Dartmoor’s Obscure Rowtor Target Railway

dartmoors-abandoned-rowtor-target-railway (Image: Tim Symons; Rowtor Target Railway on Dartmoor)

Dartmoor, the wild south Devon upland which is said to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, is home to many abandoned industrial tramways and narrow-gauge railways. Among the most unique is the Haytor Granite Tramway, which was built in 1820 to connect the quarries of Haytor Down to the Stover Canal. This haunting relic of the past is distinctive in that its track is carved from rock, much of it still extant today.

According to the Dartmoor Society, the wind-lashed moorland is rich in derelict 19th century mining railways, many of them obscure and barely recorded. But Dartmoor has also played host to a surprising number of military tramways over the years, employed to tow targets across the park’s various live firing ranges. One of the best surviving examples is the Rowtor Target Railway, which is understood to be maintained by enthusiasts.


dartmoors-abandoned-rowtor-target-railway-7 (Images: Tim Symons)

The track, which is estimated to be about 500 yards long, consists of a straight section running from east to west, with a dog leg on the east side. To the west is a small engine shed with space for two locomotives. All four sets of points remain intact and two loops, one at either end, allowed target trains to run continuously.

dartmoors-abandoned-rowtor-target-railway-2 (Image: Tim Symons)

The Rowtor Target Railway is clearly visible on Google Earth (see below) and lies at the heart of the exposed moorland, several miles due south of Okehampton railway station. Despite its high level of preservation, and the fact that a preserved mid-20th century Wickham trolley remains hidden away inside the rugged engine shed, many people seem unaware of this intriguing military relic.

dartmoors-abandoned-rowtor-target-railway-6 (Image: Tim Symons)

Rowtor (or Row Tor) isn’t the only abandoned target railway on Dartmoor. Other examples at Reddaford are said to pre-date the First World War, their rails and bunkers still visible. Military target railways were also built on other gunnery ranges across the country, including the Otterburn ranges in Northumberland, where ruined tracks slowly rust amid the burned-out carcasses of abandoned tanks.



dartmoors-abandoned-rowtor-target-railway-5 (Images: Google Earth; Tim Symons)

For those at the opposite end of the British Isles to Dartmoor, explore the Duchal Moor Railway, known as the “Grouse Moor Line”, which was built in 1922 and has lain derelict since the 1970s.


About the author: Tom


Website: https://www.urbanghostsmedia.com



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