There are many aspects to Yarner Wood, be that the wildlife, the landscape, the people who run and visit it or the rich heritage, each one adds to the special feeling you get when you stop by. Tucked away at the top of the reserve is a piece of history, a granite tramway called ‘The Templer Way’. This was used to transport granite mined from the Haytor quarries down to the Teign Estuary between the 1820’s and 1850’s, the granite was used in many buildings in London, until it was undercut by Cornish granite due to easier access to the coast. The granite was loaded onto wagons and gravity allowed them to move downhill due to the tramway being built on a downwards slope from the quarries. After unloading, the wagons were then pulled back uphill sometimes using as many as 18 horses.
On Friday 20th May a group of 16 volunteers went up to a section of the tramway that runs through part of Yarner Wood. The idea was to clear and open up the old track making it a lot more visible for passers-by. The volunteers worked as units each taking a section and clearing it as best as possible, some parts looked like they could be used by the wagon again. Other sections of the tramway had to be excavated under nearly 30cm of soil. The granite was then brushed off using brooms or small brushes, one volunteer joked saying ‘this is so surreal using a small dustpan and brush to clear off massive chunks of granite, imagine doing it all the way from Haytor to Teignmouth’.
Another volunteer, Janet Ritchie, quoted: ‘My task was to take photos and record and note the GPS locations of anything interesting the workers found. While they dug away, one thing I recorded were initials carved into the tracks by the men who had laid them originally. Pondering what their lives were like back then, I noted: K, LM, BL, HN, WH, O, A, JR and IR. It is thought their initials were used for payment of the man concerned, something I came across again the following day on a guided tour of Buckfast Abbey’.
Given the dedicated effort by the volunteers, you had to wonder at the hard work and lives of these men back in the day, so very different from today. Some of the granite track is missing, taken away for use elsewhere. One section had sunk below its original level where it crossed an earlier tin working area. By the end of the clearing session, the tracks were much more visible to anyone walking the route. A job well done.
Natural England ran this task as part of the Granite Elements parishscape project.
(All photos by James Rogers)