“All the yere throughout commonly it raineth or it is fowle wether” - 16th century chronicle of Dartmoor
When the sun shines on Dartmoor it glows, picking out the small rocky hills called tors. When the clouds descend, the wind lashes and the rain is nearly horizontal, it can be one of the bleakest places imaginable.
Its legends inspired the creator of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - to write The Hound of the Baskervilles. Its sparsely inhabited landscapes, almost entirely cleared of their natural forests, are linked with tales of ghosts and witches. And close to its centre lies one of Britain’s most isolated prisons, rising starkly from the moors and built of the hard local stone, granite.
280 million years ago
The story of Dartmoor itself is just as strange. Where the moor now stands, was once a great mountain chain created by huge tectonic forces in the Earth some 280 million years ago. Several of the ‘plates’ that make up the Earth’s crust slowly collided, squeezing up the soft rocks on the ocean floor between them into mountain chains. At the same time, deep in the Earth’s crust, molten magma was pushing its way up into the base of the mountain range. It solidified as hard granite several km below the surface.
Fast-forward tens of millions of years. The mountains have been eroded away by the wind and rain, leaving the core of granite exposed at the surface to create Dartmoor and the other granite moors of the south west.
The tors are like pimples on the surface of Dartmoor. Made of the same granite, they are simply the tougher areas of rock that are more resistant to being weathered and eroded.
So they remain as upstanding rocky masses, often silhouetted against the skyline. They provide welcome shelter for the semi-wild Dartmoor ponies that roam the moor in all weathers and a good training ground for budding climbers.