If a tor could talk then the one with the best story has to be Longaford Tor, sitting proudly on a moorland ridge the granite pyramid overlooks extensive vistas that over the millennia have been home to man. The granite outcrops have witnessed passing bands of Neolithic hunter gatherers in search of food, later they quietly watched the early Bronze Age settlers building their settlements on the slopes below. Down through the ages numerous travellers have trudged by the tor, some sombrely taking their dead along the Lych Way, others wending towards the old tinners parliament rock on nearby Crockern Tor. Each one has left their time worn marks scattered around the rocky eminence for us to ponder upon – so let’s us ponder…
The actual tor itself sits majestically at a height of 507m (1,663ft) metres and consists of two outcrops of granite, in a cartographical context it displays the unusual feature of having grown in height. In 1890 the Ordnance surveyors recorded the height of the tor at 1,595 feet (487m) but later revised their calculations and increased it by 69 feet (20m). This brings to mind the 1995 film called, ‘The Englishman who went up a hill, but came down a mountain‘, in which some Welsh villagers wanted the surveyors to increase the height of their local hill in order to classify it as a mountain.
As the tor consists of two outcrops they have been given two individual place-names to avoid confusion, the northern pile is referred to as Longaford Tor and the smaller, southern mass as Little Longaford Tor. At first the meaning of the name ‘Longaford’ seems fairly clear – the ‘long ford’. However, the nearest fording point is the Wistman’s Warren Ford on the West Dart River which lies about half a mile to the north west? Even more confusing is that on Donn’s map of 1765 the tor is recorded as Southbeetor (see map above), Hemery, (1983, p424 fn) considers that the place-name element of be alludes to the, ‘passage of an important trackway‘ such as the Lych Way which passes nearby. This would then give the name of the ‘tor with the way to the south’ or some similar combination but how the name later became Longaford Tor is puzzling. A possible answer lies in the Welsh word fford which relates to an ancient trackway, again possibly the Lych Way.
Many writers have described the tor and most seem to agree on one common descriptive, namely, ‘conical’. The following extract was given by the indomitable Mrs Bray:
‘Longaford is more conical than most of the eminences of the forest, having very much the appearance of the keep of a castle. Unlike also the generality of tors, which mostly consist of bare blocks of granite, it has a great deal of soil covered with turf, and only interspersed with masses of rock, whilst the summit itself is crowned with verdure.’, (Bray, 1836, p. 121).
Some 40 odd years later the intrepid Dartmoor explorer, William Crossing visited the tor and penned the following description:
‘This tor, which is a very prominent object for a great distance around, is situated on the hill to the eastward of Wistman’s Wood, and is of a conical form, presenting a very striking appearance, from whichever side it is viewed. We clambered up its precipitous sides, and on the summit, where there is a tiny plateau of fine grass we spread our luncheon, and while discussing it, also feasted our eyes upon the attractive expanse of moor which that elevated spot commands. Many and many a tor is to be seen from Longaford, and immense stretches of wild heath and fen on every side‘, (Crossing, 1974, p.86).
On the south-western side of the tor is a convenient rock shelter above which a small rowan tree bravely clings and in itself is a wonder that such a plant could survive in such a place. Just above here on the lowers grassy plateau silently sits the rock formation known as the ‘Longaford Neanderthal’ which is ironic as it stares out over the old Bronze Age settlements
Longaford Tor has appeared in several Dartmoor novels, Eden Phillpotts’ ‘The River’ and ‘The Farm and the Dagger’, Marjorie Deboer’s story of ‘The Whitbourne Legacy’ and Miranda Cameron’s book ‘The Undaunted Bride’ to name but a few. In 1884 Sophie Dixon published a whole poem which extols the wildness and solitude of Longaford and its surrounding moorland tract and it goes like this:
On Longaford Tor –
One of Dartmoor’s hills
SPIRE of the mountains – lifting proud
The grandeur of thy stony crest,
As ’twere to woo each passing cloud
Upon thy giant brow to rest;
And where the Falcon’s lonely nest
Amid the crannied peaks is piled,
Defy that truant hands molest
Thine own aerial child !
Here, seated on thy rock-built tower,
– A place of ancient days remote –
Our heart hath felt thy mountain power,
Our eyes thy mountain prospects note;
The mists that o’er far summits float,
The granite crag at distance viewed;
Where man himself but looks a mote,
Amid the solitude !
The gush of wild-winds as they spring
Low murmuring round thy heathy side,
A fresher incense seem to bring,
A purer tone of joy provide;
And as along our brow they glide,
Methought in every touch to trace
A spirit, felt, but undescried,
– The Genius of the Place.
What dreams are ours, thus pondering mid
The Desert all around us spread!
Half seen in light, in shade half hid,
Dusk vales below, rocks overhead;
And where the cataract flashing dread
Boils up in its tremendous glee, –
By the blithe crowd unvisited,
– Yet sought and loved by me.
While wandering then to depths of eld,
We fashion forth what thou might’st be,
Ere yet by mortal eye beheld,
Cradled in Ocean mystery!
Did the loud Main once roll o’er the
Its billowy surge? – And wert thou then
Thus heaped by the conflicting sea, –
A marvel unto men?
This citadel of Rocks that rise
O’er thy slope side, as ’twere a crown;
From which on many a wild our eyes,
Measuring the waste extent, look down, –
O’er which then thousand storms have blown,
And merely bleached; – Say, was it here
Dark rites in ancient days were done,
And sacrifice of fear?
Did here barbaric Flamens stand,
Feeding their mountain-altar proud;
And while its flame the breezes fanned,
Blessed from on high the awe-struck crowd?
Hath here the knee in reverence bowed
At the Great Spirit’s name – where they
Might deem in every floating cloud
He veiled his mighty ray.
All these are passed, – and thou no more
Art fane or altar; – yet below
Blue Dart winds on, e’en as of yore
His sacred waters there might flow;
And still the winds above thee blow
Thy kindred heights are unestranged;
The same the grass and heather grow –
Man only hath been changed!
Scarce hoarier seem the ancient Wood,*
Whose shivered trunks of age declare
What scath of tempests they have stood,
In the rock’s crevice rooted there:
Yet still young foliage, fresh and fair,
Spring forth each mossy bough to dress,
And bid e’en Dartmoor’s valleys share
Thou Tor – farewell! How many an age
O’er thee the Stars their rays shall shed!
How many a time the Whirlwind rage
In bursting wrath around thy head!
The Torrent thunder through its bed,
The sky be rent with flashing flame –
And yet when blast and bolt are sped
Thine eyrie stand the same!
Man may encroach – but never plough
Shall o’er thy craggy summit pass –
His roofs may grow around – but thou
Untouched shalt lift thy mountain mass;
And when all he hath wrought, must class
With things gone by, – thy rugged brow,
And its thin wreath of desert grass,
Remain as they are now.
* Wistman’s Wood
Castalian Hours – Sophie Dixon
July 21, 1884
Longaford Tor has over time been the home and haunt of many of Dartmoor’s denizens of the animal kingdom, at one time the raven nested on the tor and the fox built its lair among the granite rocks. On a more recent note (June 2008) a mystery ‘beast’ was spotted on Little Longaford Tor which could possibly have been a puma – see The Beast of Dartmoor page.
Having mentioned the foxes of Longaford it would be remiss to omit the tale of the Ghost Foxes of Dartmoor who are said to haunt the rocky outcrops today. Many years ago a moorland shepherd ventured out onto the moor one winter’s day and was known to be heading out over Longaford way. That night a dreadful storm swept across the moor and for whatever reason the shepherd never returned home and was never seen again. The following spring a grim discovery of a human skull and bones was made outside a foxes den on Longaford Tor which was presumed to be the last mortal remains of the shepherd. It is said that each year during the week proceeding Christmas the ghostly cries of phantom foxes can be heard on and around the tor.
Bray, E. 1836. Legends, Superstitions and Sketches of that part of Devonshire on the Borders the Tamar. London: Murray.
Crossing, W. 1974. Amid Devonia’s Alps. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.
Donn, B. 1965. A Map of the County of Devon. Exeter: Devon and Cornwall Record Society & The University of Exeter.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Hale Publishing.