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cornworthy.com - Cornworthy: The Land Beneath Our Feet - Part 2


Ice sheets have never reached as far south as Devon (though they may have touched against the north coast), but their effects have been far-reaching nonetheless. During such times, our climate would have been like the arctic tundra of northern Canada, with deep winter snows giving way to spring melts which fed raging torrents that now began to cut new valleys toward the sea, whose high tide mark was some 120m below that of today, and lay out in the southwest approaches to the modern English Channel. The Dart was one of many rivers that now began to exploit NW-SE trending faults to cut more rapidly down to the sea, slicing through the hard volcanic hills around Sharpham and the tough slates and sandstones of Dartmouth, forming a spectacular series of gorges, and capturing the older, east-west flowing streams to form mere tributaries.

During glacial periods, frost action probably deepened north-facing snow hollows. In summer melts, soil-flows off steep hillsides may have blocked streams – it is not clear exactly how or when the Washbourne was diverted to join Bow Creek, but this might have happened as a result of such processes. Cornworthy would itself have become a snow-hollow, gradually deepened by frost action over millennia, with melt-water draining down the Charleycombe valley into Bow Creek thus, over time, fashioning the “sleepy hollow” that now lies between the Priory and St. Peter’s Church.

During warmer intervals, like that in which we now live, sea level would have been as high, and sometimes higher, than it is now, and the Dart valley became the tranquil estuary, or ria that we know today, the surrounding hills heavily forested before Man came onto the scene, initially during a warmer phase of the last glaciation (visit Kent’s cavern for more on this). Since the last ice melted around 8,000 years ago, Man has gradually altered our landscape into the familiar scenes of the present day.

Bow Creek and the modern landscape of the South Hams

Bow Creek, an eastward-draining valley captured by the south-flowing river Dart during Quarternary times. Sea-level rise over the last 10.000 years has flooded this valley to form part of the Dart estuary (ria).

St Peter’s Church

St. Peter’s Church, built of local volcanic rock with granite columns and Beer stone arches. Inside, slate, sandstone and marble are also used, whilst the churchyard contains a wealth of different rocks used as gravestones.

Until very recently, there were, of course no main roads in this area, and certainly no lorries to transport heavy goods, or branches of Travis Perkins for that matter. All building materials would have been quarried or cut from local resources; anything that travelled further was most easily transported by sailing barge. Around Cornworthy there are several quarries from which building stone (mostly the local volcanic rock, or “Cornworthy Traps”) was extracted, whilst by Bow Creek are a small number of ruined limekilns adjacent to quarries from which limestone was extracted and heated; driving off carbon dioxide to produce quicklime that was used for mortar, plaster and whitewash, and also as a dressing on fields to neutralise acid soils and improve crops. Important buildings, such as our Church, used more expensive imported stones in addition to local materials; all this would have been brought up Bow Creek by boat, but then pulled up the hill by horse and cart – no small feat!

Limekilns at Tuckenhay

Limekilns at Tucknhay – the Jewson’s of yesteryear.

Mick de Pomerai