulford to Hild’s lea northward as far as slough gate . from slough gate to Bryni’s knoll southward to Puneces enclosure . from Puneces enclosure to hremnes [raven’s] combe’s head . from raven’s combe into the stream as far as ash bourn then into the stream to the Dart.