THE TALE OF BILLY’S TOR
Paul Rendell looks at a very small and over looked tor near Princetown.
There is a small outcrop of rocks on the lower slopes of North Hessary Tor known as Billy’s Tor. The first published reference to Billy’s Tor was in 1983 when Eric Hemery published High Dartmoor. It is 440 metres above sea level and stands at grid reference SX 567 745.
The tor became a very popular place to visit for letterbox hunters in 1985, in fact over 300 visitors signed in the letterbox in six months. At this time eccentricity combined with a sense of fun produced some wonderful but mad ideas. Letterboxers came up with the idea to issue passports to walkers who visited the north moor. Who but a letterboxer would suggest ‘street lights’ on the military ring road or linking some of old tin mine tunnels together to form a dryish walking route when the rain was coming down outside. If you not are a letterboxer, this talk must seem like a lot of nonsense, well nonsense it is but these things make the world go round.
It all started when a clue to a letterbox was circulated in Christian Farm Holiday and Godfrey Swinscow thought he had worked it out and went to Billy’s Tor. As it happened he was wrong. Another letterboxer Colin Rolfe thought that Godfrey would visit any letterbox put on the moors so he made a stamp out of a pencil rubber and called the letterbox “Dartymoor by Moonlite.” The letterbox was put out on Billy’s Tor and Godfrey soon found it. I removed the stamp and replaced it with another stamp called “Billy’s Tor by Moonlight” and left a postcard addressed to Colin with a copy of this stamp saying that his had been removed and this was the new stamp in his box. He was very puzzled by this but I soon owned up and returned his stamp to him. Years ago people would leave a stamped self-addressed postcard in the letterbox and the next person to find the box would write the date and their name on the card and then post it in a normal red letterbox.
Over the next few weeks different stamps appeared in the letterbox put there by different people. The Dartmoor Wally Club which was run by myself with the help of some other letterboxers, including Vivian Clatworthy, put a letterbox on Billy’s Tor. At one time there were 16 stamps in one box and six other letterboxes out on this tor. People would write poems about Billy’s Tor and leave them in the visitor book, including this one by the Editor.
I’ve heard it said and I know it’s right
That you see lovely things at night
But have you seen such a wonderful sight
As Billy’s Tor by Prunelight
Prunelight is a flash of wasted energy.
After a few months the game got very silly and members of the Dartmoor Wally Club were getting fed up with having to keep visiting the tor to get copies of the new stamps that were being put there. They held a meeting in the Plume of Feathers inn in Princetown and it was decided this would the end of Billy’s Tor. I put a stamp in the box called “The end is near, Billy’s Tor” and this was replaced a few weeks later by “Billy’s Tor Holocaust.” This stamp lasted just nine days before the box went missing….
The Dartmoor Wally Club held a Halloween party on the tor and many people turned up in fancy dress. Just wonder how many people who walk on Dartmoor today know where Billy’s Tor is or have even heard of it. In just six months over four hundred people signed in the visitor’s book and there were over 40 stamps produced. Only the British could be so silly!