A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Chunk of charcoal

Moving Forward, Looking Back

The Fingle Woods conifer thinning programme is getting started this year and, as you might expect for a conservation project, the heritage features of the Teign valley are being afforded the same level of care as the ecology. All around the valley, where the ancient oak woods once stood, our ancestors cut small platforms into the woodland slopes. Long before the conifers were planted, the charcoal industry was thriving in the valley when oak was sawn into sections and stacked in conical piles where it was burned in soil covered hearths. Each hand-cut platform provided a small, flat working area on the steep hillside, and this is the evidence we can see today. In places where the ground is relatively undisturbed, the hearths are still evident and in some cases, the old pack horse paths between the hearths are visible too.

Clues left behind by our working ancestors are all around Fingle Woods and, in the blackened soil, there are fragments of old charcoal and other interesting finds. Glass bottles occasionally turn up and give us an idea of when charcoal was last produced there. Many of these bottles go back to the late 19th and early 20th century but since then, the oaks have been left to grow, giving us the remnants of ancient oak woods we see in Fingle today.


Some old charcoal fragments are quite large


Bottle from the City Brewery, Exeter – possibly 100 years old

These artefacts and discoveries regularly take us back hundreds of years but this week, a tantalising glimpse of life in the valley from thousands of years ago has come to light. One of the platforms found among the conifers will be given extra protection. Not bearing the hallmarks of a charcoal hearth it was suspected to be a hut circle, the remains of an ancient house. When Andy Crabb, the Dartmoor National Park archaeologist visited, he was pleased to confirm it was the remains of a hut circle form the Bronze Age. As it is located in proximity to the Iron Age hillfort at Wooston, it might provide an additional chapter in the history of the valley as the archaeology of the Scheduled Ancient Monument is revealed over the coming months.hut-circle-stitched

7 metre diameter hut circle base bounded by a line of boulders (possible entrance at front of photo)


by Matt Parkins

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