The O Brook is a small tributary of the River Dart near to Combestone Tor, it is a very beautiful little valley. The ‘O’ for some reason is an abbreviation of Oke, Ock or Oak and therefore we might speculate that before the valley came to the attention of Mediaeval tinners it would have been another high level oak wood like Wistman’s Wood, Black a Tor and Piles Copses.
William Crossing in his 1909 classic Guide to Dartmoor said “The rambler should on no account omit to visit this spot. It is one of the most delightful little nooks on the moor. Dwarf trees, ferns, moss and heather, grey boulders and rippling water all combine to form a charming picture.” Today whilst a few people do go there, the majority of Dartmoor’s visitors and residents have never heard of it.
Matthew Kelly has coined the term ‘soft re-wilding‘ – a state of nature in between George Monbiot’s full bore re-wilding (see here) and the current fully grazed moorscape. The O Brook (which I think from now on ought be called the Oak Brook) is a classic example of what ‘soft re-wilding could achieve. With a little extra tinkering the Brook could also play a bigger role in ‘slowing the flow’ into the Dart and help alleviate flooding down stream as has so successfully been achieved by the National Trust on the Holnicote Estate in Somerset – see here.
As mentioned above the land along and beside the Oak Brook has a rich archaeological history – the area has been worked for tin since Mediaeval times and maybe before.
Tin mining in the area is first known to have commenced in 1240 and the last tin was extracted in 1920. There is an excellent detailed account of the mining activity around Hooten Wheal (aka Hexworthy Mine) here – it is an account of an Open University Geology Society field trip to the area. It contains a full history along with some excellent maps and illustrations which explain what has gone on.
All in all, the Oak Brook seems to be a great case study which demonstrates how the interests of the Commoners, the historic landscape, the landscape and the natural environment can be blended together to everyone’s mutual satisfaction.