Close your eyes and think of Dartmoor and the likelihood is that your mental image will contain a looming granite crag. The tors are what make the national park unique. They dominate the high plateau like so many giant monoliths punctuating some lost, wild and antediluvian domain.
Some are simply massive, a few are tall and thin, yet more are short and squat, while others are cleaved in two. Some have logan-stones whose tonnage rocks and wobbles improbably and eerily in the wind; some have punch-bowls that look as though they’ve been carved for arcane purposes by mystic priests of yore; and others droop in layers like so many giant pancakes that have been turned to stone.
Each tor has a unique character of its own, and “collecting” crag after crag can become something of an obsession with the Dartmoor lover. In 13 years of writing walking columns for the Western Morning News I’ve been fortunate to have ascended most, though certainly not all. Needless to say, I am determined to “bag” the few that have slipped my attentions as soon as I possibly can.
If you had to pick just one as a tor not to be missed, then Haytor Rocks is probably the most magnificent and it has the added bonus, for the lazy and the unfit, of being in easy striking distance of a road. I’d go as far as to say it’s the nearest thing the Westcountry has to a mountain. Climb its mighty crags (fairly easy, as someone has carved steps in the rock) on a fine day and you will see more than half of Devonshire spread in three out of the four compass point beneath your feet. The final quarter offers a vast panorama of Dartmoor.
Even on the hottest, most sultry, day you will be wafted by a breeze up on the grand bastion. It’s not the highest tor but it is probably the most conspicuous. One of the most dramatic long-distance views of it is from The Ness headland at Shaldon from where Haytor appears to overshadow the entire length of the Teign estuary.
Both it, and its neighbour Saddle Tor, are examples of “avenue tors” – so called because they consist of two separate stacks with a rift in between. The two tors are among the most visited on Dartmoor and there is concern over the inevitable erosion that all those feet cause tramping up and down from the road.
North-west of Haytor the ever popular Hound Tor looms above Greator Rocks. It’s another avenue tor and is also one of the most visited rock stacks in the national park. This is not only due to its proximity to the road, but also because visitors get the feeling (wrongly) that is part and parcel of the most famous story to feature the moors. Whatever canine it was that gave Hound Tor its name, it was nothing to do with the hound that haunted the Baskervilles in Arthur Conan Doyle’s story – but we’ll be taking a look at that celebrated yarn later in this series.
One of the best known crags on the moor is situated just north of Hound Tor. Bowerman’s Nose wins the prize as weirdest of all the tors – it looks for all the world like one of those massive carved heads they have on Easter Island in the Pacific.
This blog will return to Dartmoor’s tors in the future – and also to other parts of this mysterious and moody moorland.