‘From the soaking heights of Siddaford, above the Grey Wethers, there spread northerly a mottled desert patched with darkness of heather on a ground of livid and dead grass. This wan covering brightened in the bogs, where sedges perished in red death and spread dark, ruddy stains, as though blood had flowed out there. The land rolled desolate, water-logged, spiritless even to Cosdon’s rounded shoulders heaving to the north.’, (Phillpotts, 1910, p.191).
Sittaford Tor has been described in many ways; undramatic, verdant, flat etc, in some ways it could even be deemed as ‘eclipsed’. Put the name into any internet search engine and in 95% of the results you will find reference to the Grey Wethers circles that lie in its shadow. Hardly anywhere is the tor described and any other mention tends to be merely as a way point that walkers pass by. Agatha Christie even stole the name ‘Sittaford’ and attached it to a fictional moorland village that was located near Sourton Common in her mystery novel – The Sittaford Mystery. So just maybe it’s time to redress the balance and give Sittaford Tor some recognition.
Sittaford Tor is deceptive for although it never seems it, the summit (538m) is a mere 12 metres lower that the huge dome of nearby Cosdon Beacon (550m). As Phillpotts describes above the views from Sittaford are quite extensive, especially when looking northwards. The etymology of the place-name is fairly vague, Hemery (1983, p.768) suggests that at one time the tor was known as Siddaford Tor although the OS map of 1890 marks it as Sittaford Tor. William Crossing also refers to Siddaford Tor when mentioning that Stanford Perrott actually drove a pair of horses with carriage out to the tor, (1966, p.149). This being the case then the ‘ford‘ element of the name clearly refers to a water crossing place and as Hemery suggests that the ‘sidda‘ element is a local dialect corruption of the word south, thus giving the ‘South Ford’. The ford in question is according to Hemery the one below Maish Gate Ford on the Maish Hill Brook, thus giving the ‘South Ford’. However, as always there is another opinion and that is the ‘Sidda‘ element is a corruption of the Anglo Saxon word ‘sith‘ meaning path thus giving the ‘ford path’?
On a clear day there are some stunning views to be captured from the tor’s summit, the moor just seems to yawn wide open in every direction. Some topographical writes have given Sittaford the acclaim of being the, ‘greenest’ of the Dartmoor tors simply because of the amount of vegetation that carpets its summit. Today the tor is a tangled bird’s nest of newtake walls and barbed wire fences, all of which unite in and around the granite outcrop, it’s fair to say that the ancient walls have, through the passage of time, earned their right to be there but the same cannot be said of the barbed wire fencing. Many of the early topographical writers mention the logan stone which lies on the southern edge of the tor though sadly today the stone lies motionless. Some of the more imaginative early Dartmoor antiquarians believed that these stones had been used by the ancient Druids in their various rites. With tongue very much in cheek, William Crossing makes the following observation;
‘... one of its rocks, a thin flattish mass, could once be made to rock, or log, with ease. It is a pity that the Druidophiles were unaware of this. What a scene they might have drawn of the arch druid hurrying up from Wistman’s Wood with a big bunch of mistletoe, while the other druids gathered in the “sacred” circles, and the verdant laymen waited by the logan with beautiful childlike trust,’ (1990, p.245).
Sometime in the 1880s Crossing visited Sittaford Tor when according to him it was still possible to log the stone, (1974, p.96) so it must have been around this time that the stone became dislodge never to rock no more. As can be seen from the photograph, today the stone has been trigged up by some strategically placed stones.
Another claim to fame was that the Scattor Rock brewery once produced a bottled beer for their Tor Collection which they called ‘Sittaford Tor Stout’ which weighed in at a pleasant 4.9%. Personally, I can think of nothing better that sitting on Sittaford Tor, with a bottle of said stout, a flock of sheep for company and simply contemplating life in blissful solitude. So if ever you are passing, as that is all most people do to Sittaford, take five and enjoy the views that this underrated tor can offer.
Crossing, W. 1990. Crossing’s Guide to Dartmoor, Newton Abbot, Peninsula Press.
Crossing, W. 1974. Amid Devonia’s Alps, Newton Abbot: David & Charles.
Crossing, W. 1966. The Dartmoor Worker, Newton Abbot: David & Charles.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor, London: Robert Hale.
Phillpotts, E. 1910. A Thief of Virtue, New York: John Lane Company.