If you wanted a place on Dartmoor that is surrounded by history and mystery then look no further than Hound tor. The whole area in and around the tor is famed for its ghosts and nearby are the ancient dwellings and graves of their time.
So, starting with the tor itself we have a splendid rock pile that is said by some to have been the inspiration for Conan Doyle’s book ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’. It surely sits in an impressive landscape as the 3D map below shows and some have even classed it as an ‘landscape of desire’ or an ‘erotic landscape’?
The tor is an example of one of Dartmoor’s ‘avenue tors’ as it consists of two separate rock masses which lie on a north-westerly alignment. The highest point of the tor is on the south-westerly pile which stands at 1,358ft (414m). The name was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Hundatora’ and is thought to have taken its name from the animal name ‘hound’. Some Dartmoor writers refer to Great Hound tor which distinguishes it from the other Hound tor on the north moor. Various topographical books have described the tor as being; “A castellated building with two bold projecting bastions,” (Rowe), “a mass of noble rocks,” (Baring Gould) and “Originally it would appear, but one mass – and what a splendid whole it must have been,” (Page). Lying about 80ft (24.3m) from the south-west of the tor is the remains of a cairn and burial kistvaen although much of it has been used by the early road-builders. The ring of close set kerbstones has a diameter of about 21.3ft (6.5m) and has 19 stones still standing. The ring encloses as central kistaven which measures 2.3ft x 4.5ft (0.7 x 1.4m) and like so many of the Dartmoor kists is orientated north/south. Sadly and local name for the feature has been lost in time. The deserted medieval village is situated about a quarter of a mile to the south-east of the tor, further details can be found by following this link – Houndtor Medieval Village.
Many people find Hound tor a place of mystery, some even say it is an “evil place,” and refuse to go near it. In October 1995 one of the stacks known as ‘The Hound’ came come crashing down. Nobody knows what caused the collapse but it is estimated that around 500 tons of granite fell from the tor. There was a tradition that ‘The Hound’ was a dog that had been turned to stone by some witches, so does that mean that it has returned to stalk the moors? Every person who looks at the tor will see different shapes and resemblances in its granite piles, it is a bit like the ‘ink blot test’ physiologists use, what do you see?
Hound tor was another of Dartmoor’s eminences that was regarded by early antiquarians such as Borlase as being a ritual site where the Druids held their pagan ceremonies. There was one story of how a schoolmaster visited the tor and had a seizure during which he began to speak in Hebrew, the man died three days later. It has been suggested that in Medieval times there were Jewish men working in the mines and therefore the schoolmaster could have met the ghost of one of these. Sometime in the 1960’s a motorist is said to have seen the apparition of a Cavalier who walked into the road and then vanished. Also in the area have been sightings of a large black dog that appears and vanishes at will. Back in the early 1990’s I visited the tor early one morning and whilst walking through the clitter I heard what sounded like canine yelps and whimpers. On investigation I found that they were not coming from a spectral dog but a terrified little terrier who had got stuck under some large boulders. Eventually it’s distraught owner appeared who said the dog had disappeared late the previous night and despite desperate search the darkness foiled all attempts at finding it. So with the help of some crowbars borrowed from a nearby farm the poor dog was finally released from its granite tomb on Hound tor. Whilst on about ‘shaggy dog stories’, there was a bit of a stir in June 2007 when a local man spotted what has been described as the ‘beast of the moor‘ nonchalantly ambling along a track below Hound Tor. At the time the animal was described as resembling a bear and subsequent suggestions have included a wild boar or merely a huge shaggy dog. Either way the ‘beast’ could have not picked a more aptly named tor to make its appearance. It later transpired that the ‘beast of the moor’ was no less that a huge, black shaggy Newfoundland dog being taken for a walk by its owner.
Due probably to the tor’s accessibility it has been used many times as a location for film and TV. In 1995 a two episode story of Doctor Who was filmed here it was called the ‘Sontaran Experiment’. During 1999 Hound tor became Kendrick tor for a while, this was because an episode of ‘Eastenders’ was filmed there. The story line involved Ian Beale and his girlfriend Melanie visiting the West Country to see the Eclipse which they saw at ‘Kendrick Tor’.
About a quarter of a mile north-west of the tor used to sit a modern legend in the form of a mobile snack bar called ‘The Hound of the Basket Meals’ where they served over 17 sorts of tea, super Brixham crab sandwiches and garlic hamburgers, if you asked nicely there was also a letterbox stamp.
Today Hound tor is a popular venue for rock climbing and ‘bouldering’ and most days you can see people attached to ropes dangling from its granite outcrops and stacks. Some of the climbs and routes have strange names like: ‘Full Moon’. ‘Skuzz Bucket’ and ‘Hung Like a Baboon’. Hound tor also has the distinction of being one of the thirteen tors which the Scattor Rock Brewery has named their ales after.
The area around Fordgate is renown for ghostly sightings of spectral figures a local psychic is said to have thought that the disturbances emanate from the spiritual presence of an old witch who died around the late 1780’s. It is thought that she may have lived at Fordgate during her life-time.
In the early 1900’s, Greator rocks used to be the trysting place for two local lovers where they would meet and canoodle under the canopy of ivy. Then the 1914 war began and the lad was called up to serve his country. He regularly sent letters to his sweetheart but suddenly they stopped and the girl never heard from him again. Eventually the war ended but still there was no word of the man which left the girl heartbroken as she had no idea whether he had died or jilted her. One day the misery got too much and so she walked to Greator and laid down beneath the ivy and simply died of a broken heart.