Cosdon Hill

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Cosdon Hill
Sampford Courtenay, near Beacon Cross - - 207641.jpg
Cosdon Hill (L) from Sampford Courtenay
Range: Dartmoor
Summit: 1,804 feet SX636914
50°42’25"N, 3°55’59"W

Cosdon Hill, also called Cosdon Beacon, or Cawsand Beacon, is one of the largest hills on Dartmoor, in Devon. On its northern slope sit the villages of Sticklepath and South Zeal.

Bleak and bare at the north edge of the high moor, Cosdon shows numerous traces of prehistoric occupation.


Cosdon Hill is a large, rounded hill that rises to 1,804 feet. The first written record of the hill is to the Hoga de Cossdonne in 1240. The name Cossdonne seems to be from the Old English for 'Cossa's Hill, after an otherwise unknown landowner of a past age.

The shape of the hill gives a false impression of size, and for many years Cosdon was thought to be the highest on Dartmoor.[1] The surveyors of the Principal Triangulation of Great Britain took bearings that resulted in the first Ordnance Survey map of Dartmoor in 1809, which showed that Yes Tor to the west was higher. Even in 1830 though, Samuel Rowe still wrote that Cawson or Cosdon hill was the highest in Dartmoor.[2]

An 1894 guide for cyclists going from Exeter to Launceston said, "So vast is the bulk of Cosdon that, were is not for the cloud mists that so often drift round his brow, one would hardly at first sight credit his height of 1799 feet."

(The assumption lasted for many years that Yes Tor was the highest point of the moor and of the county at 2,029 feet, but it is now recognised that its immediate neighbour, High Willhays, is the county top, at 2,039 feet.)


There are paths around Cosdon Beacon and the moor is open access land. It is however within an army training and firing range and so the exercise timetable must be consulted for days when the hill is safe and accessible.

The main approach is from South Zeal, from which village paths lead west and south around the hill and from the west footpath a path leads straight up to the summit.

The summit

Cairn and triangulation point on the summit

There is a very large cairn on the summit, which may well have been the site of a beacon.[1]

There is a trig point on the summit of the hill, from which a wide area of country can be viewed.[1]

From the summit of Cosdon it is often possible to see the English Channel from Teignmouth to Start Point, and on a clear day the Bristol Channel may be visible.

The hill provides an excellent view over Dartmoor. As Thomas Clifton Paris wrote in 1865, "Far and wide stretch its desolate hills, the ancient haunt of wolves and wild deer, and barbarians as untamed ; a solitary wondrous region, everywhere darkened by morasses, but piled with fantastic rocks and glowing with innumerable tints."[3]

Historical interest

A Neolithic flint axe has been found at the western foot of the hill. There were nine Bronze Age settlements around the western edge of the hill and two associated reaves, or stone walls, that may have marked the boundaries between territories.

Triple stone row on North Tawton Common

There are also many stone cairns, cist burial chambers, stone rows and what may be a stone circle. Some of these have been badly damaged by stones being removed later for other uses.

An 1896 report described three parallel lines of stones, starting from a cairn surrounded by a circle, on the North Tawton Common on the east side of Cosdon. The report noted that a wall was being built around a large slice of the common, and masons had been working for several years breaking up and removing stones for the wall. There were signs that an inner circle was buried in the cairn.[4] Two cists were found within the cairn. One was intact but the coverer and two side stones had been taken from the other.[5]

The Forest of Dartmoor was created in 1238 and was granted by King Henry III to his brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall and Poictou, in 1248. The extent of the Forest of Dartmoor was verified by the solemn oath of twelve Perambulators.[6] The commissioners began their perambulation at Cosdon Hill in the north quarter of Dartmoor, then followed a circuit of the moor, returning to the starting point at Cosdon.[7]

Samuel Rowe (1793–1853), Vicar of Crediton, noted in 1848 that the Commissioners started at a point near the foot of the hill called Hoga de Cosdowne, and said this must have been near the banks of the Taw close to Sticklepath.[8] Arthur B. Prowse wrote in 1892 that the starting point must have simply been the summit of the hill.[9]

In the 1840s an adit was driven into the hill, and lodes of mispickel and copper ore were found. The shaft of the Ivy Tor Copper mine was sunk in 1851, and the mine continued to be worked for several years. [1] By 1867 Ivy Tor had been united with Copper Hill to form Belstone Consoles, on the River Tavy. The mispickel at Ivy Tor contained bismuth.[10] Actinolite and feldspar were also found at Ivy Tor.[11]

For some time the hill was a shooting moor for grouse and occasional deer. Some granite shooting butts can still be seen on the north and east of the hill.

On Cawsand Beacon

Elias Tozer (1825–73) wrote a poem about the hill, named On Cawsand Beacon:

Rolling o’er the purple heather,
In the glorious Summer weather,
Staining lips with whortleberries,
Sweet as any figs or cherries.

Sipping from the crystal stream,
Lying on the banks to dream,
Watching skylarks soar above
Singing, with them, strains of love.

Gazing over boundless plain,
List’ning to the sweet refrain
Of the rivulets and rills
As they flow by distant hills;

Hearing voices, strange and low,
Mystic tones that come and go,
Seeing tors salute each other,
Every one a friend and brother.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Cosdon Hill)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 'Legendary Dartmoor': Cosdon Beacon
  2. Rowe, 1830, page 206
  3. Paris, 1865, page 45
  4. Baring-Gould et al. 1896, p. 180.
  5. Baring-Gould et al. 1896, p. 181.
  6. Rowe 1848, p. 3.
  7. Rowe 1848, p. 4.
  8. Rowe 1848, p. 65.
  9. Prowse 1892, p. 420.
  10. Ormerod 1867, p. 125.
  11. Ormerod 1867, p. 126.