By: Blonde Two
Sadly, this most stirring of folk songs (I have very eclectic taste) is nothing to do with Dartmoor’s Northwest Passage. Equally sadly, I have to admit that I have travelled neither Amundsen’s Northwest Passage (joining the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans) nor Dartmoor’s Northwest Passage (joining one patch of lumpy grass to another).
You may well be familiar with the term ‘blanket bog’. If you are, then you probably know what it is like to feel the ground wobble like a jelly beneath your feet; and wonder if the green skin across the top of it, is really enough to stop you from falling into the stench-ridden depths below. Moving across these areas is difficult to say the least, and navigating around them requires a degree of local knowledge.
Which is why Mr William Francis (Frank) Phillpots, who loved horse riding and hunting, decided to employ a group of moormen (not mermen despite the wet terrain) to dig a series of passes through the peat, which would allow people to pass through boggy areas in safety. These Peat Passes (including the Northwest Passage near Fur Tor) are marked on the Dartmoor OL28 map and are fascinating to find; not only that, the one that I used on my way up to Hangingstone Hill did a very good job of keeping my feet dry!
The passes were originally marked by wooden posts but these did not survive for long. After his death in 1909, Frank’s brother and son established a number of granite marker stones. The stone at Hangingstone is a replacement.
If you want to go and find a Dartmoor peat pass for yourself (I don’t recommend digging your own), then have a look here at the Legendary Dartmoor ‘Peat Passes’ page. It is well worth a read, and all of the passes are marked and discussed.
You can be sure, that should I ever traverse either Northwest Passage, I will let you know all about it!