Myths and Legends of Dartmoor
Dartmoor is bewitching. From beautiful sunset and sunrise scapes to bleak and boggy outlooks, it is both a land of undecipherable magic and a rugged earthy haven, altered in character by the slightest natural inflection.
It is fitting, therefore, that Dartmoor is home to many myths and legends. A landscape which inspired the rich and complex author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which is home to one the UK's highest security prisons due to its isolated nature and which attracts people across the world for its beauty is bound to by mythically enticing. Here are just a few tales you might hear whispers of across the moors...
The Story of Clotted Cream
Giant Blunderbus fled to Dartmoor with his four wives, the most loved and kindest of which was Jennie. Jennie couldn't cook, and the three remaining jealous wives exploited this by giving her cruel and dirty work. However Jennie remained happy.
This so infuriated the other wives that they began to plot against Blunderbus, burning his food and making his bed lumpy, until their treatment became so unbearable that he agreed to get rid of Jennie. Blunderbus couldn't bring himself to lose her completely however, so he installed her in some nearby Cornish cliffs.
One day, weeping in her cave, Jennie heard voices from outside. The voices belonged to fierce Cornish wreckers, who were planning to loot a ship. When they began to lure a ship to shore by leading a hobbled donkey and a lantern, giving the impression of another ship, Jennie lit a fire to warn the captain of danger.
Luckily the wreckers were killed and the captain of the rescued ship, Phoenician, offered to help Jennie in any way he could, as a thank you for her kindness. Jennie told him of her troubles and Phoenician taught her to make the most wonderful food he had ever tasted, clotted cream.
Jennie made the clotted cream for Blunderbus, who was delighted, and immediately took her home with him to Dinger Tor. Whilst the other three wives were jealous at first, Jennie taught them the recipe and this quieted all of their envy; they were content to spread the secret delicacy across Devon and teach others how to make it. Jennie and Blunderbus lived happily ever after.
Vixana the Witch of Vixen Tor
Vixen Tor stands between Princetown and Tavistock, as the largest mass of granite on Dartmoor. Many years ago the tor was home to the evil witch Vixana, who lived at the foot of the tor in a cave made for her by earth gnomes.
Vixana hated people, loved suffering, and walked crookedly as if she had been bent by a strong wind. She also had a yellow wrinkled face and eyes, two green fangs and walked with a cane which she used to destroy blossoming flowers and bees.
Each morning Vixana would climb to the top of the tor and look for travellers to prey upon. If she saw someone walking nearby she would envelope them in a suffocating mist and entice them into the consuming bog nearby, where her victims would sink to their death. The last sound heard by her victims would always be Vixana's cruel cackle.
A handsome young moorman who boasted wonderful powers lived on another part of the moor at this time. Having helped the pixies years ago, the man was granted with two gifts; the first was clear sight, allowing him to see through the thickest of Dartmoor fogs, and the second was a ring which blessed him with invisibility when it was worn. On hearing about disappearing travellers, the young man decided to explore Vixen Tor.
On one particular morning Vixana was stood on top of the tor in a bitter temper, waiting for her prey. She cried with glee on seeing the young moorman and cast her evil fog about him, yet the young man used his clear sight to traverse safely around the bog. Vixana was so angry that she began to cast another evil spell, but sensing danger the young man donned his ring of invisibility. Vixana peered in bewilderment over the tor, trying to find the man, but he crept up behind her and pushed her off the ledge of her kingdom, to the rocky pits below.
Vixana's death was so gratefully received by the local people that they gave the young man enough money to buy his own farm. The man settled down with a beautiful bride and always offered to help disorientated travellers on Dartmoor.
The Beast of Dartmoor
Myth or a reality? There have been several sightings of large cats or 'beasts' on Dartmoor over the course of many years, whilst many other have spotted unusually large paw prints in the Dartmoor earth…yet still no one is sure to whom they belong.
The Ghost of Lady Dyonisia
The small estate of Skerraton, nearby Dean Burn, was owned by Lady Dyonisia and Nicholas de Kingdom in the early 1200's. Nicholas de Kingdom wanted to own the whole estate however, and planned to woo Lady Dyonisia. All was going to plan until the dashing Sir John de Boyvile came upon the scene and cast his charismatic spell on the lady, causing her to fall in love almost instantly.
Nicholas de Kingdom wanted rid of Sir John and planned to kill him with a poisoned dagger. On ambushing Sir John, Nicholas de Kingdom not only managed to attack his victim with the blade, but he also cut himself. In his desperate final moments, Nicholas decided he also wished to murder Lady Dyonisia. He plunged the dagger into his former lover as she slept.
On the anniversary of the deaths, a year later, the monks of Buckfast Abbey saw the figure of a white lady in a blood splattered dress hovering over Nicholas' grave. Once the connection was finally realised and the murders uncovered, the white lady made no further appearances.
That's right, pixies come from Somerset, but in Dartmoor there are piskies.
Piskies were controversial little elves who stood no nonsense; if you were kind to them then they would reward you with equally warm magic, but if not then on your head be it.
One story involves an old lady who lived in a charming Dartmoor thatched cottage. Sadly the lady's husband had died, so she lived alone. However the kindly lady had many friends in the village who often brought her treats such as jam and bread, in return for a small bouquet of her pretty wild garden flowers. The lady spent many of her hours quietly tending her magical garden.
One summer's evening the lady was tucked up in bed when she thought she could her faint music, coming from the flowerbeds below her bedroom window. She was amazed to see a cluster of piskies merrily dancing around her garden. A piskie orchestra was assembled around the birdbath, the heads of the tulips were swaying in time to the tinkling tunes, the woman was spellbound and the piskies were entirely unafraid. Even more enchantingly, under the head of every flower lay a piskie baby. The floral cradles rocked gently in the breeze and it wasn't until sunrise that the piskies scampered away; the old lady vowed to always keep a bed of tulips for their comfort.
After several years the old lady passed away peacefully; many say that tulips were left on her grave as a mark of respect from the piskies. An old man then moved into the cottage and decided to unearth the flower beds, in favour of vegetable plots. The piskies were so outraged at losing a sanctuary for their children that they cast spells to ensure the soil remained sterile and no crop ever grew in the garden. Don't upset a piskie….
Hopefully these giants, witches, ghosts and pixies will inspire you to visit the quieter corners of Dartmoor…