Dartmoor is one of the most beautiful parts of the South Devon countryside. Covering nine hundred and fifty four square kilometres, it is a popular place for tourists to flock to. In the summer months, Dartmoor’s vast area of green hills, rocks and rivers becomes a place for picnics, hiking and simply taking the children to see the wildlife. However, after dark, Dartmoor becomes an altogether more sinister place. Dartmoor legends have been around for centuries and with Halloween approaching, the tales become vastly more popular and more frightening. Let’s take a look at some the most well known ghostly Dartmoor legends.
Ghostly Dartmoor Legends
The Devil’s Rendezvous (Tunhill Kistvaen, Blackslade Down)
Tunhill Kistvaen is a tomb dating back to the Bronze Age which once contained the cremated remains of a pre-historic warrior. Although what is left of the tomb is now hidden beneath mud and heather, this spot is a place of great terror.
Legends state that on October 21st 1631, a tinner by the name of Jon Reynolds was at Tunhill Kistvaen when he was approached by a masked stranger – later to be revealed as the Devil – who persuaded him to sell his soul in exchange for seven years good luck in gambling. Seven years later, when Reynolds was sleeping during a service at Widecombe Church, Satan reappeared, his arrival announced with a bolt of lightning and a clap of thunder. The congregation watched as Reynolds was taken by the Devil and carried away on a black horse. Tunhill Kistvaen was henceforth known as the place where the greedy may be lured to damnation.
The Ghost of Lady Howard (King Way, Sourton Tors)
Many, many years ago – though now mostly covered by turf and heather – there used to be a main road between the towns of Tavistock and Okehampton across the moorland. In the days the road existed, lived Lady Howard. She resided in Fitzford House near Tavistock and although she was a remarkable beauty, she had a streak of evil about her. She allegedly poisoned two of her husbands and was very cruel to her daughter. When she died, her punishment for her crimes was to wander the Tavistock to Okehampton road, picking a single blade of grass then returning home. According to the legend, her spirit will only be freed when she has plucked the grass bare. Although the original road is no longer there, there is still a path through the woods named Lady Howard’s Walk.
The Death Call (Crazywell Pool, Raddick Hill)
Piers Gaveston was one of King Edward II’s favourites. Tales don’t specify what he did wrong, but Gaveston was dismissed from service and retired to Dartmoor. In a dream, Piers Gaveston was summoned to Crazywell Pool and met with the Witch of Sheeps Tor. She had a prophecy that his head would soon be high. Gaveston thought this meant that he would again be King Edward’s favourite but in fact it was the prediction of his execution. Shortly after, Gaveston was beheaded.
From that day, people went to great lengths to avoid Crazywell Pool, for after that incident, it has been said that a ghostly voice would be heard, calling out the name of the next person to die.
Human Sacrifice at Scorhill Circle, Gidleigh
Scorhill Circle is thought to be a “sacred” circle made up of large, widely spaced stones. Although their original use is unknown, experts have guessed that the way the stones are laid out may be related to worship of the sun.
It is said that many years ago, promiscuous or unfaithful women were made to go to Scorhill Circle to confess their sins and pray to be forgiven. To do this, they had to kneel before one of the stones. If they were forgiven for their behaviour, the stone would not move and they were considered free of guilt. However, those who were not forgiven would be crushed to death by the huge stone at which they were kneeling. Further truth is given to this legend by the remains of female skeletons being found beneath the fallen stones.
Jay’s Grave (Cripdon Down)
Probably the most famous of all Dartmoor legends is that of Jay’s Grave. In the eighteenth century, Kitty Jay worked on a Manaton farm. There she was seduced and fell pregnant. Her lover abandoned her and Kitty Jay faced persecution for what she had done so she hanged herself in one of the farm’s barns. Her body was buried in an out of the way spot, but it is now one of the most visited places on Dartmoor.
The original legend of Jay’s Grave was that fresh flowers were placed on the grave every day, yet nobody ever saw who or what was putting them there. The facts seem to state that Beatrice Chase – author of a book about Dartmoor – was the person placing the flowers and had been telling the story that a mysterious entity was responsible. Since her death, tourists continue to place flowers on the grave.
Far less widely known is another legend about Jay’s Grave. Stories have emerged that on some summer nights, a figure is seen kneeling at Jay’s Grave. Those who have witnessed it were unable to tell whether the figure was male or female but all were adamant that it wasn’t the ghost of Kitty Jay herself.
This is just a small selection of the ghostly legends of Dartmoor. The people who have lived there over the years have many a tale to tell, even now.
If you are considering a trip to Dartmoor to check out some of these legends for yourself, always make sure you don’t go there after dark, and if you really must, be absolutely certain of where you are going and don’t ever be too far away from your car. By day, Dartmoor is beautiful but by night, it’s a very different story.
Memories of being told Dartmoor legends!