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Laughter Tor Cross

Laughter Tor Cross

A I spent most of 1996 visiting, photographing and drawing all the more noted stone crosses of Dartmoor as preparation for my book, it should not be surprising that the subject is near to my heart. Therefore I was excited when I stumbled upon a photograph of a previously undiscovered Dartmoor cross. The actual image had been logged on the Waymarking website by the ‘Brentor Box’ and simply tagged as ‘The Laughter Tor Cross’. This photograph clearly showed an old stone cross that had been built into the newtake wall that runs behind Lough Tor (Laughter Tor). A thorough search through the Dartmoor tomes of authority made no mention of this cross so there was only one thing for it – get out there and have a look.

The actual listing on the Waymarking web site gave the appropriate co-ordinates along with the photograph so in theory it should be easy to find. Pick the coldest day of the year thus far (October 29th 2008) that comes with a midday temperature of 2ºC, walk up to Lough Tor and then discover you have left the photo and co-ordinates at home – not a good start. However, the icicles hanging from the heather on the outcrops of the tor did make for a chilly reminder that winter is on the way.

Laughter Tor Cross

In theory it should have been easy enough to find a large cross embedded in a smallish wall but in practice not so easy. Working from memory the photograph and location seemed to be somewhere behind the tor and so what better place to start. Slowly following the wall down on its southern side, step by step, towards Lough Tor Hole, revealed nothing, as did slowly following it back up, step by step. A similar exercise towards Bellever produced the same result and tempers were getting frayed. Having reached the bottom of the hill I decided to hop over the wall and have a look on the northern side and just after the new gate – hey presto and obvious cross, clearly embedded into the newtake wall, oh joy and jubilation.

Having returned to have a look at the southern side of the wall it was obvious why the cross wasn’t spotted on the first search, on this side it looks nothing like a cross. It was almost a case of, ‘now you see me, now you don’t’. However, on closer inspection the southern side of the ‘cross’ has what appears to be a shallow groove running down its length as if someone had started to cleave it off in order to obtain a flat surface. Had this work been carried out then the result would have been a complete stone cross. Below are some photographs of both faces of the cross:

Laughter Tor Cross

Northern Face

Laughter Tor Cross

Northern Face

Laughter Tor Cross

Southern Face

Laughter Tor Cross

Possible Groove

This slab/cross poses several questions, firstly if it is just a natural slab how did it manage to be shaped in such a convincing style? Secondly, if it is a partly finished cross, where did it come from and thirdly where was it intended for. The second and third questions are impossible to answer and the first would need the wall demolishing and the entire slab cleaned up and inspected for any tool marks – again impossible.

Having seen the whole range of Dartmoor’s finished and un-finished ancient crosses I would sway towards saying it is a partly fashioned cross that for whatever reason was never completed and served a purpose for the wall builder. There can be no question that the slab was placed in the newtake wall when it was first built, this is not something that has been later added. The newtake wall is certainly shown on the OS map of 1889 so it can be assumed it has been in-situ for at least 119 years, as can be seen below:

Laughter Tor Cross

1889 Map

It would be interesting to see when the newtake was enclosed but that can only be done in the Devon or the Duchy records office and sadly I have no time for that at the moment. But in the end it is down to individual consideration, is this a partly finished cross or just a natural slab of weathered granite?

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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