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Posts from the ‘Bodmin Moor’ Category

Splitting, Sawing, Scappling, Axing, Dunting: in Search of a Quarry

The quest to find all the beautiful swimming spots on the moor continues. Before the rain filled clouds roll in from the west we have a few hours in which to find and explore another quarry which we have located on the OS map. The tiny tear drop of blue indicates a pool of some kind on top of the Tor and looks promising. This time we cross the spinal A30 to the south side of the moor and drive along deep lanes heavy with foliage.

The track is easily found and is bounded by mossy stone built hedgebanks topped with outgrown multi-stemmed hawthorn, hazel and sycamore which form a shady canopy above us. Last autumns leaves are still intact, rusty and dry.

Cornish Lane www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Looking back down the lane

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We can see the gate ahead, a bright aperture through which we’ll pass onto the open moor. Centuries of over grazing on this upland have created a unique landscape which is slowly changing with a different management.

Farmers are no longer subsidized for the number of animals they produce but instead for the amount of acres they have. Hill farmers have been traditionally acre rich but production poor, given the harsh conditions in which they are raising animals. Now the pressure is off there is less need to go for maximum grazing and the moor is beginning to look a bit shaggier as a result. I don’t think anyone would want to see the landscape change entirely as it has evolved alongside human habitation since the Neolithic period and has its own ecology – but a few more trees, areas of scrub and increased hillocks in the grassland can only be good for wildlife.

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Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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We make our way up the hill and much to our surprise there is a sign on the gate proclaiming that this is a working quarry. A slight disappointment that no swimming will be happening any time soon gives way to intrigue about the quarry. As far as we know there is only one granite quarry still in operation on the moor at De Lank. We pass through the gate and make our way upward along the track.

Possibly because the side of the hill is in the lee of the wind there is a gentle feel to this moorland scene. A dry stream bed snakes through long tufted grass pinpricked with heads of bracken which hides rocky knolls and dips. Huge rounded boulders are fringed with trees; small oaks and twisted sycamore. The telltale rags of lichen drape the branches, whispering about the clean wet air. Rarely seen, a fairly mature gnarled holly stands alone, leaves dark and glossy.

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Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

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The Holly – once probably nibbled by sheep, hence it’s multi-stem appearance.

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As we climb we look backwards across the land. The horizon is hazy but the light is beautiful. The hot weather has passed and we are back to our usual cloud filled skies and though we may miss the heat, nothing can beat the endless changing; the billowing and brooding backdrop we know so well.

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Up ahead is Bearah Tor.

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We make it to the top and glimpse the entrance.

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There is a slight frisson of apprehension that we will be seen off by the owners but this is Cornwall where everybody is really friendly and we are invited in to have a look around.

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Note relaxed stance. I am not in a hurry.

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He explains that they no longer lift granite from the quarry itself but cut and dress stone of all different types which is brought onto site from different places. As there are not many places doing this type of work stone can come from quite far. A lot of their work is for local projects but they do a fair amount for historic buildings all over the country. Today there are just two of them, but they also have an apprentice, putting things in place for the years ahead. He has worked here for 25 years.

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Regarding the history of quarrying in general on Bodmin Moor, the Tors and hills have been quarried for granite for over 6000 years. Incredibly durable, it was used for major monuments and buildings throughout the centuries including Early Neolithic chambered tombs and long cairns; Later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age standing stones, stone circles, stone rows and burial cists. Much later, granite-clad office blocks, 19th century lighthouses and 20th century war memorials are like the modern sisters to these ancient monuments.

The early medieval period saw inscribed stones and crosses and later medieval wayside crosses, bridges and churches. The granite was used extensively in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for bridges, dockyards and churches and other important monuments, toiled over by quarrymen to produce perfectly dressed stone. It was also used after the two world wars for the headstones of the dead.

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Smaller pieces were used at least from Tudor times for lintels, jambs, mullions, thresholds and other principal stones in domestic buildings. It was also an essential part of farming, being used for gateposts, field rollers, salting troughs, pig troughs, cider mills and presses. A miller would grind the flour with it, and others, including tinners (mining) and claymen (china clay) needed a stone which was strong and hard. Granite of lesser quality with its densely packed vertical joints and dykes of elvan (quartz porphyry) which easily crumbled also started to be quarried in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for roadstone and ballast.

 Industrial scale quarrying on remote Tors only became commercially viable with the advent of better road access and a more efficient method of splitting. Prior to this they were visited for centuries by stone splitters, laboriously chiselling series of grooves and using metal wedges to cleave the granite. Mostly these splitters and skilled stone-masons used surface stone, or ‘grass-rock’, the large weathered blocks which are scattered over the landscape.

The Bearah Tor quarry in 1979. Picture from Bodmin Moor - An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

The Bearah Tor quarry in 1979. Picture from Bodmin Moor – An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

From around 1800 the plug-and-feather method for splitting stone was used, which meant hand drilling series of holes, then placing short iron chisels, the ‘plugs’, between pairs of thin iron feathers which reached the bottom of the holes. Striking the plugs cleanly in turn brought percussive pressure to the sides of the holes and thence to the heart of the stone, making splitting more efficient. From the outset, deftly controlled blasting was also used to extract the stone before splitting, using gunpowder in hand drilled charge holes, lit by a safety fuse. The powder was stored in small secure powder houses or magazines, away from the main quarry.

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Nice place to work eh?

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The fortunes of the Bodmin Moor quarries were always unpredictable, even though some attempts were made to churn out the more stable products like headstones and setts. But in the end, competition from abroad forced many these moor quarries to close.

This one has survived as a going concern for specialist pieces. Here is a gallery of images of the working quarry. Please click on a photo to enlarge.

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There is also the great St Breward pit of De Lank where granite is still lifted, now cut by thermal lance. It is sawn and polished and mainly used as cladding for smart high rise buildings and provides high quality memorial monuments too. On their website there are some interesting images both past and present.

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The De Lank Quarry in 1907. Picture from Bodmin Moor - An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

The De Lank Quarry in 1907. Picture from Bodmin Moor – An Archaeological Survey (English Heritage)

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Hopefully this yard will survive into the future but one thing is for sure, what will remain forever are the plug-and-feather and charge holes, the traces of cleaving etched indelibly into rock.

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Leaving the others chatting about machinery I climb up above the yard and find the pool. It’s possible for a swim but I don’t like the look of those submerged angular rocks too much.

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Maybe a launch from here? This is the same pool as in the 1979 picture above.

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The landscape is fascinating though, a mix of industrial and wild, the present and the past.

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Is this the base of the crane in the 1979 picture above?

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This is a ‘finger dump’ with trackway. ‘Wasters’ were piled in long fingers away from the pit, often 4 metres or so in height.

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Afterwards we go onto open ground for a picnic, Twelve Mens Moor above us. We are watchful of the gloomy mass of dark shapes heading our way. A lone walker with her collie dog strides across a few hundred metres away but other than that and a few alarmed looking sheep we are alone. We sit on a massive rock, eat our lunch and listen to the noise of the moor.

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Twelve Men’s Moor

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This is where we were.

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My Year of Cows 2012

Well, as you know, I’ve got a soft spot for cows…

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf

But when you get really interested in something you start seeing the object of your desire everywhere.

Galloways on Dartmoor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Galloways on Dartmoor

So this is my collection of 2012, roughly in chronological order, though there’s a few I took a few years ago when I started looking.

Belted Galloway www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Belted Galloway on Dartmoor

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Belted Galloways on Dartmoor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Belted Galloways on Dartmoor

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Galloways on Dartmoor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Galloways on Dartmoor

Burgundian Charolais www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Burgundian Charolais

Highland Cattle on Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Highland Cattle on Bodmin Moor

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf

Traditional Hereford Cow & Calf

North Devon Cow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

North Devon Cow

Cattle on Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cattle on Bodmin Moor

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Highland Cow www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Highland Cow

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Aberdeen Angus Bull (I think) www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Aberdeen Angus Bull (I think)

Cattle on Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cattle on Bodmin Moor

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Cowon Bodmin Moor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Aaaw

Cow in BodminMoor www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cow on Bodmin Moor

Cattle on Bodmin www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cattle on Bodmin Moor

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Spanish Cows www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Spanish Cows

Friesian Steer www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Friesian Steer

Young steers feeding www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Young steers feeding

Cow Fur www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Cow Fur

Traditional Hereford Bull www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

And we mustn’t forget Herald, our bull

Young Hereford X Steer www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

And his children…not sure what the mother was…

Traditional Hereford Heifers

And saving the best til last…Belita, Mary-Rose & Lucy

Slipping into Winter – the Breath of Beating Wings

Today it feels like we’ve slipped into winter – how did that happen?

Winter Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Today the trees look stark against the beautiful sky, it is damp and cold, and there is an earthy smell of decay. But strange discrepancies abound too. A Foxglove is in flower still, it’s delicately freckled throat facing the sun.

November Foxglove www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Today the sky was dramatic, pristine. It has been clear blue, shot through with every conceivable shape and shuffle that a cloud can make, smoky puffs of dark grey, silvery sides of mackeral , a mountain range in the distance kissed by low sun and a wash of the softest brush.

Today I feel sad.

Today I wish that my father was still alive, and that B & G were not ill, and that I could capture what is not possible.

Winter Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comWinter Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Winter Sky with Starlings www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I can hear the whirr of the starlings wings as they approach, flying along the valley edge, making their way to the roost on Bodmin Moor. And then they are gone, the breath of their beating wings landing on my shoulders.

Thought Number 3 A Moorland Interlude and Enjoying the Journey

I peel off from the holiday traffic on the A30 and head off across Bodmin Moor for home. The road is signposted Blisland. I always love the rumble of iron as my wheels go over the cattle grid, the physical sensation which marks the separation of the normal world with this ancient place. My friend T, who runs a lovely yurt holiday camp on the moor www.cornishyurtholidays.co.uk, and who I happen to be chatting with at the time, swears that this particular turning sends you into a Bermuda style triangle of lanes and ditches which lead you everywhere except where you want to go. But I reflect that it’s all about enjoying the journey so along with the bleak hills I get to see the soft velvety hillocks of moss below drystone walls and windblown scrubby oaks covered with ferns and dripping with the palest green filigree lichen, wild ponies and free range sheep. And more cows. Always cows.

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