The landform creates a repetitive pattern of ridges and valleys, over which is lain landcover mosaic comprising the dark green of coniferous forests; the lighter green of pastoral fields; occasional patches of rough grassland; ribbons of deciduous woodland following the valleys; and scattered grey huddles of farms and villages. This was one of the last areas of Devon to be enclosed, as is revealed in the regular pattern of straight roads and rectilinear fields. Time-depth is particularly apparent in the west, where prehistoric barrows form an extensive funerary landscape. Views southwards are dominated by the mass of Dartmoor which lies close to the south – the colour of its moorland changing from brown to green to purple throughout the year – and this gives the area a strong sense of place.
This area comprises the plateau and ridge landscapes centred on the line of the A3079 from Okehampton to Halwill Junction. The river valleys between and beyond the ridges are also included in this area. The boundaries with surrounding landscape character areas are generally marked by a gradual change in topography. To the north is the High Torridge Culm Plateau; to the east is the High Taw Farmland; and to the south and west the Upper Tamar Tributary Valleys, which separate the area from Dartmoor.
Constituent Landscape Character Types
Constituent LCTs: 1A: Open Inland Planned Plateaux, 3C: Sparsely Settled Farmed Valley Floors, 3G: River Valley Slopes and Combes, 7: Main Cities and Towns Part of NCA: 149: The Culm
- Underlain by Carboniferous sandstones, siltstones and mudstones of the Culm formation creating relatively poor, shallow soils which support pastoral agriculture.
- Steep river valleys that run south and north from a central watershed, creating a landform of narrow ridges running roughly north-south.
- Narrow, meandering streams forming tributaries of larger rivers – the Thrushel to the south and Torridge to the north.
- Ribbons of riparian and valley-side woodland (usually broadleaved) that contrast with blocks of plantation on higher land.
- Valley-side fields generally irregular in shape (including some curvilinear medieval enclosures around medieval villages of Northlew, Elworthy and Bratton Clovelly) divided by hedges and hedgebanks with occasional hedgerow trees.
- Fields on higher land enclosed later and generally larger and more regular in shape, bounded by low hedges without hedgerow trees.
- Occasional locally-distinctive rows of beech trees on higher land and a scattering of traditional orchards, particularly in the south-west of the area.
- Patches of unenclosed, unimproved grassland on higher land; wetlands on valley floors.
- Non-agricultural uses including forestry, Roadford Lake reservoir and extensive golf course at Ashbury.
- Bronze Age barrows on high ground in the west of the area forming an extensive prehistoric funerary landscape, particularly on land which was rough ground until the 19th century,
- A3079 following main ridge; straight side roads (often with wide verges and double hedges) along ridges to north and south; steeper, more winding valley-side roads, often enclosed by hedgebanks.
- Scattered farms and occasional small, clustered villages such as Germansweek and Bratton Clovelly with buildings of stone and slate; farmhouses on plateaux generally later than those in valleys.
- Long views (especially from higher land) dominated by Dartmoor to the south.
Special Qualities and Features:
- Largely undeveloped countryside contributing to views to and from Dartmoor National Park.
- A sparsely-settled area with a sense of remoteness, and areas of high tranquillity away from main road corridors; dark night skies away from light spill of Okehampton.
- Semi-natural ancient woodland along valley sides (particularly around Ashbury.
- Northern and eastern parts of the area (Torridge catchment) within North Devon Biosphere Reserve.
- Roadford LNR (at the northern end of the reservoir) includes wetlands and woodland.
- CWSs Roadford Reservoir, wetland, woodland and unimproved grassland sites.
- SMs from several periods, including Bronze Age barrows, the Iron Age earthwork and Roman camp of Broadbury Castle, and the medieval village cross at Northlew.
- Stratton to Okehampton road (A3079), dividing the area, may be Roman in date.
- Conservation Area covering the historic core of Northlew Village.
- Literary associations with Sabine Baring Gould’s Red Spider, set around Chimsworthy, Langworthy and the now submerged Combe Park.
- Public access to several plantations, with formal cycle trails at Abbeyford Woods; disused railway line from Okehampton to Halwill junction and beyond has potential as a recreational route.
Forces for Change and Their Landscape Implications:
Past and Current
- Loss of heathland and ancient woodland to coniferous plantations.
- Loss of unimproved grassland habitats.
- Construction of Roadford Reservoir and Ashbury golf course introducing new landscape elements and obliterating others such as farmsteads and orchards.
- Farm diversification schemes (e.g. fisheries, shoots, campsites, equestrian businesses) changing the character of the agricultural landscape.
- Visual and audible intrusion from the A30 in the south of the area.
- Occasional telecommunications masts in elevated locations, visible in the open landscape.
- Localised lack of management of traditional agricultural features (e.g. hedgerows and earth banks).
- Loss of medieval field boundaries since the late 19th century (particularly in the south-west of this area), replaced by large modern fields.
- Intrusive road signs and traffic calming measures.
To protect the landscape’s rural character and the contrasts between its valley sides and plateau tops. Sustainable agriculture is supported, and traditional landscape features are well managed. The biodiversity of the area is increased. Recreation is encouraged through existing and new footpaths and other routes, and at sites such as Roadford Lake Reservoir and Abbeyford Woods. The rural views to and from Dartmoor National Park are protected.
- Protect the existing sparse settlement pattern, ensuring that any new development fits into it and respects local vernacular styles (whilst incorporating sustainable design); avoid visually-intrusive new development in the open landscape.
- Protect existing recorded areas of semi-natural habitat, and identify and survey any additional areas of heathland, acid grassland and species-rich permanent pasture.
- Protect existing traditional orchards, and encourage management and sensitive restoration where practical; ridges from former orchards may survive as parallel linear earthwork banks, which should be re-used rather than flattened.
- Protect archaeological features, and manage sensitively to ensure their continued presence in the landscape.
- Manage the agricultural landscape, encouraging pastoral agriculture as the dominant land use; try to ensure that farm diversification schemes have minimal impact on the landscape.
- Manage hedgerows and rows of beech trees to maintain local distinctiveness.
- Manage areas of unimproved wetland, grassland and heathland to maximise their biodiversity value.
- Manage deciduous valley-side woodland (including through traditional techniques such as coppicing) to maximise age and species diversity.
- Manage land within the North Devon Biosphere Reserve in accordance with management guidelines.
- Plan to create linkages between semi-natural habitats such as woodlands and wetlands to form ecological corridors, ideally incorporating the reinstatement of lost medieval field boundaries.
- Plan to revert conifer plantations to broadleaved woodland and heathland as appropriate on maturity and felling, whilst protecting areas of known archaeology; woodland replanting to strengthen historic character to be encouraged on areas shown as woodland on historic maps.
- Plan to re-open the disused railway line between Okehampton and Halwell Junction as a recreational route and integrate recreational development into the landscape.
- Plan to introduce green infrastructure links between Okehampton and its surrounding countryside, to improve connectivity and provide a framework for future sustainable development of the town.
- Plan to minimise impacts on landscape character associated with any expansion of Okehampton.
- Plan to reduce visually intrusive road signs without jeopardising highway safety.
- Plan to reduce light spill from Okehampton and the A30.