Marked by this name on modern Ordnance Survey maps close to the foot of Simon's Lake where it empties into the River Dart low down and to the southwest of Mel Tor, Broadstone is a spectacular platform of flat granite boulders that extend into the very heart of the river. Over time they have been smoothed by the constant flow of water and several rock basins have now formed on the upper surface of the stones. This popular and picturesque place is nonetheless steeped in Dartmoor legend as the origin of the so called 'Cry of the Dart', an unusual sound that is thought to be created by the wind rushing through the valley.
Ruth Manning Sanders (1951) describes Broadstone as 'those boulders that are said to 'cry' when foul weather is coming'. However, it seems that William Crossing (1912) was the first to espouse this theory in his Guide to Dartmoor on page 458 where he states: 'Opposite to the extremity of the promontory [Bench Tor] Simon's Lake falls into the river, and here are the boulders known as the Broad Stones. To "heer the cry o' the Brad Stones" is a sign of coming foul weather.' They are also linked most notably to the legend of Jan Coo of Rowbrook who is said to have disappeared after following what he thought was the call of his name to the river below.
However there is much more mystery attached to these curious rocks. Hemery (1983 p594) attempts to explain the phenomenon stating: 'As the river by-passes Broada Stones, it is confined in a small canyon, and when a wind blows through the gorge, it produces a strange, high-pitched sound amplified by the great natural sound-chamber.' Other authors in the past such as Lady Rosalind Northcote (LRN 1908), Beatrice Chase (BC 1928) and Nancy Van Der Kiste (NVDK 1990) have linked this 'cry' to various legends associated with the well known Devonian rhyming couplet of 'River of Dart! O River of Dart! Every year thou claimest a heart.' One of the first citations of this rather worrying rhyme is used at the start of a poem by Edward James Mortimer Collins in 1865 entitled 'River of Dart'.
Since then that verse has been used to explain away the sequence of tragic human deaths along the river as some kind of mystical intervention but with only LRN and NVDK sticking to the original quote. Do not be mistaken, the Dart here is at best a dangerous and twisting watercourse not to be trifled with but it is fascinating how such a simple two lined verse has become so misinterpreted over the years. Most notably and perhaps the most puzzling is Beatrice Chase's version in her book 'Through a Dartmoor Window' where on page 12 she quotes 'River of Dart, River of Dart, Every Year Thou Demandest a Heart'. This is especially surprising as she is pictured just three years later in 1931 standing on a rock at the spot (see photo). Much more recently the error of 'Dart, Dart, cruel Dart, every year thou claim'st a heart.' has appeared on the Legendary Dartmoor website (2016) and then this 'O River Dart, O cruel River Dart, every year thou claim'st a heart! for 2023 from a Torbay Today report by David Phillips.
Despite all of this Broadstone is nonetheless a grand place to visit. It offers a superb tranquility at the foot of Simon's Lake. Not only is it steeped in Dartmoor folklore but there is a strange kind of eeriness in the gorge that has been reflected in the multiple accounts of this special location ever since William Crossing's in the early 19th Century. Best approached from the direction of Luckey Tor to the west you will not be disappointed.
The map above is not a navigation tool and we recommend that the grid reference shown below is used in conjunction with an Ordnance Survey map and that training in its use with a compass is advised.
SX 6888 7235
Widecombe in the Moor
Ordnance Survey William Crossing
Reference / Further Reading:
Chase, B. (1931): Dartmoor Snapshots Crossing, W. (1912): Guide to Dartmoor Hemery, E. (1983): High Dartmoor - Land and People Manning Sanders, R. (1951): The River Dart Mortimer Collins, E.J. (1865): River of Dart Temple Bar - A London Magazine for Town and Country Readers Northcote, Lady Rosalind (1908): Devon, its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts Ordnance Survey Maps Phillips, D. (2023): Torbay Today: Storyteller: The mysterious tale of Jan and the Cry of the Dart Sandles, T. (2016): Legendary Dartmoor Website (accessed January 2024) Van Der Kiste, N. (1990): Dartmoor Magazine, Issue 21, Winter: The Cross Beside the West Dart
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