“The ayre is very sweete, wholesome and temperate, saving that in the winter season the great blustering winds, rowling upon the high craggy hills and open wastes and moores, do make the ayre very cold and sharp.”
Today, following what seems an eternal age of endless storms the weather forecasters are predicting winds of up to 75 mph gusting over Dartmoor. I would be more inclined to suggest that at 75 mph these winds would be blasting over Dartmoor. There was nothing better than to lie in bed of a night with the skylight open and listen to the wind screaming across the moor. At times it would be a melodic tune that would intermittedly burst forth into a full scale anthem, accompanied by the rattling of tiles and creaking of loft timbers. What was really nice was that no matter how cold it was I was cocooned under a heavy goose feather duvet. Likewise there is nothing better than walking across the high moor on a day when the wind howls up and over the rocky tors. Mind you it’s not so pleasant an experience when the wind is accompanied by rain or even worse hail. Then you tend to get an exfoliating skin scrub as you stagger blindly along your route. Needless to say that on Dartmoor the wind often brings with it precipitation of one kind or other, most of it wet, some of it cold. There is an old weather saying on Dartmoor;
‘The west wind always brings wet weather,
The east wind wet and cold together,
The south wind surely brings us rain,
The north wind blows it back again.’
‘When the wind is in the north, hail comes forth,
When the wind is in the west, look for a wet blast,
When the wind is in the south, the weather be fresh and good,
When the wind is in the east, cold and snow comes most.’
‘If New Year’s eve night wind blows south,
It betokeneth warmth and growth;
If west, much milk, and fish in sea;
If north, much cold and storms there’ll be;
If east, the trees will bear much fruit;
If north east, flee it man and brute.’
Other wise words on Dartmoor winds; ‘No wind is colder than a May wind‘, ‘East wind and west, the sign of blast, North and south the sign of drouth‘, ‘A western wind carries water in its hand‘, ‘No weather is ill, if the wind be still‘, ‘A west wind north about, Never long holds out‘, and none truer than ‘Every wind has its weather‘.
The writings of J. Ll. W. Page graphically sum up what many of us who venture out onto the high moor have experienced; “The force of the wind, too, is terrific. I once tried in vain to scale the summit of a tor in the northern quarter during a gale, and after repeated attempts was blown against a granite mass and held there by the fury of the elements.” Over centuries of exposure to it is commonplace to come across trees which have been bent into arthritic-like poses. Knowing that the cause of this is the strong south-westerly prevailing winds these trees can act as natural compasses.
But as Eden Phillpotts writes, this is not necessarily a bad thing for those twisted trees;
“The battered trees on the hill-top fight a good fight; but their struggle is a losing one and they fail slowly under the stress. Limbs that in winter storms have torn from them rot in the grass at their feet and more than one tree is down. They bleed and endure. Their neighbours in the coomb beneath are snug and prosperous, for they enjoy shelter from the harsh winds and bask in the beam of noonday; their limbs are sound and they show no scars. But they never see the sun rise or set, and their beauty is naught to that of the time-born, weather-beaten veterans aloft.”
Being a high, exposed tract of land Dartmoor always has and will be exposed to gale force winds as some of its place-names suggest. You have; Wind Tor, the Windy Post, Windhill Gate, Windmill Hill, Windwhistle. and storm down. During the gale of January 1990 Dartmoor was hit hard with numerous trees uprooted the evidence of which can still be seen in the Bellever plantation.
With regards to wind related names there is a local term for the little kestrel and that is ‘Windhover‘ which aptly describes its hunting techniques.
Another phenomenon often experienced in the Dartmoor is the eerie sounds the wind makes when blowing down the river valleys. Probably the most renown is the ‘Cry of the Dart‘ which is often heard and said to portend the fact that the river will claim a life as demonstrated by the legend of Jan Coo.
There is archaeological evidence that the prevailing wind caused problems for the Bronze Age settlers whose solutions were to build a curved porch-like structure around their huts as can be seen at settlement of Grimspound.
How do you take your wind? This may sound an strange an impersonal question but as far as Dartmoor cattle and ponies go there is a great variation. Dartmoor ponies seem to prefer to be facing the wind whereas the cattle rather have it coming up behind them.
Sometimes you come across structures which man has constructed to utilise the power of the wind for his benefit, the most obvious being a windmill. On Dartmoor another such thing was the ‘windstrew’, this being an exposed granite platform on which, when the strength of the wind was right, the corn would be threshed. Initially the grain would be separated from the corn by beating it with ‘dreshels’ (flails) this would then be tossed in the air thus letting the wind blow away the chaff. Such a feature is said to be found at the site of the old medieval settlement at Whittenknowle Rocks (OS grid SX 585 670).