Dwarfed by its more famous neighbour and appearing as a mere pimple from the nearby road, it’s a wonder anyone visits Saddle Tor at all. It rates poorly by comparison to its neighbours. It doesn’t look like much, from the main road to the south at least, especially when the sheer walls of Haytor Rocks are just around the next bend. The low, squat tor is overlooked by nearby Rippon Tor at almost 50m greater altitude, from whence the views are just stupendous. And it’s not really on the way to anywhere, an odd place to incorporate into a walk, hemmed in by Emsworthy to the west and the main road to the south. Even in my climbing days it was only a tor we’d visit if other crags were busy.
So I haven’t, in all honestly, been there very often. When I was a young teenager my aunt and I went there to watch the sunset, and we were slightly disappointed when we drove on a bit and realised we hadn’t been on Hay Tor after all. I also did a fair bit of climbing there because there is a really good and challenging overhang, but most of the good climbs are on the northern side of the tor and are often pretty wet. Apart from that, well, I guess I’ve always felt there are better tors to go to.
However one of the nice things about our Dartmoor Scratch Map is that it makes us go to places we hadn’t really considered. Today the forecast was for wind and showers and, still full of festive excess, we only really wanted a short leg stretch to blow the cobwebs away. Saddle Tor fitted the bill.
We parked up in my wife’s little Jazz and the wind started rocking the car, much to the amusement of the kids. The combination of wind and surface water on the lower slopes made it hard for the boys to keep their footing at times, and for a while they were slipping around like Buster Keaton in a banana skin factory. It was pretty windy, but blowing from behind us it felt a bit less intense. Until we got to the top, at least.
Saddle Tor is only 300m from the car park on the western side and 40m above it (you can halve these numbers if you park to the east). The difference in the wind was remarkable. At the top, it was difficult to walk and in the stronger gusts I struggled to stand still. We lingered long enough to let the boys experience it and to take a couple of very shouty videos expressing our astonishment at the windiness of it all, then headed off the top itself and contoured round the lower slopes of the tor towards the car. We were occasionally plunged into near darkness when thick clouds came over and would then be suddenly shrinking back from the brightness of the sunshine when it broke through. It felt incredibly dramatic and bright, colourful rainbows brought an extra sense of awe. It was a quite wonderful day to be out.
Around the northern foot of the tor I found a really interesting section of rock which I will try to explain.
Hopefully in the photo you can see that there are two types of rock here. On the top half of the photo you can see a course granite which has some very large white, rectangular crystals in it, while towards the bottom half there is a white granite with much smaller and even-sized crystals.
The key to understanding this is that the longer it takes a molten rock to cool, the larger its crystals will be. Igneous rocks made up of smaller crystals will have cooled much more quickly. So broadly speaking, the top section of rock will have cooled much more slowly than the bottom section. The large rectangular crystals (‘megacrysts’) are interesting because they are feldspars that would have solidified at a high temperature while the rest of the magma was still molten, so they would have washed around as solid lumps inside the molten rock. You can see that they point in the same direction and that gives us an indication of which was the magma was flowing! So the upper section of rock would have cooled more slowly and been at a higher temperature for longer than the section below, and it would have formed first.
In fact, it forms the upper edge of the magma chamber that the finer-grained granite would have occupied. There is a very clear and sharp edge, although it can be seen in places that the older rock has been meted into the younger rock. The magma chamber would have cooled and solidified relatively quickly, which is why the crystals in this section are smaller.
For a geologist, this is quite an interesting lump of rock and I hope I have explained it clearly for anyone who isn’t a specialist!
As we got back towards the car, a squall blew across the saddle between Saddle Tor and Rippon Tor, monochroming the latter and filling the sky behind us with the biggest and most colourful rainbows of the day. It was awesome, in both directions. Lower down, the wind had relented and we felt we had earned a bit of a treat. You really can’t beat a pint of Otter and a cream tea at the Tinpickle and Rhum!