Tag Archive: granite

On a recent visit to Tavistock, I went over to see how the extended ‘Devon Wall’ I’d seen some months ago was looking…though mainly shades of green now, as most flowering is in the spring time, it was looking superb. Well done that gardener!

Old School Gardener

Pew Tor- an old friend
Pew Tor- an old friend

Our final walk. We returned to an old favourite, Pew Tor, just a short drive from Tavistock. It has a wonderful rock formation, remiding me of a dog’s head (see the picture above). It’s an old favourite because this walk has become bit of an institution in our family. We have done it many times with our children at various times in the past. Perhaps the most memorable occasion was when our, then young, son raced back down the slope with the call ‘running down the mountain, with some shouting!’

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The walk today, another sunny afternoon, was easy. On previous occasions it has been a bit of a puff, but I guess our training on the previous five days was enough to make it a breeze. But this time something else was different. On previous occasions I’d looked around at the views and not known many, if any of the other tors and land in view.

But today, this felt like my space– I don’t know if it was the euphoria of having walked 20 tors in six days, or more the fact that I could look around, name the tors we could see, and more significantly, say we went there on…..

Water action has created a pool in one of the Tor's top stones

Water action has created a pool in one of the Tor’s top stones

We’ll be back- maybe for another 20 of the 160 plus tors, so that we can gradually come to know this wonderful moor even better.

Old School Gardener



Day five on our Tor Challenge involved heading out towards Princetown once more. Our start point was a small car park near to one of the tors we would be visiting and which is also home to a tall TV mast- north Hessary. A little cloudier than previous days but still dry and warm, so it looked like it was going to be a pleasant afternoon walk. and what’s more, we were aiming to cover 6 tors, which would bring us within reach of a total of 20 for the week.

As we set off we noticed an elderly couple just heading off in the same direction as us – towards Hollow Tor, and from here to the fairly indistinct Rundlestone Tor.

Hollow Tor

Hollow Tor

From there it was short walk long a road to the TV station and tor at north Hessary, the mast of which you can see for miles around, but which despite many years visiting the area I had never got close to. The mast is an impressive, albeit man- made intrusion in the landscape. The tor itself is rather tangled with the mast and surrounding walls and fencing, but is nevertheless and distinctive shape. I also found a small plastic box containing a stamp and notebook (see picture at the head of this article), an effort by a couple of local youngsters to place a ‘post box’ for visitors to leave a message and read those put by earlier visitors. It was a modern-day example of the Dartmoor Post Boxes, I suppose an earlier form of ‘Geocaching’:

‘A small pot (the letterbox) containing a stamp and visitors’ book is hidden on the moor, and a clue is written to lead others to its position. Clues may be as simple as a map reference and list of compass bearings, or may be more cryptic.

When a letterbox is found, the letterboxer takes a copy of the stamp, as well as leaving their own personal print in the visitors’ book.

Letterboxing began on Dartmoor but is now popular in areas all over the world.’ (source: Dartmoor letterboxing.org)

Travellers from Muenster, Germany logged into the 'post box' on north Hessary

Travellers from Muenster, Germany logged into the ‘post box’ on north Hessary

Taking a bearing to our next tor, ‘Foggintor’, we set off, but a little wary, because we had a walk guide which suggested that Foggintor was in fact an old quarry and one which you come across suddenly – beware 100 foot drops! We trudged down and then up bracken-strewn valley sides, heading for a group of rocks on the horizon which the bearing suggested was our target. We reached the edge of what looked like an old quarry but somehow the map and what we saw weren’t the same; where were we?

We pressed on thinking the rocks in front were what we were looking for and then looked back – in the distance and to the left of the route we’d taken, was an obvious old quarry with some apparently deep sides. We’d obviously not been accurate in our bearings and missed the quarry (I was sort of relieved, given the look of it). This is a ‘tor no more’, as the quarrying seems to have removed all evidence of the sort of rocks or peak that we’d come to expect.

Foggintor- quarrying has removed the tor?

Foggintor- quarry has removed what was there?

 So, we were actually standing next to our fourth tor target of the walk, Swelltor, also an old quarry, but with a more discernible peak and tor like appearance.

Swelltor- more quarrying

Swelltor- more quarrying

 From here it was a simple, fairly level walk across moor to our final target of the day, King’s Tor, which had some remarkable rock piles- see the pictures below.

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The views from King’s Tor were also good, though a mist lay over the horizon so we couldn’t see as far as had been possible earlier in the week. We looked across the valley to Yellowmeade Farm, which gave us our target for the return walk to the car. This looked to be straight, fairly short walk, but the map and walk guide advised that it would be marshy ground, so wer were prepared for wet feet! But apart from a few soggy areas, the lack of any heavy rain for a week seemed to dry out the peaty conditions underfoot, so it was more a case of hopping form grassy clump to grassy clump than wading through water!

So that was it, we got back to the car only to arrive at the exact moment the elderly coupe we’d seen early did too! They were over for the weekend from Somerset and were looking for letterboxes and had apparently found quite a few.

The day had brought 6 more tors (well nearly if you count our skirting of the tor no more) and we looked forwards to our last day, when we would climb an old favourite and bring our tally up to 20 tors.

Old School Gardener

The view in the morning - looking towards Tavistock from the car park near Merrivale

The view in the morning – looking towards Tavistock from the car park near Merrivale

Having seen off the rain and mist on the first day of our ‘Tor Challenge’, we started day two with bright sunshine- you could see across the moor for miles. Today’s plan was to do two walks with a break for lunch at a well-known pub (the ‘Dartmoor Inn’ at Merrivale). The morning began with a couple of hours walk close to where we were on day one, but the contrast in weather couldn’t have been starker.

Having parked up at the pub we set off following the road back towards Tavistock and then headed inland (having taken a bearing first) ascending and crossing the rounded crest of Barn hill to the first of the targets, Feather Tor, an unassuming tor from it’s approach, but with some interesting rock formations (and a rare Dartmoor tree!).

From here it was a short, but steep walk up to a much more expansive tor, Heckwood. It affords a view that is truly breathtaking and I think this, on reflection, was one of my favourite tors on our challenge. The walk back to the pub involved finding a stream and following this past Vixen tor (which is a striking formation, but unfortunately not accessible to the public), and involved some boggy ground, but nothing too uncomfortable despite the previous day’s rain.

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Lunch was a perfect combination of  ‘Pannini and Pint’, after which we drove to our afternoon walk- north of Tavisotck, near Lydford this time and involving one tor I’d walked a good few years back, Brat Tor with the famous stone Widgery Cross at its summit. This was quite a climb, but again, a combination of walking poles, good boots and light clothing made it only partly puffing!

The cross was erected to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. It measures 12 feet 8 inches (3.86 metres) tall and 4 feet 4 inches (1.32 metres) across the arms. The shaft is 2 feet 1 inch (0.64 metres) square and is made of 10 layers of roughly cut granite blocks, topped off with a pointed rock. The blocks are of differing sizes, which interlock with each other to make the structure more secure. It was erected at the expense of William Widgery, the well-known local artist, and bears the inscription: ‘W. Widgery, Fecit, Jubilee, V.R.’

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From here we walked across a valley to Arms Tor (not sure if it’s called that because it has two distinctive blocks that look like arms?), which stands about 6 metres higher than Brat Tor at 457 metres.

From here, in the warm afternoon sunshine, we made our way back to the bridge and stepping stones over the River Lyd where I recorded a short video to capture the magical sound of the rippling water…..

The end of a marvellous second day and meanign we had already completed 6 tors in our Tor Challenge! Day three was to prove a bit of an eye opener in several ways…..

Old School Gardener

WP_20140903_020We’re just back from a week in Dartmoor, Devon, walking between some of the well-known, usually prominent rocky features of this beautiful landscape, known as tors

The Challenge

The tors (there are over 160 of them) are the focus of an annual event known as the Ten Tors Challenge, when around 2400 people aged between 14 and 19 (in over four hundred teams of six), face hikes of 35, 45 or 55 miles (56, 72 or 88km) visiting ten nominated tors over two days.  The teams must be self-sufficient, carrying all that they need to complete their route safely despite the terrain and the weather.  The latter can be very changeable and at times quite extreme, and success or failure can depend very much on the extent to which a team has been trained for all eventualities.

Not having completed this in her youth, my partner ( a local lass), was keen to do her own ‘Ten Tors Challenge’, but at a more leisurely pace. In the event, extremely good weather meant that we were able to visit double the target number of tors spread over six days, and including excellent overnight accommodation at my mother – in – law’s house in Tavistock! Over a series of posts in the next few days, I hope to give an interesting account of our adventures along with a few pictures. For starters here’s a ‘primer’ on Dartmoor and the tors in question….

dartmoor locationThe Moor

Covering an area of 954 sq km (368 sq miles), Dartmoor contains the largest and wildest area of open country in the south of England. By virtue of its outstanding natural beauty it is one of the National Parks of England and Wales. Unlike many National Parks in other countries, for example the USA, the National Parks in England, Wales and Scotland are not owned by the state.  The term ‘National’ means that they have been identified as being of importance to our national heritage and as such are worthy of special protection and attention.  Within each National Park there are many landowners, including public bodies and private individuals. National Parks are places where people live and work.


A large part of Dartmoor (65%) is made up of granite, an igneous rock which was intruded some 295 million years ago.  This great granite core is surrounded by sedimentary rocks including limestones, shales and sandstones belonging to the Carboniferous and Devonian periods.  Those nearest the granite intrusion were altered (metamorphosed) by intense heat and pressure and chemical reactions.


Dartmoor is known for its tors – hills topped with outcrops of bedrock, which in granite country such as this are usually rounded boulder-like formations. More than 160 of the hills of Dartmoor have the word tor in their name but quite a number do not.   However this does not appear to relate to whether or not there is an outcrop of rock on their summit.

The processes resulting in the formation of the Dartmoor tors started about 280 million years ago as the granite forming Dartmoor cooled and solidified from molten rock at a temperature of 900 – 1000˚C. The minerals which make up granite crystallised as closely interlocking grains forming the hard rock. Granite is formed of three main minerals: Quartz – appearing in the granite as translucent slightly greyish looking grains; Feldspar – white grains, sometimes stained yellowish or pink (in parts of the granite feldspar forms large white crystals); and Biotite – dark brown glistening flakes.

dartmoorVarying climatic conditions occurring over millions of years, along with the cooling of the molten and other materials were the first, mainly chemical factors in the formation of the tors. Most recently, cold conditions in the Ice Age (between 2 million to 10,000 years ago), have caused major mechanical forces to shape the landscape we see today. Of these the most important is the expansion of freezing water. The deeply weathered granite was forced apart and broken up into blocks by being subjected to frequent freezing and thawing during the cold periods of the Ice Age, and gravity was also important, moving the loose material downhill.

 The principal tors are:

Tor Height above sea level
High Willhays 621m (2,039ft)
Yes Tor 619m (2,030ft)
Great Links Tor 586m (1,924ft)
Fur Tor 572m (1,876ft)
Great Mis Tor 539m (1,768ft)
Great Staple Tor 455m (1,493ft)
Haytor 454m (1,490ft)
Hound Tor 448m (1,469ft)
Sharpitor 402m (1,320ft)
Sheeps Tor 320m (1,050ft)
Vixen Tor 320m (1,050ft)

Well that’s the basics….except you might be interested in a TV programme that is showing this evening (Tuesday 9th September) on ITV 1 (7.30pm). The first in a new series of ‘Wilderness Walks’ by bushcraft expert Ray Mears focuses on Dartmoor. I’ll certainly be watching….

…so now for an article on the first stage of our trip – and it’s a mysterious beginning to our adventure that awaits…..(I’ll explain more about the nudist along the way too).

Further Information:  Dartmoor National Park

Old School Gardener

Bom Jesus de Mont

Bom Jesus de Mont

I was fortunate to visit the northern Portuguese town of Braga about 10 years ago, though it was a rather cold and wet November, so it wasn’t an ideal time for garden viewing! And as I was on a study visit focused on social enterprise, gardens and gardening were not really on my mind.

Having said that one of my hosts, a lovely lady called Isabelle, did take me to the very impressive religious centre of Bom Jesus do Mont (Good Jesus of the Mount). Braga is a noteable religious centre and this Sanctuary is a famous pilgrimage site with a monumental Baroque stairway that climbs 116 metres and is flanked by several fountains. Pilgrims were traditionally  encouraged to climb the stairs on their knees as they took a journey that contrasted the senses of the material world with the virtues of the spirit. At the same time they experienced tableux scenes of the Passion of Christ (or Stations of the Cross), and the fountains suggested purification.The culmination of their efforts was found in the Temple of God – the church on the top of the hill. This sanctuary was begun in the 18th century and work proceeded over many decades, with the stairway and area around the church being turned into a park in the 19th century.

The other major space I visited was the Garden of Saint Barbara (Jardim de Santa Bárbara). In the early winter weather this was lacking in colour or any significance, but its layout looked interesting and there was some winter structure afforded by the evergreen topiary. Some of the pictures I’ve seen since show what a wonderful colourful oasis this is in summer. The garden was laid out in 1955 and the space was formerly part of the medieval Arch Bishop’s Palace, the remains of which adjoin the garden. The layout consists of geometric designs carved from beds of boxwood, decorated with cedar topiaries and filled with summer flowering plants.

There’s another important garden in Braga – the garden of the Biscainhos Palace (Casa dos Biscainhos – today a museum). I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting this, but it appears a to be a lovely example of a mid 18th century Rococo style garden, created at a time when the area was home to some of Portugal’s finest granite sculptors. The resulting garden is both ‘lighthearted and flamboyant’ (so writes Helena Attlee). Built on three levels it includes a flower garden and some typical Portuguese elements – wall planting troughs, azulejos (colourful tiles), complex box parterres and granite statues. The garden’s most notable feature, though, is its ‘Cool Houses’ (Casa do fresco) sculpted from living Camellias to form summer retreats. I do hope that I can see it, one day.

Other articles in this series:

Portuguese Gardens: Tropical Botanical Gardens, Belem

Portuguese Gardens: Estrela Gardens, Lisbon

Oranges and Azulejos: Portuguese Heritage Gardens

Old School Gardener

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