There are several resources online which will give a proper and informed account of the Rifle Range just south of Rippon Tor on Dartmoor. (See especially the always-readable Legendary Dartmoor site.) This is not such a resource! The range has been a feature at this spot since the early 1940s and the ‘stop butt’ featuring in all but one of these photographs is probably the most unexpected and startling building anywhere on the moor. For those needing some figures to gauge the scale of this thing, I will simply add that it is over 9 metres tall, over 15 metres wide and some 55 metres long.
I purposely visited the range on a misty morning in February because I felt the conditions would lend an extra (and complementary) layer of eeriness to an already-unsettling environment. I walked some distance north west beyond the stop butt to see what it would look like to someone happening on it unexpectedly in the mist.
A few metres closer and the sheer scale of the butt becomes a little overwhelming – like an alien edifice miraculously erected unnoticed in the night.
Behind (i.e. to the south) of the butt is the marker’s gallery containing the mechanism for the raising and lowering of the targets that were sited on the sloping, earth-filled south side of the butt; beyond that is a small concrete workshop and store room.
A short walk to the north side offers a different perspective of the oddness of the building and some detail of the nineteen buttresses. The workshop / store room is seen here on the left.
A final image taken very close to the west side gives more of a sense of scale, and it was only at this point that some sunlight began to penetrate the mist and warm some of the colours. Even so, I think the mist suits the range particularly well.
The shot butt has always been controversial, and many would like to see it removed, given that it was eventually closed in the 1960s. I am not among them. It’s a completely unique environment and a necessary (and literal) monument to our recent military past and its effect on the moor. Nature is taking a hold on it slowly but surely, which is exactly as it should be.
Just as I was moving from the south side to the west, an elderly gentleman suddenly materialised through the mist from along the path where I took the first colour image above. I was a little startled because I hadn’t seen him moving toward me, but he was friendly enough! He asked if I’d seen any wildlife, especially deer or rabbits. I told him I hadn’t and he said that was because of the fools who come to the range with their own rifles, blasting away at anything that moves. “They’re the ones who should be shot,” he said, as he gently moved off to the south, leaving some bird seed he’d brought in a carrier bag alongside the marker’s gallery.