In early Feb 2014, I was down in Devon with my colleague Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores exploring key sites for the Past in its Place project. Last month we were back again for the Past in its Place conference at Buckfast Abbey.
What was frustrating about visiting Devon so briefly was how little I had time to re-connect with its landscape. Still, with little time to explore, it made sense to head to a striking highlight that is readily accessible to tourists and locals. In the autumn late afternoon light of the first day down in Devon, Paty and I revisited Haytor.
This granite tor is an iconic natural landmark is visible from large swathes of south and central Devon. It might be far from ‘typical’ of Dartmoor and its surroundings, yet from it one can look out over the countryside of southern Devon and over a moorland landscape which bears many traces of prehistoric, medieval, post-medieval and industrial archaeology. From cairns to tramways, from field systems to abandoned settlements, from quarries to roads, from Haytor one can gain a sense of a landscape transformed by human activity. One can also see Houndtor, famous for me because of its deserted medieval settlement and associated field system as much as for its folkloric and literary associations.
Previously, I mentioned that Haytor is not only a place for the living to visit, but also a place of memorialisation and ash-scattering. It also bears traces of the 19th-century steps cut in it to facilitate visitors: Haytor is a natural tor and a natural monument bearing natural and human action. It is stone sculpted for the tourist, just as the landscape surrounding it, its ponies and its car parks, its vegetation and woodland, are part of a national park managed for visitors and locals alike.
For Paty and I on this trip, it is little other than a casual stop-off on our way to an academic conference. Still, it served to reinvigorate me for tackling academic debates about memory and landscape that were to come in the following days at Buckfast Abbey. In this regard, Haytor was a snapshot of landscape and a snapshot of memory.
Paty on Haytor