Perspective & Place: 6 far-reaching views & questions
Britain. If the world’s most famous silverscreen spy doesn’t step from the shadows of your subconscious, arguably its most famous literary sleuth will…
Why? It’s elementary. 221b, Baker Street? Still nothing? Sherlock Holmes.
To arrive at our subject by a most curious route, there was a reason, we think, those granite tors, that windswept moorland inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes adventure – The Hound of the Baskervilles.
As places go, perhaps Dartmoor provided the perspective Holmes needed, too, to unravel one of the most mysterious of cases, presuming nothing assuming nothing in his frenzied journey toward the truth.
Indeed, we’d like to think Dartmoor was more than a space for Holmes, it was a place that provided him with the opportunity to summon his formidable powers of deduction; detaching his mind and bathing it in Dartmoor’s brooding elemental beauty whilst his subsconscious went to work.
Over the green squares of the fields and the low curve of a wood there rose in the distance a grey, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim and vague in the distance, like some fantastic landscape in a dream*Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – The Hound of the Baskervilles
Here then, is a pipe-full of Sherlock-inspired perspectives, each sweeping vista paired with a perfectly perplexing, Google-defying question that would give Holmes himself cause to frown and smile; if the man, that is, were more than a mere fiction vanishing in to the mist like Dartmoor’s lost villages…
Dartmoor Perspective #6
I am in the highest town in England. [Bertram Fletcher] Robinson and I are exploring the Moor over our Sherlock Holmes book. I think it will work out splendidly – indeed I have already done nearly half of it. Holmes is at his very best, and is a highly dramatic idea – which I owe to Robinson†Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – letter to his mother, 2 June 1901
We start 4 miles from Princetown, east Dartmoor; the town’s national park visitor centre once home to Conan Doyle as he penned The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Our first dramatic vista is a wonderful celestial panorama of Great Staple Tor, crowned by the delicately arching Milky Way. One of Dartmoor’s most photographed spots, a circular walk links the tor with Cox Tor and Roos Tor.
Dartmoor Perspective #5
Stacks etched in iron light rise from alpine cover, intrude like a dark fin upon the horizon. Leather Tor, another rocky outcrop within 15 minutes (drive) of Princetown. From here you can take in dramatic views over the southern moor and Burrator Reservoir nearby.
View of Burrator Reservoir from Leather Tor © Crown copyright Visit Dartmoor
Ilsington Country House – 20.7 mi
Have your character and humanity been forged more by pleasure and success or by pain and disappointment?‡
Dartmoor Perspective #4
One of the most interesting weeks that I ever spent was with Doyle on Dartmoor. He made the journey in my company shortly after I told him, and he had accepted from me, a plot which eventuated in the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’. Dartmoor, the great wilderness of bog and rock that cuts Devonshire at this point, appealed to his imagination†Bertram Fletcher Robinson – Sunday Magazine supplement of The New York Tribune, 26 November 1905
Conan Doyle introduced a character called Seldon, a fugitive from Dartmoor Prison, in the third instalment of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
This followed a widely publicised escape from Dartmoor Prison at the time. The Prison also featured in the Sherlock Holmes novella, The Sign of Four (February 1890).
From the Prison, continue south for 3 miles until you reach Fox Tor Mires, the inspiration for Doyle’s ‘great Grimpen Mire’ in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Indeed, it is here, on a small island at the centre of the ‘great Grimpen Mire’, that the villain Stapleton keeps the hound. Whilst not as treacherous, visitors are advised to visit Fox Tor Mires in the company of an experienced local guide.
Dartmoor Perspective #3
Buckfastleigh figures in The Hound of the Baskervilles insofar as there are parallels between the story of Squire Richard Cabell III, murdered at the hand of his wife’s pet hound, and the legend of the wicked Hugo Baskerville that was reported to Sherlock Holmes by James Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Buckfastleigh’s Holy Trinity Church is the final resting place of ‘Richard Cabell’ (also his grandfather’s and father’s name). It is said that the misfortunes that befell Holy Trinity Church have been linked to his ‘sepulchre’ or ‘penthouse tomb’ that you can see in the background, far left, of this photograph.
View of Holy Trinity Church
Ilsington Country House – 9.6 mi
What in your life do you think will seem most meaningful when you look back many years from now? What do you think you’ll regret when you look back?‡
Dartmoor Perspective #2
Our penultimate perspective is 10 miles north of Buckfastleigh, past the small rural town of Ashburton, where Henry ‘Harry’ Baskerville and his wife Alice lived and are buried.
Bowerman’s Nose is instantly recognisable. It’s the stuff of legends. Indeed, legend has it that Bowerman was a huntsman who, while out with his hounds, disrupted a coven of witches performing a ritual. Bowerman was turned into a stack of granite as punishment, and his dogs into the clitter (scattered granite rocks) that are on nearby Hound Tor.
Dartmoor Perspective #1
Haytor Rocks. The Beyoncé of tors. More iconic than most. Offering spectacular views across Dartmoor and the south Devon coast. Explore Haytor Quarry by following the Templer Way walk, stop by Haytor visitor centre, and revel in the wonderful dark skies of Dartmoor in the car park for visiting the tor itself, as identified by the Go Stargazing team.
Praised by the public and AA inspectors in equal measure, the Hassell family’s country house hotel and spa has Dartmoor National Park on its doorstep. When you’re not lacing up your boots and heading out in to the great outdoors, the great indoors proves equally seductive. O, and breakfast! Warm home-baked bread with eggs laid fresh from the hotel’s flock of hens. Accredited by Visit Britain as “We’re Good to Go”, the UK’s official COVID-19 industry standard.
Travel can, at its best perhaps, offer us a fresh perspective, broadening those all-too-often habituated horizons. It can act as a catalyst for change, has the power to be transformative.
As Conan Doyle wrote, as Sherlock said: “The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.”
Perhaps then, a “fresh perspective” isn’t so much a question of escaping the everyday as it is of elevating it. Of bringing it in to focus. Dartmoor, a landscape in which to hold your breath and listen. For questions. For answers. For clues.
The pandemic we’re living through has – it almost goes without saying – affected us all, in various ways, and to different degrees.
For those of you ready to travel these Isles safely, Dartmoor’s tors appear once more against the rising moon. And for those where travel is not an option right now, well then, here are six questions to prompt new perspectives from exactly where you are seated at this very moment.
Stay safe. Stay inspired.
PPS. Unique Devon Tours: The Hound of the Baskervilles tour.