Standon Steps on the River Tavy

On Sunday during our 10 Tors training exercise I visited Standon Steps with Tony – I hadn’t been there before. In earlier times this was a crossing of the River Tavy via a series of stepping stones along with a ford. Now a bridge has built to make the crossing much easier. Standon Steps is south of Tavy Cleave near Lane End at SX545815.

Standon Steps 1
Standing on the bridge looking south at the western branch of the Tavy. It isn’t easy to make out today where the old steps were but I think the huge boulders at the bottom right of the picture are the steps

Standon Steps 2
Same stretch of river looking north.

Standon Steps 3
A bit further across the bridge the eastern branch of the river flowing around the island

Standon Steps 4
Looking north

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 08.55.32
This is a photograph of Standon Steps taken in 1913 by Chapman and Sons of Dawlish, photo courtesy of the Dartmoor Trust Archive – see here for this excellent archive of Dartmoor photos. A very different view – much less woodland – the steps are obvious as is the ford and the island.Standon Steps 6Eric Hemery in his ‘High Dartmoor’ book (another excellent book on Dartmoor) has a photograph of the lane and the bridge across the Steps – now wooded up – the photograph is undated but the book was published in 1983.

I suspect the Steps and the ford (not evident at all today) took a great of maintenance. The river flow coming down from Tavy Cleave must have moved the steps around and made them difficult / dangerous to cross – thus the reason for the bridge.

Standon Steps 5
This photograph gives an indication of the river flows at Standon Steps. Look at the small tree to the left of Tony – you can see it has flood water debris (grassy vegetation) right up to the top. Tony is standing a foot above the river and the tree / debris is at least a foot taller than him – so the last flood at Standon Steps was at least 8 feet higher than the current river level. It would have enveloped the bridge! And no doubt would have re-arranged the Steps had they still been in use which would have required a lengthy and expensive piece of work to repair them in this very remote location.

I am speculating quite a bit here – anyone know the exact story?

UPDATE

Following my request for details of the exact story James from Holiday in Dartmoor has supplied the following

‘The simplest way to explain the remarkable Standon Steps is to quote the relevant passage from ‘High Dartmoor’:
The alarming rapidity and volume of Tavy (prior to depletion by the large-capacity Mine Leat) was the motive in laying down immense stepping-stones unique in the Dartmoor country; they are of sufficient width to allow two corpse-bearers to cross abreast rather than fore and aft, a very necessary safety measure. Most unfortunately the bridge is built on the steps: it was erected by German prisoners-of-war (Word War II) for Jack Evans of Standon, range-clearer at Willsworthy range, because the river level at the ford was often too dangerous for horse and rider. Inexpertly built, it was severely damaged by flood; incredible though it may seem, it was rebuilt on the same site by the Ministry of Defence, thus perpetuating the spoliation of the historic steps. The width of the steps may be judged by looking over the bridge parapets.’

2 thoughts on “Standon Steps on the River Tavy

  1. Hi A. Taken from Eric Hemery ‘Walking Dartmoor’s Ancient Tracks’, pp. 236/7. Part of his description of Lych Way. Cheers, James.

    ‘The simplest way to explain the remarkable Standon Steps is to quote the relevant passage from ‘High Dartmoor’:

    The alarming rapidity and volume of Tavy (prior to depletion by the large-capacity Mine Leat) was the motive in laying down immense stepping-stones unique in the Dartmoor country; they are of sufficient width to allow two corpse-bearers to cross abreast rather than fore and aft, a very necessary safety measure. Most unfortunately the bridge is built on the steps: it was erected by German prisoners-of-war (Word War II) for Jack Evans of Standon, range-clearer at Willsworthy range, because the river level at the ford was often too dangerous for horse and rider. Inexpertly built, it was severely damaged by flood; incredible though it may seem, it was rebuilt on the same site by the Ministry of Defence, thus perpetuating the spoliation of the historic steps.

    The width of the steps may be judged by looking over the bridge parapets.’

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