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Old Dewer and the Wild Hunt

Updated: Feb 12

Imagine walking over Dartmoor at night. The sky is dark with storm clouds, the air filled with rain. A wind howls as it whips through the stone atop Hound Tor...Yet is it really just the wind making that ghastly noise? You pause for a moment, struggling to make sense of your surroundings, and reach a terrible conclusion. The sound coming from nearby emanates from a hundred different tongues. Each of them is black with evil intent.

Surely this cannot be the baying of hounds! Who in their right mind would drive a pack of such beasts over the moor on such an awful night? Your blood chills as a figure suddenly looms over the tor, answering your question in the most fearful of ways. For this is Old Dewer, Master of the Wild Hunt. And at his feet are his infamous wisht hounds.

Wistman's Wood on Dartmoor
Wistman's Wood on Dartmoor

Wistman's Wood is all that remains of an oak forest that once cloaked the whole of Dartmoor under leaves. Nestling beside the West Dart River in a steep-sided valley, it's well worth the short walk from the main Princetown to Postbridge Road. A visitor can enjoy a clotted cream tea at the nearby Two Bridges Hotel whilst there.

After dark, the wood may take on a more frightening aspect. There's talk of witchcraft taking place there. Of covens; paganism; even satanists conducting rituals beneath its canopy of trees. Perhaps that's fanciful, but who knows? According to legend, Wistman's Wood is where Old Dewer kennels his pack.

Those wisht hounds have been described as large, black and powerful, with eyes that glow like hellfire. Flames have been noted, shooting from mouths filled with razor-sharp fangs.

Horror writing sometimes crosses the line of good taste and Dartmoor's folklore does this in regards to these creatures. In some especially unpleasant versions of the tale, they are said to be the souls of children who died before being baptised!

The Dewerstone on Dartmoor
The Dewerstone on Dartmoor

The picture above is the Dewerstone, one of Dartmoor's prettiest landmarks. Back in 1997, it was one of the very first places I visited on the moor.

It's a lovely spot to see on a bright summer's day, although my guide (being only recently acquainted with Dartmoor herself) had no idea about the sinister folklore associated with the place.

It's said to be the haunt of Old Dewer himself.

Old Dewer is said to lure unwary travellers to the top of the Dewerstone, before ordering his wisht hounds to chase them off its rocky precipice, so they fall to their deaths below.

The victims' bodies are never found, for the icy waters of the River Plym flow directly beneath. The river ferries the corpses out to the open sea at Plymouth.

'The Dewerstone' from Sabine Baring Gould's "Book of Dartmoor"
'The Dewerstone' from Sabine Baring Gould's "Book of Dartmoor"

Almost ninety years before I visited, Sabine Baring-Gould mentioned the Dewerstone in 'A Book of Folklore' (1913). This is what he wrote...

"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 fire-breathing 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."

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