Children Celebrate the Granite Railway – 200 years on   

We are in the 200th year since the Granite Tramway from the Haytor Quarries to Ventiford Basin on the Stover Canal was opened as Devon’s first railroad on Dartmoor. It was an incredible engineering achievement rolling 7 miles across the landscape and, unusually, its rails were hewn from the granite rock of Dartmoor in 1820.

In 1813 George Templer inherited Haytor Quarry as part of the family business empire. One of his tenants, John Hatherly was working the Haytor Quarry on his behalf and could see it’s potential to make money as demand for granite was high in London. But, there was a big problem. How could they transport the enormous granite blocks off Dartmoor over the steep, rough roads and make a profit?

George Templer’s creative solution was a railroad using the natural granite stone lying around on Haytor Down, rather than expensive iron rails. It was a massive undertaking. Skilled men came from across Devon and Cornwall to help build Templer’s Granite Railroad carving over 17,000 individual stones to mark the 7mile route. It opened on the 16th of September 1820 to a huge fanfare with invited guests, speeches, picnics, and a brass band.

Section of granite tramway across Haytor Down looking towards Haytor Quarries

The quarried rock was taken on huge wooden wagons, 3 metres in length, down the granite railroad to Templer’s canal at Ventiford where it was put on barges and shipped to London. However, even a lucrative contract to provide 23,000 tonnes of granite for the new London Bridge couldn’t revive his ailing fortunes and in 1827 he was forced to sell the Haytor quarries and his beloved Stover Estate to the Duke of Somerset.

Construction of the new London Bridge using Dartmoor granite. Image: British Museum Creative Commons

So important are the remaining sections of the tramway that some are designated as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

To help celebrate this major historic landmark the Bovey Tracey Rainbows walked down from Terrace Road (near Haytor) to Yarner Wood this summer. Owing to restrictions at the time they did this in two groups on 2 separate lovely summer days. Altogether 25 girls took part in groups of 15 and 10 (all aged 5-7). They did really well to walk the 3 miles and were keen to spot the bits of granite along the way. It was great to see them all enjoy the key tramway features during the walk including the 5mile marker to Ventiford Basin in Yarner Wood. This was partly thanks to volunteers that have cleared some of the old rail setts.

One of my most memorable anecdotes from the day was one of the girls asking leaders to identify every pile of poo – I suppose it does show that it is truly a thriving home for wildlife…

Other comments included:

 ‘I thought it was good.  I thought the best bit was balancing on the tramway.’

‘The tramway keeps disappearing but if you keep looking it comes back again!!

‘It’s amazing to think of people using a granite tramway to transport granite from Dartmoor! It must have been such hard work!’

Every tree we came to I was questioned ‘Are we in Yarner yet?’ One of the classes at Bovey School is now called Yarner and those girls were extra keen to be there.

Natural England will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of Yarner Wood as England’s first National Nature Reserve, in 2022. Please keep an eye on this Blog and our Facebook page for further details:

This year, Dartmoor National Park is celebrating their 70th anniversary:

Between them, the above organisations manage some of the best examples of two key Dartmoor habitats – moorland and upland western oak woodland. The Rainbows were able to enjoy the wildlife down the tramway making it a truly living tramway.

If you wish to further explore Templer’s Granite Tramway there are a number of events that I would encourage you to visit:

  • Bovey Heritage Museum display.
  • Devon Open Studios Artist work – derived from many trips to the granite tramway.
  • Living Tramway artwork exhibition: at Yarner Wood, in the wooden shelter, by local artists  from Granite Elements. 
  • Stover Canal Trust Open Day: Sunday 19th September 10am-4pm – at Ventiford Basin with Reconstructed Crane. The Stover Canal Trust will be celebrating the completion of their reconstruction of the massive crane that once stood at the Canal’s Ventiford Basin to transfer blocks of Haytor granite from the Granite Tramway wagons to barges moored in the Basin. Light refreshments will be available. Nearest parking at Sibelco, Old Exeter Road one mile walk along the old canal. Shuttle bus available for those who require assistance.

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