“The moor was a mountain seething with magma; the magma cooled and hardened and its name was granite.” William Atkins, The Moor, 2014
The eastern side of Bodmin Moor has a fine collection of spectacular tors. High ridges of undulating, castellated rocks or jutting outcrops of weatherworn granite rise abruptly above the horizon.
Hawk’s, Kilmar, Trewortha, Notter, Bearah and Sharp Tor, each has their own personality. Sharp Tor may not be the highest hill on Bodmin Moor but what it lacks in height it makes up for in drama.
“Caradon is an inevitable hill to make for – it and Kit Hill dominate the whole of South East Cornwall. But it is rather disappointing to climb . . . Sharp Tor is my favourite. It is slightly below the highest point of its ridge but its tower of a tor is irresistible and from it you can see both north and south seas and look across Tamarland to the mighty heave of Dartmoor.” J.R.A. Hockin, 1936
A Miniature Matterhorn
This conical tor was known as Sharp Point Tor or Sharpitor in the 19th century. It rises to around 378m (1240ft) above sea level and towers over the surrounding countryside and the village of Henwood which huddles at it’s southern side.
“The conical Sharp Tor overhangs [Henwood] as Mount Sinai overhung the village of Morality in The Pilgrim’s Progress.” E. C. Axford, 1975
Despite the tor’s supposed lack of height it’s position on the edge of the moor means that the views when standing on it’s rocky summit are extensive. On a clear day the breath-taking panorama takes in Callington, Kit Hill and stretches on into Devon to the peaks of Dartmoor and beyond. Both E. C. Axford and Peter Moore, in his book The Southern Moors, describe Sharp Tor as a “minature Matterhorn”.
The hill was used as a beacon in the last century as illustrated by an article in the Cornish Times in March 1863. The occasion was the marriage of the then Prince of Wales, Prince Albert.
“Linkinhorne – The west side of the parish of Linkinhorne was the scene of much rejoicing, particularly in the village of Henwood, which is situated on the southern base of the prominent hill, Sharp Point Tor. Flags were seen floating in several places. Large bonfires were lighted on the summit of Sharp Point Tor, and other hills.” – The Cornish Times, 21st March 1863.
Mines and Moorstone
Much of this region of the moor has, in past centuries, fallen victim to the ravages of quarrying and moorstone cutting. Close to Sharp Tor, at the base of Bearah Tor, there is still as family-run granite quarry in operation. However, thankfully Sharp Tor has remained untouched. The leases that were granted for the cutting and selling of moorstone on this part of the moor specified that stone could not be taken from the tor itself, giving it some protection and perhaps helping to preserve the ancient monuments close to it.
There was mining in this area though. For many years a concern known as Sharp Tor Mine, or West Sharp Tor mine, was being worked. The mine produced tin and copper during the 1850s but there were a number of accidents and it seems to have closed in the 1870s.
The prehistoric landscape of Bodmin Moor is remarkably well preserved and diverse. On the high ground behind Sharp Tor, known as Langstone Downs, there is sadly no sign of the long stone that gave the area its name. However you will find a line of three cairns there about 500m from the tor. These round cairns date from the Bronze Age, around 2000 – 700BC, and are constructed of earth and stone rubble.
Round cairns are funerary sites, graves which cover single or multiple burials. Our ancestors lie here. These three monuments stand very close together, their edges touching. They were undoubtedly built by the same people who lived on the slopes below the tor in ancient times.
The distinct outlines of prehistoric field systems can still be seen and when John Murray visited in 1859 he noted:
“upon it’s [the tor’s] western slope the remains of those ancient enclosures called hut circles and lines of stones.”
Of course, the people of Sharp Tor that buried their dead beneath these piles of grey moorstone would have been part of the wider community.
A community that perhaps helped build the magnificent Stowe’s Pound, visibly on the opposite hill from the tor and the even the rare chambered long-cairn on the slopes leading to Bearah Tor.
Cyrus Redding called Sharp Tor an “extraordinary assemblage of rocks” in 1842. His words are just as true today. Sharp Tor has a different personality than Bodmin Moor’s other higher hills. It’s feet are still rooted in it’s community. Stunted oaks grow in mossy meadows, bearded lichen hanging from their limbs, in the tor’s shadow. It’s a magical place and the views . . . worth every step to reach.
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