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Quartz and Feldspar: Dartmoor - A British Landscape in Modern Times

de Matthew Kelly

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Granite, a tough composite of quartz, feldspar and mica, is the stuff of Dartmoor, the most formidable of the five granite bosses punctuating Britain's southwest peninsula. A miserable place of rain and bog or a sunny upland of exquisite natural beauty, here the elements are raw, the sky huge and nature seems ascendant. But it is no less a place made by human beings. Stone circles, stone crosses, dwellings and boundaries speak of the ancient, medieval and modern people that extracted a living from the moorscape and created what it is today. Where convicts are incarcerated, backpackers roam freely; where commoners graze livestock, the army is trained; where the National Park Authority exercises control, the Duchy of Cornwall claims ownership. And Dartmoor remains a place that provides. Reservoirs hold the water drunk by local people. China clay is extracted from its mineral reserves. Not long ago granite was quarried from its hillsides. What is modern Dartmoor and what it should be? Did druids officiate here? Can the bog be drained and crops grown? Is it the place for a prison? And what of its people's future, and the fate of its ponies, cows and sheep? For three hundred years such questions have been asked of the moor. Quartz and Feldspardoes not so much provide answers as unearth those who did and the arguments they provoked.… (més)

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Dartmoor is an elemental place. The largest area of granite in the country is bleak yet beautiful and on a sunny day it can really show its glorious side. But bad weather here can be a killer, fog and rain sweeping in from that Atlantic can reduce visibility in no time at all. It is one of the reasons that the army still use the area for training. It is a place that has seen human activity for millennia too, there are tombs and enclosures scattered all over the National Park as well as evidence of people using the land to scratch a living.

It is home to the Dartmoor pony, an infamous prison and has inspired writers who have used the brooding melancholy to great effect, most famously in The Hound of the Baskervilles. It first became a National park in 1951 and is made up of common land as well as substantial tracts owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, the MOD parts are owned by water companies the National Trust and the Forestry Commission. These various stakeholders have all sort of claims on the land, but the National Park Authority tries to control the various conflicting wishes.

It is not a bad book, but the emphasis is firmly looking at all the horse trading and political manoeuvring that had taken place from the formation of the park until the Dartmoor Commons Act that secured public access to the park, even on private land. I felt that there was not enough on the geology of this fascinating place and I would have preferred much more on the history on those that have used the landscape for ritual and other purposes. The political side is an element in the story of this place, but sadly it overwhelmed the book. ( )
  PDCRead | Apr 6, 2020 |
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Granite, a tough composite of quartz, feldspar and mica, is the stuff of Dartmoor, the most formidable of the five granite bosses punctuating Britain's southwest peninsula. A miserable place of rain and bog or a sunny upland of exquisite natural beauty, here the elements are raw, the sky huge and nature seems ascendant. But it is no less a place made by human beings. Stone circles, stone crosses, dwellings and boundaries speak of the ancient, medieval and modern people that extracted a living from the moorscape and created what it is today. Where convicts are incarcerated, backpackers roam freely; where commoners graze livestock, the army is trained; where the National Park Authority exercises control, the Duchy of Cornwall claims ownership. And Dartmoor remains a place that provides. Reservoirs hold the water drunk by local people. China clay is extracted from its mineral reserves. Not long ago granite was quarried from its hillsides. What is modern Dartmoor and what it should be? Did druids officiate here? Can the bog be drained and crops grown? Is it the place for a prison? And what of its people's future, and the fate of its ponies, cows and sheep? For three hundred years such questions have been asked of the moor. Quartz and Feldspardoes not so much provide answers as unearth those who did and the arguments they provoked.

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