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Episode 20: Devon



Where is Devon?

In our twentieth episode, we referred to loads of interesting Devon-based things - and promised links and photos, so here they are:


Dartmoor


Dartmoor is beautiful, wild, and full of incredible places to explore.


The granite that forms it was produced, in the depths of the earth, over 300 million years ago, and humankind has shaped it over the last 10,000 years. Together, they have made Dartmoor into a wonderful landscape, full of varied habitats, from wooded valleys and hay-meadows to magnificent mires and the wild open moor.


We know that people were visiting Dartmoor to hunt, over 10,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until about 4,500 years ago, that people began to settle down in large numbers, to farm the land.


These first farmers settled in upland Dartmoor because it would have been more open than the heavily wooded valleys below. These Bronze Age settlers lived in round huts, with strong granite walls and thatched roofs. They gathered in small communities, often protected by a defensive wall.

As they cleared the land, they divided the landscape with long stone boundary walls, which we call reaves. These ran in parallel lines for several miles across the land, and traces of them can be seen as low boundaries on the open moor, or fossilised within later dry stone walls.


The landscape must have held particular significance for them because they constructed, within it, important monuments, such as burial mounds, stone rows and stone circles. The reason for positioning these monuments where they did or the purpose of them can only be guessed at.


Across the moor there are many burial mounds or cairns and cists (stone lined graves).


Archaeologists think that only the most important people would have been buried like this. One of the most exciting discoveries made on Dartmoor in the last hundred years has been the Whitehorse Hill cist. It became visible as the peat around it naturally eroded.

Archaeologists got special permission to excavate it, and found the cremated remains of a young woman, buried with some incredible objects over 4,000 years ago. The objects were examined by scientists then put on display at Plymouth Museum.


Exmoor


Exmoor is a unique place shaped by people and nature over thousands of years and is recognized as one of the UK's finest landscapes. Large areas of open moorland provide a sense of remoteness and tranquillity rare in southern Britain. Spectacular coastal views, deep wooded valleys, high sea cliffs and fast flowing streams all combine to form a rich and distinct mosaic.


The history of Exmoor is one long story of how people from Mesolithic times to the present day have tried in different ways to live on and around the moor and exploit the area for their own purposes.


For example, they hunted and fished, cut down trees, built houses, cleared and cultivated land, grazed animals. They also traded, travelled, worshipped, and buried their dead. In doing these things they left behind traces of their activities such as flint arrowheads and standing stones, deserted mineshafts and derelict buildings.

At the same time their actions helped form the Exmoor landscape as we know it. Trees were gradually cleared from the hills and later vegetation was controlled so that sheep could find the best grazing.


The whole Exmoor landscape is a record of how people lived there in the past. It is a particularly important landscape historically because there are so many undisturbed archaeological sites and monuments and probably more to be discovered.


The Devonian Era


When the Devonian period dawned about 416 million years ago the planet was changing its appearance.


The great supercontinent of Gondwana was headed steadily northward, away from the South Pole, and a second supercontinent began to form that straddled the Equator. Known as Euramerica, or Laurussia, it was created by the coming together of parts of North America, northern Europe, Russia, and Greenland.


Red-colored sediments, generated when North America collided with Europe, give the Devonian its name, as these distinguishing rocks were first studied in Devon, England.


The Devonian, part of the Paleozoic era, is otherwise known as the Age of Fishes, as it spawned a remarkable variety of fish.


Kents Cavern


People have been venturing into Kents Cavern (or Kent's Hole as it was called before 1865) since the Stone Age. Scientific recordings of archaeology and geology has taken place for 200 years.


Over 80,000 artefacts have been recovered from the caves and the secret to such a rich treasure trove of archaeology is down to the calcite or stalagmite that formed underground, creating thick floors concealing animal and human occupation, preserving a history of Ice Age life underneath.


There are two known stalagmite floors in the cave, the upper floor is about 12,500 years old and the second 400,000. A third floor from the end of a much earlier Ice Age has yet to be discovered.


The Drizzlecombe Stones


The complex of small stone circles, long rows, standing stones, cists and cairns located in this dramatic site is one of the most interesting in all of Europe.


The south-east ring, consisting of thirteen small stones, is 10.4 (34 feet) across, and a row of stones extends south-west for some 90.4m (296 feet) before culminating in a towering 4.3m (14-foot) pillar.


Just beyond this pillar is the Giant's Basin, an enormous 21.6m (71-foot) diameter, 3m (10-foot) high damaged cairn.


Measurements of distances between the elements at this site reveals ratios between them that suggest intent during construction. The evidence that two of the single rows were in the process of being converted into double rows but abandoned adds further to the mystery of the site.


Plymouth


The origins of Plymouth can be traced back to Saxon times, more than a thousand years ago, and its history very much reflects its maritime location.


Farmland on a small peninsula at the mouth of the river Plym, referred to in the Domesday Book in 1086 as Sudtone, meaning South Farm, developed into Sutton Harbour, the hub of medieval Plymouth. Plymouth established its reputation both as a centre for voyage and discovery, and for its military importance.


In 1572 Sir Francis Drake became the first Englishman to sail into the Pacific, and in 1577 he embarked on the first ever circumnavigation of the globe. Back in Plymouth, Drake masterminded the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. According to popular legend, he played bowls on Plymouth Hoe as the Armada sailed up the Channel.

Drake was responsible also for the establishment of England's first colony, at Roanoke in Virginia, an act that may be regarded as the origins of the British Empire.


Perhaps the most celebrated expedition to leave Plymouth was that of the Pilgrims. Persecuted for their puritan beliefs in eastern England, they set sail for the New World on board the Mayflower in 1620.


After spending a few weeks in Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod, they eventually landed in Plymouth Harbor and helped to establish a new Plymouth community.


Further explorations that left from Plymouth included three voyages to the southern ocean and the Pacific made by James Cook, the first in 1768. He was the first explorer to set foot on what are now the Hawaiian Islands, where he died in 1779.


In 1831 Charles Darwin left Plymouth for the Galapagos Islands, where he formulated his revolutionary theories of natural selection and the Origins of Species.


Plymouth's military expansion began in earnest in 1670 when a citadel was built on the highest point above the town, the Hoe, meaning high ground. In 1690 the first Royal Dockyard opened on the banks of the Tamar west of Plymouth.

Further docks were built in 1727, 1762 and 1793, and a huge naval complex was later established, including the communities of Plymouth Dock and Stonehouse. The Navy's role during war against Napoleon's France was pivotal, and in 1812 a mile-long breakwater was laid to protect the fleet.


Plymouth was heavily bombed during the Second World War. Plymouth's and Devonport's centres were destroyed. Re-built in the 1950s, Plymouth's commercial heart was the first in England to incorporate pedestrian-only shopping avenues.


Exeter


When it comes to history and heritage, Exeter is bursting at the seams.


Pre-dating the arrival of the Romans in AD 50, the city’s history is rich and long. This is reflected in its fascinating collection of heritage attractions, many of which are free to visit.


At the heart of the city stands the magnificent Exeter Cathedral. Packed full of 900 years of history, this majestic building is one of the great cathedrals of England, and one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture to be found anywhere. For those with a head for heights, there are special Roof and Tower tours available, providing panoramic views of Exeter and beyond.

There is history below ground as well. Beneath the bustling High Street, lies Exeter’s Underground Passages.


Constructed in medieval times, this network of medieval vaulted passageways was built to bring spring water in to the city. Guided tours operate daily, and there is a fascinating heritage centre to discover.


Housed in a beautiful Victorian building, Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum is free to visit, and takes visitors on a voyage of discovery from pre-history to the present day, and from Exeter all around the world. With a changing programme of stunning displays and prestigious loans and exhibitions from national partners, there is always something new to see.

A great way to get beneath the skin of Exeter’s fascinating and sometimes turbulent past is on a free Red Coat Guided Tour. Taking in many of Exeter’s architectural treasures and hidden gems, these guided walking tours depart daily from the West Front of Exeter Cathedral, and seasonally from the Custom House Visitor Centre on Exeter’s historic Quayside.


Alternatively pick up a trail map and take one of three self-guided walks around Exeter. A popular choice is the City Wall Trail which tells the story of Exeter’s 2,000 year-old Roman city wall, of which around 70% still remains.


Around every corner are reminders from Exeter’s past. The city's oldest building is St Nicholas Priory, founded by William the Conqueror in 1087 then dissolved and partly destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, and turned into a rich merchant’s town house, which is how it is presented today.

The Exeter Guildhall on the High Street has served as the centrepiece of Exeter's civic life for more than 800 years and is open to the public to visit. Head to the West Quarter and visit Tuckers Hall – a medieval guildhall still in use today; or nearby Topsham Museum, housed in a late 17th century building overlooking the Exe Estuary.


Exeter Cathedral


Founded in 1050 with the enthronement of the first Bishop of Exeter, in the presence of King Edward the Confessor and Queen Edytha, Exeter Cathedral is one of Europe’s great cathedrals.


The building was significantly developed from the 12th to 14th centuries and remains the most complete example of a first rank church in the English Decorated architectural style.


The Library contains medieval manuscripts, early printed books and modern published texts on a remarkable range of subjects including local history, theology, medicine, science and many more.


The best known volume is the Exeter Book, an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry from the 10th century, and recognised by UNESCO, who have placed it on their Memory of the World Register, as the foundation volume of English literature.


We also have Exon Domesday, the only surviving manuscript from the phase of the Domesday Inquest (1085) which immediately preceded the creation of Great Domesday Book.


The Perkin Warbeck Uprising


Perkin Warbeck appeared in 1491 claiming to be Richard, the younger of the Princes in the Tower.


If he was who he claimed to be, and if his older brother were dead, he would have been the rightful king of England as Richard IV.


Warbeck made several attempts to invade England with the support of Irish and Scottish troops and, after a country-wide search, was captured by Henry VII at Taunton in 1497.

Henry had him beaten up so badly that he was unrecognisable.


To this day opinion is divided on the question whether Perkin Warbeck was an imposter or if he really was Richard of Shrewsbury.


The Prayerbook Rebellion


The Prayer Book Rebellion was a rebellion that took place in the south-west of England in the summer of 1549, in the reign of King Edward VI.


In 1549, the Book of Common Prayer, which had been composed mainly by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and which was the official liturgy of Edward VI's Protestant Church, was introduced into England.


It was in English and it replaced the Catholic Mass that the English people were used to celebrating.


This change wasn't embraced by all of the English people and in the summer of 1549, there was trouble in Devon and Cornwall.


The rebels called for the rebuilding of abbeys, the restoration of the Six Articles, the restoration of prayers for souls in purgatory, the policy of only the bread being given to the laity and the use of Latin for the mass.


In July 1549, the Cornish and Devonshire rebels laid siege to the city of Exeter.


The siege lasted for 5-6 weeks.


The Glorious Revolution


The term Glorious Revolution refers to the series of events in 1688-89 which culminated in the exile of King James II and the accession to the throne of William and Mary.


It has also been seen as a watershed in the development of the constitution and especially of the role of Parliament.

William landed at Torbay in Devon with about 15,000 (mostly Dutch) troops on November 5;

the only successful large-scale landing in England since 1485.


James still had his standing army, but the enthusiasm with which William was welcomed and the defections from James's army strengthened William's hand.


He entered London on December 19, and a few days later James II was allowed to escape for France.


Powderham Castle


Powderham Castle lies in a beautiful deer park on the banks of the River Exe, just a stone's throw from the historic cathedral city of Exeter.


The Castle was first opened to visitors in 1959, since then in excess of a million people have been through the doors to share in over 600 years of history and heritage and take away many fond memories.


Very little of the Castle itself has changed since those early days, but there are now many more attractions in the grounds for visitors of all ages to enjoy.


Castle Drogo


High above the ancient woodlands of the Teign Gorge stands Castle Drogo.


Inspired by the rugged Dartmoor tors that surround it, the castle was designed and built by renowned 20th-century architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The castle has recently come to the end of a major conservation project, making it watertight.


Outside the Lutyens designed garden is colourful in all seasons, and there are miles of pathways to explore in the Teign Gorge.


Totnes Castle


Totnes Castle was first built as a motte and bailey castle by Judhael of Brittany shortly after the Norman Conquest in 1066 AD.


It is situated on high ground in close proximity to the River Dart and overlooks Totnes town, which dates back to Saxon times.


The site is now in the care of English Heritage.


Berry Pomeroy Castle


Berry Pomeroy is unusual among English castles in that its history has only recently been established. Once thought to be of Norman origin, the castle was in fact begun during the later 15th century by the Pomeroy family.


Within its defences, the Seymour family built a modest early Elizabethan mansion, and from about 1600 they extended this on a palatial scale, intending to create a great house to rival Longleat or Audley End. But their overambitious project suddenly foundered for lack of funds, and by 1700 the castle was an abandoned shell.


Okehampton Castle


The remains of the largest castle in Devon, in a stunning setting on a wooded spur above the rushing River Okement.


Begun soon after the Norman Conquest as a motte and bailey castle with a stone keep, it was converted into a sumptuous residence in the 14th century by Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon, much of whose work survives.


After the last Courtenay owner fell foul of Henry VIII in 1539, the castle declined into a ruin.


Compton Castle


A rare survivor, this medieval fortress with high curtain walls, towers and a portcullis, is set in a landscape of rolling hills and orchards.


Compton Castle is a bewitching mixture of romance and history. It has been home to the Gilbert family for nearly 600 years, including Sir Humphrey Gilbert - half-brother to Sir Walter Raleigh.


Watermouth Castle


Watermouth Castle was built in 1825 by Arthur Davie Basset for his bride Harriet.


The Bassets are a historical family recorded in the Domesday Book, having come to Britain with William the Conqueror.


The existing evidence of a labyrinth of tunnels and fortification for the Harbour opposite suggests a smugglers haven. The legendary Smugglers’ Tunnel is believed to have been blocked up in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.


The family apartments, kitchen and dairy, show that around 40 domestics were employed in the running of this Victorian Estate.


Brixham Battery


It is known that as far back as 1586 a gun platform was established in battery grounds against the threat of attack from Spain. This was maintained until 1664.


The battery was next activated on November 5th 1688 when William III’s army landed and camped on Furzeham Common. Guns were positioned to protect the fleet, the town and to cover the road from Paignton.


During the end of the eighteenth century Brixham was the revictualing station for the western approach of the Royal Navy, and as such was a very necessary port for the Navy, especially during the American War of Independence.


When France joined America in 1778 and Spain in 1779, the Board of Ordnance decided that, along with other naval stations along the south coast of England, Brixham was to be protected by gun emplacements.


Although the majority of emplacements that exist within Brixham battery grounds today are WW2 era, the nineteenth century stone altitude marker and iron cannon racers still remain.


Bearscore Castle


Bayard’s Cove Fort, also known as Bearscore, was built in the early 16th century by the townspeople of Dartmouth to protect the town quay.


The significance of its strategic position is best appreciated from the sea: it controls the narrowest point of the channel at the entrance to Dartmouth harbour.


It was here in the estuary that the English contingent assembled in 1147 and again in 1190 to depart on crusade.


The fort may have been built as early as 1509–10 according to contemporary documents, and was certainly in existence by 1537, when it is mentioned as the ‘New Castle’ in a corporation lease.


On the southern edge of the town, it stands at the end of a stone quay which was also constructed early in the 16th century.


Dartmouth Castle


Sitting on a promontory where the River Dart meets the English Channel, the castle was begun in 1388 to protect the town and harbour of Dartmouth against French raids during the Hundred Years War.


One hundred years later it was strengthened with a gun tower, the first purpose-built coastal artillery fort in Britain.


The castle saw fighting during the Civil War and was later updated and re-equipped several times, serving in both world wars.


Lydford Castle


Beautifully sited on the fringe of Dartmoor, Lydford boasts three defensive features.


Near the centre is a 13th century tower on a mound, built as a prison. It later became notorious for harsh punishments, with one of its inmates calling it 'the most annoious, contagious and detestable place within this realm'.


To the south is an earlier Norman earthwork castle and to the north, there are Saxon town defences.


Hemyock Castle


The castle was in use from 1380 until the 1660s. According to local tradition, Hemyock Castle was slighted – ie. partly demolished – soon after the restoration of King Charles II, because during the civil war, it had been held for Parliament against his father King Charles I.


Today, substantial fragments remain of the massive gate house, several towers, walls, and part of the moat. The manor house is a private house. Several of the historic surrounding buildings have been converted into comfortable cottages which are available on long lets.


Marisco Castle on Lundy Island


Marisco Castle was built by King Henry III in about 1250 high up on the south-east point of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel.


In the Civil War Lundy was held for the Royalists by Thomas Bushell who later rebuilt the castle.


By 1787 cottages had been built round the small courtyard inside the Keep and these have now been rebuilt by the Landmark Trust for holiday rental.


Buckfast Abbey


Nestled in a valley on the edge of Dartmoor, the Abbey is home to a working community of Benedictine monks and is one of the top tourist attractions in the Westcountry.


This jewel in Devon’s crown boasts a fascinating history: Founded by King Canute in 1018, Buckfast Abbey was at the heart of the community until Catholic monasteries were dissolved by King Henry VIII.


The site gradually fell into ruins, but several hundred years later, it was brought back to life by a group of exiled French monks. Between 1906 and 1937, they lovingly re-built the Abbey Church on the medieval foundations and re-established the monastery.


Ideally located mid-way between Plymouth and Exeter, the Abbey Church and gardens are visited by thousands of people every year.


Hartland Abbey


Built in the 12th century, Hartland Abbey survived as a monastery longer than any other in the country.


In 1539 Henry VIII gifted the Abbey to the Keeper of his Wine Cellar whose descendants still live here today.


Hartland Abbey is probably the most historically important ancestral home in North Devon containing much of national interest, including architecture and decoration from the Mediaeval, Queen Anne, Georgian, Regency and Victorian periods, paintings, furniture, Chinese artefacts and porcelain collected over many generations.


Torre Abbey


Torre Abbey is Torbay's most historic building, an ancient scheduled monument dating back to 1196 and set within 18 acres of garden and parkland.


It’s also a multi-award-winning visitor attraction housing an impressive art collection boasting over 600 incredible works of art from the 18th century to the present day.


This Torbay Council-owned museum and gardens is also a centre for creativity and culture, offering events and workshops as well as hosting world class exhibitions alongside creative work from the cream of local talent.


St Nicholas Priory


St Nicholas Priory is Exeter’s oldest building, founded by William the Conqueror in 1187.


The monks were members of the Benedictine order. It remained a small community. For over 500 years they worshipped, studied, served the poor and offered hospitality.


Following the Dissolution in 1536, the monks were pensioned off. The church, adjoining Chapter House, dormitory and cloisters were pulled down, but leaving the outline of the cloisters.


The Northern and Western ranges survived and were sold off by the Crown, passing through several hands until 1562, when the estate passed into the ownership of one, Robert Mallet, a wealthy Somerset gentleman, whose family retained much of the site for the next 200 years.


In the later 16th century these two buildings were converted into a single large mansion but, in the mid 17th century, the property was again divided and became two independent dwellings.


Greenway House


This relaxed and atmospheric house is set in the 1950s, when Agatha and her family would spend summers and Christmases here with friends, relaxing by the river, playing croquet and clock golf, and reading her latest mystery to their guests.


The family were great collectors, and the house is filled with an important and varied collection of ceramics, Tunbridgeware, silver, and books, including first editions of her novels.


It is also home to archaeological artefacts acquired in the Middle East where Agatha accompanied her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan on excavations.


The Georgian house you see today was built in the late 18th century for a successful sea merchant, but there has been a house on this site for over 400 years.


The Black Dog of Dartmoor


The Hound of the Baskervilles is among the best of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It has been published in many editions, and translated into many different languages. This classic tale has also been adapted for film, television, stage and radio.


However, what is less well known is that the story was inspired by local folklore in the area of Dartmoor. Other more widespread legends may have contributed to it too.


In March, 1901, Arthur Conan Doyle was staying at Cromer in Norfolk. He was there with his friend, the noted journalist and editor Bertram Fletcher Robinson. Arthur Conan Doyle later wrote that,


"One raw Sunday afternoon, Robinson began telling legends of Dartmoor, one of which concerned a spectral hound."


Bertram Fletcher Robinson later wrote of Conan Doyle; "He listened eagerly to my stories of the ghost hounds, of the headless riders, and of the devils that lurk in the hollows." Fletcher Robinson had grown up listening to such legends. He also lived on the borders of Dartmoor.


In a letter written in 1907, Arthur Conan Doyle stated that The Hound of the Baskervilles, "…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."


The model for the villainous Sir Hugo Baskerville in The Hound of the Baskervilles is thought by many to be Squire Richard Cabell. In the 17th century, Richard Cabell was Lord of the Manor of Brook in the parish of Buckfastleigh. Cabell was by all accounts a bad lot. According to one legend he sold his soul to the Devil. Another claims that he murdered his wife after accusing her of adultery.

The Sepulchre


When Richard Cabell died in 1677, it was said that a pack of howling black hounds, breathing fire and smoke, surrounded his Manor House. Cabell also allegedly leads a pack of demonic hounds across Dartmoor on the anniversary of his death.


After his death a large stone was placed on Squire Cabell’s head, to prevent him from rising from his grave. A building known locally as 'The Sepulchre' was also erected over his grave.


Local children used to dare each other to approach the locked door to Richard Cabell’s tomb. Any child brave enough to do so would circle the tomb 13 times. They would then insert a finger in the keyhole of the door, to see if Richard Cabell would gnaw it !


Devon's Tors and Cairns


The name of Dartmoor is synonymous with undulating hills, untamed valleys and surging rivers, yet above all else it is perhaps best loved and renowned for its spectacular granite masses that are known as tors.


Here are just three examples...


Sheeps Tor

This stupendous tor, situated high above the village of the same name, is a well-known landmark near Burrator Reservoir, and is renowned for its rock climbing and bouldering and its stunning views across south-west Dartmoor.


Henry Edmund Carrington in 1828 wrote of the tor as a place that is "celebrated in many a rustic story as being frequented by the pixies or Devonshire fairies and a cave is there shewn which these fabulous little beings are said to make their peculiar haunt."


This is the 'Pixies Cave', also spelt 'Piskies', to the south of the tor where the rocks form a cave that is possible to climb inside and be hidden out of sight.


Great Links

This tor is a giant of the north-west moor, a stunning group of granite outcrops that are capped on the west side by a trig point where a thrilling vista unfolds over rural West Devon farmland and into North Cornwall where the ridges of Bodmin Moor can be seen.


The outcrops here are huge and spread across the spine of the hill that William Crossing likens to a 'castle'.


Belston Tor

This magnificent tor stands in the north of Dartmoor above the village of Belstone. It is famed for its spectacular rock formations and views.


Belstone Common is adorned by massive granite boulders (clitter) that are flung down the slopes, and the several individually named tors that snake along the ridge are sometimes collectively referred to as the 'Belstone Tors', though this would be doing each of them an injustice.


Belstone Tor itself is the highest of the collection and typically the one that visitors aim for. It is split into two main piles, both at similar elevations; the more well-known part is north of the Irishman's Wall and casts a tremendous view northward where high Dartmoor meets the pathwork of fields in North and Mid Devon.


The Legend of Bowerman's Nose


There are many outcrops of granite on Dartmoor; some are massive and awe inspiring such as Vixen Tor but none are more strange than the tall column of rock known as Bowerman’s Nose. The following story has long been told on Dartmoor to explain how the tall, human looking column came to be where it is.


Many, many years ago there lived on the Eastern part of the Moor a man who was know as Bowerman the Hunter. Bowerman was a tall, powerful man who owned a pack of large, fierce hounds and whose chief delight was in hunting on the moors he loved so well.


Besides being a keen hunter, Bowerman was a jovial kindly man who was generous to the poor people of the Moor and who was popular and well liked by everyone who knew him, or at least, almost everyone.


At that time on Dartmoor there were many witches who held their meetings in secluded spots on the Moor and terrorised the local people who were afraid of them. All except Bowerman who was afraid of noone, “not even the Devil himself”, he used to say, which the local people used to think was tempting fate and the Devil.


The witches disliked Bowerman partly because he wasn’t afraid of them but mainly because he encouraged others not to be afraid. Indeed the witches were just a bit afraid of Bowerman because of his great strength and of his pack of fierce hounds who went everywhere with him.


One dark autumn evening Bowerman was out hunting with his pack, hot on the scent of a hare. Just as they looked like catching it, the hare turned into a narrow valley, closely followed by hounds and by Bowerman himself.


Now this valley was one where the witches used to hold their Sabbaths and they were in the middle of their weird rites when suddenly hare, pack, and Bowerman himself burst in upon them. The hare ran on through, the dogs barked and the hunter roared with laughter as he continued the chase, leaving the witches shrieking with rage.


The witches were very angry indeed and, once they had settled down, plotted their revenge.


One of the witches, Levera by name, had the power to turn herself into a hare and this she did placing herself where Bowerman and the pack would find her, while the rest of the evil brood prepared an ambush.


Bowerman and the pack, having lost their prey in the witches’ valley, were casting around when they picked up the scent of Levera who was in the guise of a hare. The pack gave tongue and took up the chase closely followed by the delighted Bowerman.


Levera led them a chase such as Bowerman had never experienced; hour after hour across the rough peaty moorland, up hills and over tors, across streams and through river valleys the chase went on, sometimes only yards from the prey and sometimes almost out of sight.


At last, when Bowerman and his pack were almost completely exhausted, the trap was sprung. Levera slowed down, almost allowing herself to be caught then suddenly turn abruptly round the side of the tor where the witches were hidden, followed by Bowerman and his hounds.


The exhausted hunter suddenly found himself surrounded by a horde of evil, shrieking witches who combined to cast a powerful spell turning Bowerman and his hounds to stone where they stood.


You can still see the stone figure that was Bowerman with his pack of stone hounds scattered around just as they were that fatal day and sometimes, when the night is misty or moonless people claim to have heard Bowerman and his pack following some quarry.


This is not the end of the story however. The people of Dartmoor were so angry when they heard of the fate that had befallen their friend that they too forgot their fear of the witches and determined to drive the witches out of Devon for ever.


The witches, realising what a hornet’s nest they has stirred up mounted their broomsticks and were carried on the wind over the Bristol Channel into Wales. That is why, even to this day, many Welsh women wear tall, pointed witch’s hats and why there have never since been any evil witches in Devon.


Devonshire Pixies


Many remote and secluded places on the moor have long-held pixie connections. There’s a colony of faeries at Pixie Rocks near Challacombe and a pixie-haunted hut high up on Gidleigh Commons, a place that no horse will cross.


In the village of Chagford some say they hear pixies up on the moor on quiet nights. South Down Bridge near Tavistock was built by a fairy queen, and the cave and waterfall at Chudleigh Rock is a favourite.


Pixies built King Castle too, the ancient earthwork near Simonsbath. They love to dance around the moor’s stone circles, including the circle up on Huccaby Moor, and they’ve been seen dancing at Bellever Tor.


Dartmoor Ponies


There is no more iconic sight on Dartmoor than a herd of ponies grazing together, with stunning, majestic Dartmoor as their backdrop. They have been here a long time, hoof prints found on Dartmoor during an archaeological dig were found to be 3,500 yrs old!


Written records of ponies on the moor go back as far as AD1012, and in the mid 1800s ponies were used to transport granite from the moorland quarries.


In 1950 it is said there were around 30,000 ponies on the moor, now we only have approximately 1500, with herds of pedigree Dartmoor ponies, Heritage ponies, Hill ponies, Shetlands, Welsh, and Spotted ponies spread all across the moor.


All the ponies are owned by various Dartmoor Commoners, (the farmers and residents of the Moor who have grazing rights on the open moor), and with these rights comes the responsibility of seeing that the herds of ponies are kept healthy.


Knockers


The Knocker is a mythical, subterranean, gnome-like creature in Cornish and Devon folklore described as a little person 2 ft (0.61 m) tall, with a disproportionately large head, long arms, wrinkled skin, and white whiskers.


It wears a tiny version of standard miner's garb and commits random mischief, such as stealing miners' unattended tools and food.


The Stone Parliament


Crockern Tor is an unassuming tor in looks, however it holds a past that few others can match.


Crockern Tor was the site of the old Devonshire Stannary Parliament until the middle 18th century.


The four stannary areas of Ashburton, Chagford, Tavistock and Plympton would meet here to discuss stannary law, tinworks, mills and petitions.


Sir Walter Raleigh was Lord Warden of the court for many years holding a meeting in 1600 at Crockern Tor which sits in the middle of Dartmoor between each of the 4 stannaries.


Old Crockern


Beware the power of Old Crockern, the Guardian Spirit of Dartmoor, who embodies the soul of the rugged and wild English landscape!


With skin like granite and hair made from ragged mosses, Old Crockern is the embodiment of the landscape. His gaze is as dark as the raw peat deposits which extend for several metres beneath the grass and the lichen of his beard is hundreds of years old.


Old Crockern’s presence is not confined to Crockern Tor or ominous appearances in dreams. In his more active aspect, Crockern can also call upon the Wisht Hounds kennelled in Wistman’s Wood and lead them in pursuit of unwary travellers on the moor.


Astride his skeletal steed, he leads the terrifying Wild Hunt along corpse paths and trackways, reminding humans that the soul of Dartmoor cannot be tamed.


Despite around 34,500 people living on Dartmoor, the Guardian Spirit of the moor continues to manifest as a potent protector, and was summoned as recently as the 21st January 2023 as part of the Right to Roam protest.


Crazywell Pool


Crazywell Pool is a large pond located in the Dartmoor National Park, in Devon, England. This pond is famous due to the many local legends that surround it.


The best-known of these is perhaps the one which claims that Crazywell Pool is bottomless. Other, lesser-known tales are more sinister in nature, and involve supernatural forces.


One infamous local legend, for instance, claims that if a person were to look into the pond on the midnight of Midsummer’s Eve , he/she would see the reflection of the next person they know to die.


Ottery St Mary Tar Barrels


Every year, for reasons lost in antiquity, the Flaming Tar Barrels are carried through the streets of Ottery St Mary to the delight of thousands of townsfolk and visitors.


Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century, and is held each year. Each of Ottery's central public houses sponsors a single barrel. In the weeks prior to the day of the event, November 5th, the barrels are soaked with tar. The barrels are lit outside each of the pubs in turn and once the flames begin to pour out, they are hoisted up onto local people's backs and shoulders.


The streets and alleys around the pubs are packed with people, all eager to feel the lick of the barrels flame. Seventeen Barrels all in all are lit over the course of the evening.


In the afternoon and early evening there are women's and boy's barrels, but as the evening progresses the barrels get larger and by midnight they weigh at least 30 kilos.


A great sense of camaraderie exists between the 'Barrel Rollers', despite the fact that they tussle constantly for supremacy of the barrel.


In most cases, generations of the same family carry the barrels and take great pride in doing so. It perpetuates Ottery St Mary's great sense of tradition, of time and of history.


The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor

Bellever Tor


Picture this; you're driving the narrow moors lane near Postbridge and Princetown, its dark, cold and a typical moors night.


All of a sudden the steering wheel or handlebars are grabbed by a gruesome pair of hairy, calloused hands that are inhumanly strong and do their utmost to fight you off the road.

Dartmoor Prison today


That's a story that's been repeated many times since its first suggested incident in June 1921 when a worker at Dartmoor Prison was killed as his motorcycle became uncontrollable and crashed.


The tale was related by his children who were riding in the sidecar, all they knew was their father shouting at them to get off the bike and apparently wrestling with the controls.


They jumped clear, he didn't.


This was repeated again sometime later, another motorcyclist, this time with a pillion passenger, seemingly driven off the road approaching the same spot.

Hairy Hands Bridge


This time the passenger saw things more clearly and insisted he saw a large hairy hand grasp the handlebars and forcibly upset the bike.


It seems though that its not just motorists that are at risk from the devil's digits, any campers in the area have need to fear too.


In 1974 a young couple were camping in a caravan in the area and the woman was woken in the middle of the night by a heart-racing fear.

The ruins of the Powder Mills


Her bunk faced the caravan window and up it she saw crawling a large hand, covered in hair and, she said, exuding an intent to do her and her husband harm.


Instinctively the lady made the sign of the cross and said the hand balked and made its way away.


The tale has arisen again and again and the area has become a notorious area for accidents, many of the survivors giving the story of feeling or seeing the large rough hands, covered in hair grabbing at them and trying to drive them off the road.


Strangely for a legend some of the most skeptical people remain the locals. Many suggest it's all down to 'grockles' trying to drive narrow, high walled roads far too fast.


So are these hands an evil entity, the ghostly form of an ex-Dartmoor Prison inmate or some kind of moors spirit?


Whatever they are, its certainly a good idea to take just that little bit more care when driving around the Postbridge or Princetown area.


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