Friday 17 February 2023

Sharpitor, Lustleigh Cleave; One of East Dartmoor's Grandest Tors

Sharpitor outcrop on summit ridge

For some reason this evening I feel compelled to devote a blog post to a single, but absolutely magnificent tor. Sharpitor is that rockpile, a humongous ridge of rock standing proud at the far south-east end of the Lustleigh Cleave high ground. My main reasoning for dedicating this post to the tor is that it is, in my view, one of the most underrated of all tors on Dartmoor, and that is in spite of the fact that it is very clearly named on Ordnance Survey (OS) Maps.

Lustleigh Cleave is a haven for oddly shaped rocks and massive tors that rear up from the valley floor like rugged castles. Their charm, for me, is that many of them are concealed by trees and you have to leave the main tracks to seek them out, almost like hunting for buried treasure.

Sharpitor, or Sharp Tor as it was once called, is one of the most easily accessible of the Lustleigh Cleave tors, with a public bridleway running immediately north of it; but, like me, chances are you have bagged the tor from there and not spent much time looking around. Indeed, beyond the ground gives way to a very steep hillside that is not for the unwary walker.

Sharpitor 'tower'

If you are nervous about steep drops and intimidated by towering crags then perhaps it would be wise not to explore Sharpitor; but, if you like a sense of adventure, this tor can be a playground. From the summit rocks on a lengthy spine protruding above the Hammerslake hut circle, granite outcrops sprawled across the hillside can be found. Particularly when stood on the south face, looking up, does one truly get a sense of its grandeur.

Sharpitor is best-known not for being a terrific tor but for being a once popular picnic spot. A century or so ago, and perhaps even more recently than that, the tor was largely tree free and stood on a moorland apex with a commanding view of the River Bovey valley. Lustleigh, with its rural population now becoming accustomed to a rise in tourism thanks to a railway connection between Newton Abbot (via Heathfield/Bovey Tracey) and Moretonhampstead, became a well frequented stop for the Victorians. Walks started appearing in guide books encouraging visitors to check out Lustleigh Cleave and its fabulous rock-strewn landscape, and in particular the Nutcracker Logan Stone, perched on Sharpitor, which was so named because it could be gently rocked back and forth to crack nuts.

Nutcracker Rock SX 77220 81443

"On the tor is a logan bearing the name of the Nutcrackers, one which is applied to most of the moving stones on the moor, and on the slope are one or two other "logging" rocks." William Crossing, Guide to Dartmoor, p.291.

On 6th May 1950, Lustleigh was shocked when the Nutcracker was dislodged by vandals causing it to crash down the hillside. This wanton act was widely reported in local newspapers describing the horror at a well-known and celebrated beauty spot. Elisabeth Stanbrook wrote an excellent article in Dartmoor Magazine (see references/further reading) suggesting that it was actually the Christening Stone that was attacked, and not the Nutcracker. In her article, Stanbrook provides photographic evidence and an on-the-ground site visit by myself, on 13th February 2023, certainly supported this.

Left to right: Nutcracker Rock, part of the Christening Stone (my guess), base of the Christening Stone

Various historic postcards show the above view (with no trees) but without the slanted rock middle left. The Christening Stone is so noted for having little indentations or rock basins on its surface. Behind the slanted rock, I found this rock basin.

The rock basin

I think we can safely surmise that, unless more evidence is unearthed, it was actually the Christening Stone that was toppled, although the Nutcracker seems to have been tampered with as I failed, with my limited strength, to make it move.

What shocked me the most when finding this now forgotten spot is the tremendous view afforded of the lower Cleave, Trendlebere Down, Black Hill, Hound Tor and Woodash. It is simply stunning and archetypal of the moorland fringes.

That view!

Sharpitor's rock masses evoke a sense of enigma as they are tangled by woodland vegetation including ivy and moss. Working your way up, over, around and through is one of the most exciting experiences I've had when exploring tors but so often at Sharpitor are you dwarfed by the magnitude.



On the west side of the tor, the ground is somewhat flat until you head south from the aforementioned bridleway. 

To visit West Sharpitor, a satellite pile, continue along the bridleway westward, passing a wonderful viewpoint, and look out for rocks on your left. There are few fissured piles here which were noted by Tim Jenkinson in 2012.

West Sharpitor

West Sharpitor

Don't forget Mr Loaf

Now that we have explored, in great detail, the higher rocks that encircle the summit of Sharpitor, we must drop down and carefully pick our way around the base of this massive tor.

Retrace your steps to the viewpoint (see below) and immediately before take a small path to the right which descends beside a stack of rock to the right.

A path drops down just to the right of this viewpoint

The stack of rock

Soon you will notice huge rocks rising up to the left and an oblong poised boulder that is possibly one of the logan stones that Crossing alluded to at Sharpitor. Found at SX 77153 81476, the feature was brought to my attention by Tim Jenkinson.


This lower face of the tor reminded me of The Dewerstone in that clings onto the hillside and is adorned by trees, on a smaller scale of course.

If you've climbed up to Lustleigh Cleave from Hammerslake/Ellimore, as many do, you may need to catch your breath as the bridleway winds its way up the hill. It is very uneven and rocky in places. The first notable outcrop you will come to, Hammerslake Tor, is another satellite pile of Sharpitor. The tor itself is also known as Donkey's Cave and explanations for this can be found in East Dartmoor's Lesser-Known Tors and Rocks.

Thanks go to Paul Buck for naming this outcrop appropriately, though I'm sure that purists (myself included) might consider it a part of Sharpitor proper, even though it does feel somewhat detached.

Hammerslake Tor

Paul Rendell in the cave

The final point of interest was noted by George of The Dartmoor Podcast (but not a podcast) at SX 77283 81426. It is a curious boulder that is clearly resting against a tree which has since grown around it. There are obvious chisel marks and cracks which tells me this rock was deliberately cut and tossed down the hillside. Was this done by vandals looking to ruin the previously mentioned Nutcracker?

There is no evidence of feather and tare on Sharpitor, and I don't think the stonecutter ever visited to exploit rock, too focussed instead on the quarries at Holwell, Haytor, East Wray, Blackingstone and Westcott.

This rock is mysterious.

The fallen rock

The tree has grown around it!

I hope this virtual tour of Sharpitor has explained to you why I love it so much, and I know that there are countless outcrops here just waiting to be found.

East Dartmoor wouldn't be the same without it.

References/Further Reading:

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