Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Cutty Dyer, Ashburton

The title of most nasty fae creature in Devon should belong to none other than the dreaded Cutty Dyer of Ashburton. This bloodthirsty sprite or ogre is said to lure naughty children to the banks of the Yeo, slitting their throats and drinking their blood. Some sources say he is particularly fond of the King's Bridge in the centre of the town.

Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art. Volume XI. (1879) includes an article by P. F. S. Amery regarding Cutty Dyer.
"Old townspeople of Ashburton recollect well the dread of their lives when children, was a mysterious being supposed to inhabit the river Yeo, with whose displeasure and its undefined consequences they were threatened by parents and nurses as a punishment for disobedience and childish frolics. To the generation before, namely, to our great grandparents, "Cutty Dyer" was the dread of their more matured years, and was supposed to inflict summary punishment on topers as they reeled with difficulty by night through the dark streets to their houses."
"He was described by persons who saw him as being very tall, standing in the water to his waist, with red eyes as large as saucers, endeavouring to pull them into the water. When the stream was bridged he remained only a scare to children, and on the streets being lighted disappeared altogether. He is remembered, however, as "Cutty Dyer," but how the second name became added I cannot guess. I may mention there is a Cuttyford Bridge about half-a-mile above Ashburton, on the same stream."
Amery gives an interesting theory into how the legend of Cutty Dyer came about, suggesting that the origin lies with Saint Christopher:
"Christianity taught that all objects of pagan worship were devils, and their influence therefore baneful to man. The giant Saint Christopher was afterwards introduced as a sort of patron to fords and bridges to neutralize the evil effects of the water sprite. In the old churchwardens' book at Ashburton we find the following entry, under date of 1536-7: "Paid vj for lokyn of the stocke to make Saynt Cristoffer." We also find, under the date 1538-9, the following among other payments: "jx"- in part payment of the greater sum for making the image of St. Christopher." At the Reformation it was dethroned, and most probably cast into the brook, and Christopher or " Cutty " became the ogre, and was supposed to lie in wait for drunkards crossing the stream."
The Legendary Dartmoor Website tells a story from William Crossing of two men walking late at night along the bank of the river Yeo, when they encountered Cutty Dyer. He is described here as an ogre with "great goggle-eyes", black hair hanging over his shoulders in twisted snake-like locks, a beard of the same colour, and teeth like a shark. Lucky for the men, they escaped unharmed. The whole story can be read here.
A more recent mention of Cutty Dyer is given on the BBC website, where Town Clerk John Germon gives an insight into the town of Ashburton. In this article he gives mention to Cutty Dyer, saying: "As young boys we were told not to hang around Kings Bridge after dark as 'Cutty Dyer' the evil water sprite would seek out children, cut their throats and drink their blood!!! An old wives tale or a story to keep children away from this area? Who knows, the only thing I know is it worked for me!"
Whilst in Devon I paid a visit to Ashburton, and carefully peered over the sides of the bridge where he is said to most often lurk. I'm not easily spooked, but I admit that my inner child was a little reluctant to lean over the bridge just incase, and I certainly wouldn't want to lift the cover to the metal grate as it looks like the perfect place for Cutty Dyer to be hiding, lying in wait... 
I would like to give great thanks to Thomas, owner of the Westcountry Folklore Blog, for his help in researching this blog entry and providing me with lots of very useful and helpful information. I thoroughly recommend you all take a look at his wonderful blog! 

Sources & Further Information
Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art. Volume XI.
Westcountry Folklore Blog
Legendary Dartmoor, Cutty Dyer
BBC Website, Ashburton Article

Wisht Hounds Part 3 - The Dewerstone

One of the most mentioned locations for the Wisht Hounds is the Dewerstone. This tall and craggy hill that dominates the landscape is said to be home to the Black Huntsman himself, known in this location as Dewer, and thought to be an incarnation of his infernal majesty, The Devil. An early mention of the Dewerstone is found in Notes and Queries Issue 61 (1850):
"The Dewerstone is a lofty mass of rock rising above the bed of the Plym, on the southern edge of Dartmoor. During a deep snow, the traces of a naked human foot and of a cloven hoof were found ascending to the highest point. The valley below is haunted by a black headless dog. Query, is it Dewerstone, Tiwes-tun, or Tiwes-stan?"
Murray, in his 'A hand-book for travellers in Devon and Cornwall' (1851), elaborates further on this and claims "on stormy winter nights the peasant has heard the"whist hounds" sweeping through the rocky valley, with cry of dogs, winding of horns and "hoofs thick - beating on the hollow hill." Their unearthy "master" has been sometimes visible - a tall swart figure with a hunting pole. Dewerstone is probably "Tiw's-stan," the rock of Tiw, the Saxon diety from whom we derive the name of Tuesday".

He also tells the story of the footprints in the snow. It may be from these descriptions, or an earlier source they are quoting, that the story arose of the Black Huntsman leading victims up to the rocky crags, or chasing them, and then disappearing leaving them to stumble around in the darkness and eventually lose their footing and plummet to their death. Another account of the Devil's footprints can be found in the Devonian Year Book 1910. Unfortunately no exact location is given for where the footprints were found.
"Some of you may remember the great excitement caused by mysterious footprints in the snow in the great snowstorm of 1881. These footprints were not those of any known animal, they were at enormous distances apart, and neither hedges nor houses formed any obstruction. Parents were afraid to allow their children to go to school, and for some time the whole country was in a state of panic. The mystery has never been solved."
Baring-Gould writes of Dewer in 'A Book of Folklore' (1913) and suggests a motive, he is hunting for human souls:
"There is a great cliff of granite rising precipitately above the River Plym that debouches at Plymouth, which goes by the name of the Dewerstone, or the rock of Tiu or of Tyr. On the top of this crag the Wild Huntsman is said to be frequently seen along with his firebreathing Wish-hounds, and his horn is heard ringing afar over the moors, and as he chases the yelping of his hounds may be heard. He hunts human souls. Two old ladies who lived at Shaw, near by, assured me that they had often heard his horn and the yelping of the pack.
So along to the Dewerstone we headed. Today, the area is well marked with trails and paths so is not quite the dangerous trek it once was, though if like us you miss the old mining track and end up scrambling straight up the hill, it's a bit more strenuous and stressful! The journey begins by crossing the river, and following the path that curves....

Past the little cave with the rocky face, and up the stoney path that leads you up the hill....

Follow the little track on the right, but not too far, and you'll reach the main pillars of the Dewerstone. I didn't venture too near the edge, and some of the rocks were being used by rock climbers, but I hope these photos give an idea of just how far the drop down is! Imagine being led here in darkness by a cloven hooved gentleman, who suddenly disappears, leaving you to fumble around in the dark, before placing one foot a little too near the edge....

We continued up the hill, accidently completely missing the easier miner's path, and eventually came to the summit. At the very summit lies a large rock, carved with the name 'W Ford' and some other writing. The views are spectacular.

My story doesn't end there. Not far from the summit I discovered a beautiful and magical hidden gem, where the sun sparkled through the oak leaved trees, and bounced off the moss covered boulders. Hidden amongst the trees is a little rocky shelter, and 2 trees stand together like a doorway to faerie.

I will leave this entry with a chilling short story found in an article titled 'Folklore Parallels and Coincidences' by M J Walhouse, published in Vol 8 No 3 of the Sept 1897 edition of the Folklore Journal.
"A story is told of this phantom that a farmer, riding across the moor by night, encountered the Black Hunter, and being flushed with ale, shouted to him "Give us a share of your game!" The Huntsman thereupon threw him something that he supposed might be a fawn, which he caught and carried in his arms till he reached his home, one of the old moorland farms. There arrived, he shouted, and a man came out with a lantern. "Bad news, master," said the man; "you've had a loss since you went out this morning." "But I have gained something," answered the farmer, and getting down brought what he had carried to the lantern, and beheld---his own dead child! During the day his only little one had died."
Sources & Further Information
Notes and Queries, Issue 61
A Hand-book for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall, Murray
Devonian Year Book 1910
A Book of Folklore, Baring-Gould
Folklore Parallels and Coincidences, M J Walhouse
The Modern Antiquarian, Dewerstone Settlement
Legendary Dartmoor, The Dewerstone
Shaugh.Net - Dewerstone
The Mysteries of the Dewerstone Walk, AA Website

Wisht Hounds Part 2 - Abbot's Way & Richard Cabell

Wistman's Woods are not the only location on Dartmoor said to be haunted by the Wisht Hounds. James Motley in his 'Tales of the Cymry' (1848) states "Certain spots on Dartmoor are more commonly haunted by the wish hounds than others, Several ancient roads are mentioned as their peculiar resorts, as "The Abbot's Way", "The Ridge Road", and on certain nights, of which St John's Eve is always one, they are supposed to go in procession through the long deep shady lanes which abound in this district."

Hunt, in his 'Popular Romances of the West of England' (1865) writes, "The Abbot's Way on Dartmoor, an ancient road which extends into Cornwall, is said to be the favourite coursing ground of the wished or wisked hounds of Dartmoor".

Whilst visiting Dartmoor we decided to take a look at Abbot's Way for ourselves, and walked along the stretch near Cross Furzes that continues out on to the wilds of the moors. We walked along the path to the Abbot's Way, past the ancient gnarled trees, and over the mossy stone bridge...

This lead us on to the Abbot's Way.

We stopped to take a look at some muddy paw prints. It must have been rather terrifying in days of old, to be walking along the Abbot's Way and come across a trail of fresh paw prints, hear the distant wild yelping of the Wisht Hounds, and know the Wild Hunt was near....

The gate that marks the beginning and end of the moors.

The path continues over the open moors, with rolling hills and ancient standing stones...

The Black Huntsman and his hounds did not make an appearance I'm glad to say, but we did decide to pursue the legend further and headed to Buckfastleigh Holy Trinity Church, the resting place of Richard Cabell, a wicked man of local legend associated with the Hell Hounds of Dartmoor.

Baring-Gould writes in the Methuen's Little Guide on Devonshire (1907) that "Before the S. porch is the enclosed tomb of Richard Cabell of Brooke, who died in 1677. He was the last male of his race, and died with such an evil reputation that he was placed under a heavy stone, and a sort of penthouse was built over that with iron gratings to it to prevent his coming up and haunting the neighbourhood. When he died the story goes that fiends and black dogs breathing fire raced over Dartmoor and surrounded Brooke, howling."

Embellished versions of the tale tell that he was an evil man and keen huntsman who sold his soul to the devil, or that he killed his wife, though other versions say that his wife outlived him by 14 years at least. Another version of the tale says that Richard Cabell beat his wife and accused her of infidelity, and chased her over the moor, catching her and stabbing her to death in a fit of rage. It is said that her faithful hound tore out his throat in revenge, and that both fell to their deaths. Another version tells how on the night of his burial a pack of phantom hounds bayed across the moor and sat howling at his tomb. Some say he leads the hounds on hunts across the moors, sometimes with a headless horse and coach. Many of these versions and more can be found on the Legendary Dartmoor website, including some interesting information about a cave below his tomb.

It is thought by some that the tale of Richard Cabell inspired the writing of Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles. In January 1907 Cecil Turner wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle and asked if Hound of the Baskervilles was based on the Black Dog of Herguest Court legend. He replied in a letter, "My story was really based on nothing save a remark of my friend Fletcher Robinson's that there was a legend about a dog on the moor connected with some old family", this quote comes direct from the letter, that was sold through Bonhams Auction house.

We headed along to Buckfastleigh Holy Trinity Church to take a look at Richard Cabell's tomb, and it certainly does have an eerie feeling surrounding it.

According to the Legendary Dartmoor website, the sold wooden door at the back was placed there to deter Satanists from gaining entry, as black magic rites have been carried out at the church and at Richard Cabell's tomb. The church itself was very badly damaged by fire in July 1992 when the church was broken into and a fire started under the altar, and what stands now is little more than a ruin with no roof and crumbling walls. In the church remains I found the below pentagram scratched on to the wall, though for what sinister purpose I'd rather not know...

Sources & Further Information
Tales of the Cymry, James Motley
Popular Romances of the West of England, Hunt
Methuen's Little Guide on Devonshire, Baring-Gould
Legendary Dartmoor Website, Buckfastleigh Church
British Listed Buildings, Richard Cabell Tomb

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Wisht Hounds Part 1 - Wistman's Wood

This entry is a little bit different, but I hope it will still be of interest to readers of the blog. Whilst researching pixies and fairies I come across a lot of information about other folkloric creatures and characters, and particularly find interesting those of hell hounds and wild huntsmen. I think the character of the wild huntsman or dark rider is a very primal being, possibly one of the oldest, that of a strong and wild man who rides the forest, hunting prey without mercy. This isn't the hunting of the modern world, for fun and sport, this is hunting to kill for survival. For the record i'm a vegetarian and very much against the hunting of animals, but there came a time when hunting was a part of the cycle of life, and man was hunted as well as the hunter. The wild huntsman reminds us of these days, a time when man would hear the pounding of hooves approaching, and feel the wild fear in his thumping heart, and the adrenaline coarsing through his body as he ran to save not only his life, but his immortal soul too.

Interestingly, the fairies also find their way into the myths of the Wild Hunt. Are they not said to hunt with elf-shot? Striking humans with these rough flint implements, leaving them crippled or worse. According to Robert Kirk's 'The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies' (written 1691, published 1893), "Their weapons are most what solid earthly Bodies, nothing of Iron, but much of stone, like to yellow soft Flint spa, shaped like a barbed arrow-head, but flung like a Dairt, with great force. These Armes (cut by Airt and Tools it seems beyond humane) have something of the Nature of Thunderbolt subtilty, and mortally wounding the vital Parts without breaking the Skin; of which Wounds I have observed in Beasts, and felt them with my Hands."

Gwyn ap Nudd also provides a connection, being said to be both King of the Welsh Fairies, the Tylwyth Teg, and King of Annwn, the Welsh Otherworld or Underworld. He is said to ride as leader of the Wild Hunt, with his pack of wild hounds the Cwn Annwn. They are said to be white with blood red ears, and howl a wild lamentation, with their howls becoming quieter the nearer they get.

In Dartmoor, these Hounds of Hell are given the name of Wisht Hounds, or a variation of such. According to Traditions, Superstitions & Folklore by Charles Hardwick (1872), a writer in the Quarterly Review of July 1836 wrote, "the wild huntsman still lingers in Devonshire. He says, "the spectre pack which hunts over Dartmoor is called the 'wish hounds', and the black 'master' who follows the chase is no doubt the same who has left his mark of wistman's wood," a neighbouring forest of dwarf oaks."

James Motley in his 'Tales of the Cymry' (1848) states "Certain spots on Dartmoor are more commonly haunted by the wish hounds than others, Several ancient roads are mentioned as their peculiar resorts, as "The Abbot's Way", "The Ridge Road", and on certain nights, of which St John's Eve is alwats one, they are supposed to go in procession through the long deep shady lanes which abound in this district." He describes them as "rough, swarthy, and of huge size, with fiery sparks shooting from their eyes and nostrils." and tells "It is not safe to leave the door of the house ajar, for in this case they have the power of entering, and have been known to devour sleeping children in the absence of the household." "They are guided by the master, a dark gigantic figure, carrying a long hunting pole at his back, and with a horn slung around his neck."

As terrifying as they sound, according to the Devonian Year Book 1910, "The hounds can be kept away by placing a crust of bread beneath the pillow of the sleeping child. Originally, no doubt, the breads was such as had been consecrated for sacramental use, but there is apparently now no such restriction."

Despite all of the terrible stories, this unbaptised soul decided to investigate further and visit some of the sites where the Wisht Hounds are said to most often frequent. First on my list was Wistman's Wood, an ancient copse of dwarf oak trees. Some think the woods to be an ancient Druid grove, and the Buller stone to have been once used by Druids. Others say the woods are the kennel of the Wish Hounds, and that Old Crockern, the spirit of Dartmoor, releases them from their kennels and rides of a skeleton horse in pursuit of lonely travellers. Some sources say that no dog will set foot in the copse, though after witnessing this with my own eyes I can confirm it is not true, though the owner did tell me that the dog tends to get very wishty and wild when walked on the moors.

 I have not been able to find any older sources about Wisht Hounds in Wistman's Wood unfortuntunately. Mrs Bray mentions the woods in 'A Description of the Part of Devonshire Bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy' (1836) as being "where the groves of the wise men, or Druids once stood" but does not mention the hounds as far as I could see. The quote from Charles Hardwick's Traditions, Superstitions & Folklore (1872) refering to the 'black master' who left his mark on Wistman's Wood is most curious, and I would love to see a copy of the article from the Quarterly Review of July 1836 of which he is quoting from, but have been unable to locate a copy so far. If anyone can assist I would be most grateful.

On our visit to Wistman's Wood we parked at Two Bridges, and were met with rather foggy misty weather. All week the weather had been rather grumpy so we were well prepared with map and compass and safety items just incase the mists worsened, you can never be too careful. Onwards we walked along the rocky path, and eventually out we came on to the moors.

The mists created a haunting eerie atmosphere, and the dark silhouette of the woods looming in the distance added a feeling of foreboding.

We wandered into the woods, treading carefully as the woods are a protected nature reserve, and were greeted by this ancient looking tree guardian, or perhaps a Tolkienesque Ent.

Onwards we delved, shrouded in mists and mysteries. Gnarled and wise old trees surrounding us in every direction, with mossy green boulders offering the most comfy of seats.

Then we came upon the Druid Stone, or Buller stone. Although the entire area is littered with boulders of all shapes and sizes, this one does stand out among it's brothers and sisters.

Just as we reached the far end of the woods, the mists began to clear and we were treated to beautiful glossy green views through the entire forest...

For further information on the legends and history of Wistman's Wood, I recommend the Legendary Dartmoor website.

Sources and Further Information
The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies, Robert Kirk
British Goblins, Wirt Sykes
Traditions, Superstitions & Folklore, Charles Hardwick
Tales of the Cymry, James Motley
Legends, superstitions, and sketches of Devonshire, Mrs Bray
Westcountry Folklore Blog
Legendary Dartmoor, Wistman's Wood

Pixies of Bellever Tor, Dartmoor

A slightly humorous story of pixies on Dartmoor is the Huccaby Courting. I'm sure it was less than amusing to the young man involved, but I can't help but wonder if he really did meet with pixies or was just terribly bad at letting a lady down gently that he was no longer interested in courting her!

Tales of the Dartmoor Pixies (1890) by William Crossing tells that a young buxom lass was the "presiding genius" of the dairy at Huccaby Farmhouse, on the left bank of the West Dart, just above Hexworthy Bridge. She was said to be an attractive lady, and there was much rivalry among her admirers, but Tom White of Post Bridge was her favoured suitor. As Crossing points out, Post Bridge is 5 miles or so from Huccaby, and his farm duties would not permit poor love struck Tom to visit his lady during the day time, so he was forced to visit her in the evenings. "After a hearty evening meal--for Tom did not believe in making love upon an empty stomach--he would set out to walk the five miles like a man, and at the close of the interview with his fair "Dulcinea" would trudge back again to his home. A walk of ten miles after a day spent in labour is an undertaking that many men would shrink from: but what is it to a man in love?"

One summer evening, Tom stayed longer than usual, and as he began the trek home and mounted the slope behind her house, he noticed that dawn was approaching. He knew that he'd have to hurry home if he wanted to catch some sleep before he was due back at work in the morning. He walked over Lakehead Hill, and reached the slope of Bellaford Tor (present day Bellever Tor).

Tom passed the walls of the new-takes and approached the tor itself, when "he fancied he heard sounds as of merry voices in the distance." He paused again but the sounds were so faint that he decided he must be be mistaken and it was the sighing of the wind. Onwards he went.

The rocks of the tor began to rise infront of him, and the ground was strewn with granite blocks, so he proceeded with caution but eventually arrived at the tor, and threaded his way through the rocks with the intention of passing on one side of it. Suddenly, he heard sounds similiar to those earlier, and he looked around to discover from whence the noise of the merry party came. "Instantaneously it flashed into his mind that he had approached a pixy gathering, and stepping at that instant round a huge granite block, he came upon a strange and bewildering sight. On a small level piece of velvety turf, entirely surrounded by boulders, a throng of little creatures were assembled, dressed in most fantastic costumes. A great number of them had joined hands, and were dancing merrily in a ring, while many were perched upon the rocks around, and all were laughing and shouting with glee."

Poor Tom was terrified, not knowing whether to turn back the way he came or proceed on hurridly past the gathering. He decided to try and continue unseen and pass on the opposite side of the tor, when the little folks spotted him, "instantly forming a ring round him, danced more furiously than ever. As they whirled around, Tom was constrained to turn around with them, although, so rapid was their pace. that he was utterly unable to keep up with their frantic movements. Each one, too, was joining in the elfin chorus as loud as his little lungs would enable him, and although they danced and sting with all their might they never seemed to tire. In vain Tom called upon them to stop--his cries only causing the pixies to laugh the merrier--while they seemed to have no intention whatever of discontinuing their antics. Tom's head began to swim round; he put out his arms wildly, his legs felt as if they would give way under him; but yet he could not avoid spinning around in a mad whirl. He would have given worlds to stop, and endeavoured in vain to throw himself on the grass: the mazy gallop still continued, and poor Tom was compelled to take his part in it."

Lucky for Tom, the sun began to rise above the ridge of Hameldon, and at the first sight of the sun the noise stopped and the pixies vanished among the crevices in the rocks, and Tom hurried home as fast as he could. Poor Tom was so frightened by his experiences that he vowed never to go courting again, and the "buxom damsel of Huccaby" lost her lover forever. As Crossing points out, "It is probable there were not wanting those who were ready to doubt that Tom White ever saw the pixies at all, and were prepared to assign as a reason for his belief that he did so the probability of his having been regaled on something a little stronger than water" but Tom was insistent that his experiences were true. What became of the lady is unfortunately unknown.

There is a lovely original piece of music called 'The Pixies of Bellever Tor' on the John Craton Home Page, available to download for free. It fits the story beautifully and is well worth a listen.

Whilst on holiday in Dartmoor, my partner and I paid visit to Bellaford Tor. As William Crossing points out in his 'A Hundred Years on Dartmoor' (1901), Bellaford Tor was also called Believer Tor by the Moormen. Today it seems to be named on maps as Bellever Tor. There is a pay and display Forestry Commission Bellever Car Park and signposted Bellever Forest walks, a combination of the red and yellow trails will take you to the tor itself. As we walked out of the car park we saw a pair of lovely Dartmoor ponies.

We took the red path and followed the path through the woods, with views of the tor, stopping to pick a few whortleberries here and there.

We spotted this lovely toadstool, what a lovely stereotypical fairy mushroom!

Eventually we reached the rocky path that climbs up to the tor. Lots of lovely gorse bushes, and stunning views over the forests below.

We then joined the yellow path to the tor, and found ourselves in the terrain described in the Huccaby Courting story, the ground strewn with granite blocks, with plenty of places for pixies to hide.

The story tells of the pixies appearing in a "small level piece of velvety turf, entirely surrounded by boulders" and there are no shortage of places this could refer to, and no shortage of places where you might spot the pixies perched upon rocks, laughing with glee and mischief!

There's also definitely no shortage of places for the pixies to hide between their moonlit revels, with crevices between rocks, and gaps under huge granite boulders.

I also met a couple of very characterful natural formations. Mr Wise Old Toad, a rock that looked remarkably like a toad (just not in the photo, honest!!), and a mysterious creature made from branches and mud with a shock of grassy hair, trying to disguise itself among the trees!

Sources & Further Information
Tales of the Dartmoor Pixies, William Crossing
A Hundred Years on Dartmoor, William Crossing
Legendary Dartmoor, The Huccaby Courting
The Modern Antiquarian, Bellever
The Pixies of Bellever Tor, a musical piece
Forestry Commission Parking Information for Bellever