Rock mysteries | Daily News


Rock mysteries

“Here stood Beardown Man, a lofty menhir that wrote humanity upon the wilderness… those uplifted fragments of unwrought rock that stood where the bygone people worshipped their spirits or buried their dead.”
– Eden Phillpotts, 1902.

All over the world are fascinating rock formations turned into temples, also special places where people meditate and even majestic palaces like Sigriya were built. One of the most mysterious rocks can be found on Dartmoor in the UKs most specataculat national park, which is 365 square miles of neolithic and Bronze Age remains. One of the most interesting being Pagan Beardown Man under Devils Tor, which is a huge rock and one of the last great mysteries of Dartmoor, possibly the world, situated in a spooky totally isolated spot over five miles from civilisation. To reach this remote giant rock formation you need to go prepared with wet weather gear, snacks, lots of water, a compass and really good map as no phones work and the only certainty is the weather can change many times in one day.

I started out early morning in bright sunshine and less than an hour into the trek the weather turned stormy, it was incredibly wet for the next two hours mixed with blustery cold winds, followed by large 10cm rock like hailstones and then like a grand finale turned to snow. I felt like an intrepid explorer covered in white powdery snow walking through a prehistoric forest with fifty different types of moss and litchens hanging of its twisted and gnarled branches, known as Wistman’s Wood, then over rocky terrain, and some very bad boggy areas where it is easy to sink up to your knees in mud. After the second forest you have to go across fast flowing water with no bridge or natural break only a weir with a rather slippery platform. As water sprayed past me I wondered what made people go in search of such prehistoric rocks even if they are unique natural treasures from our ancestors.

Despite the terrible weather conditions I was determined to see one of Englands oldest rock formations, not a man as it is call or a bear of a man, but a huge pillar of granite 3.5 metres from the ground erected more than 5,000 years ago still sitting in pride of place, at an altitude of 542 metres. Touch the rock and you feel like it is pulsating, as if it is living and those that have visited these isolated places like soldiers training over two hundred years on Dartmoor say the bullets bizarrely do not even touch it during firing practice, as if it has some kind of forcefield protecting it however intense the military shelling is.

To get to the bottom of what it really is would take bringing author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes back to life to unravel the mystery of the Moors awe inspiring rock, which some say represents an ancient tribal meeting spot to pow wow around, or a stone marker of tribal territorial boundaries during the Bronze Age settlements. Another suggestion is that it is the main spot for sacred rituals on the Moors or even more sinister the stone is really of a man turned to stone and petrified for all time for sacrilegious transgressions. Like a mysterious nemesis sitting atop the wild landscape for all time it is impossible however challenging the walk maybe and the weather not to be inspired by this breathtaking spot, where things vanish in terrifying mists that appear from nowhere minutes later.

As sheep rub their bodies on the rock using it as a scratching post, I read about some of the scary stories from the surrounding Moor villagers who over the centuries have come up with all sorts of imaginative suggestions. Standing with it towering over one covered in flakes of snow makes the exploration all the more profound. A devilishly beautiful and haunting spot, you will quickly realise why the moor has retained its evil alter ego; with its natural and supernatural landscape of different shaped piles of rocks known as Tors and strange giant standing stone piles, that some say are naughty sprites, perhaps also turned to stone by a gorgon-like character similar to Medusa. This Harry Potter-like world mixes truth and fantasy, superstition and folklore, across 365 square miles of amazing landscape. And yet even in the bleakest of spots, creativity abounds with Dartmoor ice cream being made, honey collected, sparkling wine grown and Papillon, Black Dog, and Dartmoor Beast gin being sold at the Moors tourist information offices shop, which always advise taking a good map as no phone however good it is works in this prehistoric world.

Also be prepared as weather can and does change in a flash and the last thing you want to do is vanish down a bog, which is easier to do than you think. A wonderful place for stargazing at night and walking in the footsteps of Conan Doyle’s most famous book, The Hound of The Baskervilles set on Dartmoor. They say the hound’s bone-chilling howl can sometimes be heard in the wind at night and its terrifying gigantic footprints, are allegedly seen by early morning walkers, appearing out of nowhere and vanishing into impossibly boggy places. It’s a place known for its darkness, black magic and superstitions. Even Doyle’s brilliant detective Holmes comes to recognise the power of demons and bad spirits, conjured up to create havoc. Trying to track down this ghoulish hound, he quickly realises this is no playground for the faint hearted or foolish disbeliever or an unprepared traveller.

Today you can stay on Dartmoor at Prince Hall Hotel, a boutique 8-room mansion, built in 1443, and rebuilt in 1787 by Justice Buller, the youngest ever British High Court judge, at 32. In 1945, the Astors bought it as a summer home. It’s a unique place with up-cycled furniture, covered with wonderful hand-thrown pottery by owner Chris Daly, also a fantastic cook, who uses the best local farm produce. Mrs Simpson stabled 42 Arab horses in the barn, now used for pottery, and Yoga retreats in winter. 018228904043 From here you can see the wild ponies, go for long walks and enjoy the exciting calendar of year round Dartmoor events.

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