The Nutcracker Rock
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'There is another (logan stone) between Rippon Tor and Withycombe, called the 'Nut-crackers.' A block, sixteen and a half feet long and a half in breadth and thickness, is poised upon the very edge of a wedge of rock. Its 'logging' power is said to have been destroyed in mere wantonness... As to the use to which these stones were put, conjecture has been endless. Some have made the 'logging' an ordeal for the testing of guilt. Others have exalted it to the function of determining difficult questions, at critical times; and have converted the logan stone into an oracle.', (Barber, 1865, p.350).
Firstly to clear up some confusion, amongst the noted logan stones on Dartmoor there are 'The Nutcrackers' which can be found in Lustleigh Cleave and the one which this page is concerned with, 'The Nutcracker' which can be found on the slopes of Rippon Tor. This name was arrived at because of the tradition that the local folk would crack nuts under the logging slab. It was estimated that the pivotal slab weighed around 14 ton and could be rocked with one hand. In 1848 Rowe, (1985, p.157) gives its dimensions as being about 15 feet long, 4 feet wide and 3.5 feet thick, he also estimates that the logan contained about 187 cubic feet of rock. The Nutcracker appears to have gone through two stages of vandalism, firstly it was moved so it no longer logged and then finally it was completely dislodged from its pivot stone. Sometime prior to 1793, Polwhele was informed that the nutcrackers would no longer logg on its pivot:
'In the parish of Withecombe, between Withecombe-church and Rippen Torr, there is a Logan-stone, of a roundish form, measuring eleven feet in diameter. It is called the Nutcrackers; having been the resort of the common people, during the nut season, for the purpose of cracking their nuts. But in consequence of its being thus frequented, the owner of the estate where it stood (if I was rightly informed) got it removed from its ancient position: So that it is, at present, motionless; though before it was displaced, it was made to vibrate by a very little force.', (Polwhele, 1793, p.57). However, according to Page's book of 1895 the Nutcracker could still be moved: 'It is poised on a perpendicular block of granite, and is in length sixteen feet by four in breadth and thickness, and may be moved with some effort by mounting upon the extreme end and stamping steadily.', (pp 217 - 218). William Crossing also agrees that around about the very late 1800s the logan would still logg as he states: '... is a fine logan, though its rocking power is not so great as formerly.', (1982, p.83). So just maybe Polwhele's source should have told him that the Nutcracker does not crack as much as it originally did instead of describing it as motionless.
Although no longer a true logan stone the Nutcracker became one of those 'picturesque' oddities that the gentry sought out when on Dartmoor. There are numerous sketches, early photographs and subsequently postcards of the stone still precariously perched on its base rock. As can be seen from the fairly modern postcard below it was still insitu during the latter end of the 1900s. I am not so sure parents these days would be too happy to see their little darlings perched on the edge of such a rock?
I think it is fairly safe to assume that both The Nutcracker and The Nutcrackers were excellent examples of local humour or mischief being taken seriously by the early topographers. Nobody in their right mind would traipse all the way up to either logan stone just to crack some nuts, I think the only cracking that occurred was that of a joke. That the logan stones were some kind of mystical entity stems back to the early antiquarians and their belief that at one time Dartmoor was home to the druids. It has been suggested that the logan stones were used in various rites for divination and the like, hence Barber's comments above. Baring Gould attributes the druid theory to a man called Tolland who stated: 'The Druids made people believe that they alone could move these stones, and by a miracle only, by which pretended power they condemned or acquitted the accused, and often brought criminals to confess what could in no other way be extorted from them.', (1982, p.76 -77).
As mentioned above, the Nutcracker can no longer be seen precariously perched on its basal rock and indeed all that now stands is the original piles of rocks from whence nature hewed it.
Barber, B. A. 1865. Dartmoor, in The London Quarterly Review, Vol. 24.
Baring Gould, S. 1982. A Book of Dartmoor, London: Wildwood House Ltd.
Crossing, W. 1982. Gems in a Granite Setting, Exeter: Devon Books.
Page, J. Ll. W. 1895. Dartmoor and Its Antiquities, London: Seeley and Co.
Polwhele, R. 1793. Devonshire - Vol. I, London: Cadell, Dilly and Murray.