Monday 18 November 2013

Dartmoor Field Trip | 20th - 22nd September 2013 | Part One


The River
The Call of the Dart.

“Most Westcountry folk have heard the old couplet:

‘River of Dart, River of Dart,
Every year thou claimest a heart’

I have no statistics at hand to confirm this legend, but it is quite certain that, lovely and gentle as this wonderful little river looks in the summer, it is much swifter and deadlier than one would think, and people do get drowned in it. As far back as I can remember, when I have visited the moor each year, I have heard folk say that the Dart has had its victim for the year; as though to say, thank goodness that’s over and we can all breath again for the next twelve months!

The Dart has a distinct ‘call’ at certain times when the moormen say it is howling for its victim. Usually this seems to coincide with a spate. I myself have never heard the call, but I have met those that have, and they say it is quite unmistakeable and can be heard from a great distance, borne on the wind.”

Theo Brown, ‘Dartmoor Folklore IV,’ cited from typescript in Theo Brown Archive, EUL MS 105/8.


The Forest Inn
The Publican’s Wife.

“The publican’s wife at the Forest Inn, Hexworthy, was a noted charmer. ‘Captain’ Jack Warne was there one night when a girl’s nose started to bleed badly. The innkeeper’s wife went over to Captain Warne and asked him to hand a piece of paper to the girl. On it was written the verse Ezekiel vi.6. When the girl read the verse, the bleeding stopped instantly. This charm has to be administered by someone of the opposite sex.”

Theo Brown, Tales of a Dartmoor Village: Some preliminary notes on the folklore of Postbridge (St. Peter Port: Toucan Press, 1973), 31.


Along the Banks of the Dart
Dolly Copplestone.

“Also at Brimpts, on the bank of the Dart, are the ruins of Dolly’s Cot, - the home of that ravishing beauty of Dartmoor in the early nineteenth-century - Dolly Copplestone, who married a moor man, Tom Trebble. He had to hide her away in this remote cottage to save her from the unwelcome attentions of Regency gentlemen at their bachelor house-parties at Tor Royal, near Princetown.”

Author unknown, 'Dartmoor Folklore in the Making', cited from typescript of an address given to the Devonshire Association Folklore Section, 16th January, 1961, found in Theo Brown Archive, EUL MS 105/8.


 Wistman’s Wood
Old Dewer and the Whisht Hounds.

“Wistman’s Wood was said to be the home of the ‘whisht hounds’, according to the guide books, and romantic nineteenth century writers used to say that it was once the site of bloody druidic sacrifices. While there is no proof that the Druids ever practiced their rites on Dartmoor, it is evident that when the Saxon’s penetrated this spot they felt here something numinous, perhaps heard of a strange tradition. In their Christianised character Odin became the god of their darkness, i.e., the devil, or just an unpleasant spook. One of his names-Wisc-in Devon became corrupted to ‘whisht’ (uncanny)-hence ‘wistness’ (a ghost)-and similarly we may assume that ‘wistman’ means the same thing.”

Brown, Tales of a Dartmoor Village, 11, 21. 

Crockern Tor
Old Crockern.

“Another skeleton horse, which would appear to be a first cousin of the Grey Mare’s, is that of Old Crockern, the spirit of the moor. According to the Rev. Hugh Breton in The Heart of Dartmoor, this grotesque horseman clatters over the rocks of Crockern Tor, but I cannot, so far, discover the origin of this mysterious, wind-swept figure. Crockern Tor, described by Risdon as “lying in the force of all weather”, was of course the scene of the Stannery Parliaments until 1749; perhaps Old Crockern was the presiding spirit of the old gatherings. If this was so, it is possible that he may have started his career as one of the underground pixies that Mrs. Bray described in her Traditions of Devonshire. Most ancient mining communities know of spirits in the rocks, who will reveal the richest seams to their favourites. But this is a big jump from the Old Crockern on a bony horse, and is perhaps quite another matter altogether.”

Theo Brown, ‘Dartmoor Folklore II: Ghostly Horses,’ Westcountryman, date unknown, cited from typescript in Theo Brown Archive, EUL MS 105/8.