Dartmoor folklore is often gruesome and grim. As grim as the boggy mires and fog shrouded tors that dominate the landscape. There is no part of Dartmoor more barren and raw than that known locally as Gibbet Hill. Fittingly, it boasts (if that's the right word) arguably the grimmest folklore of all.
Gibbet Hill looms over the old mining village of Mary Tavy and the road to Okehampton, which skirts Dartmoor's western fringe. As the name suggests it once housed gibbets, within which criminals were cruelly caged. Desperate felons were left inside to slowly die. An evil punishment, from the days when the bite of justice was unnaturally hard.
Kindly nursing mothers used to visit the poor souls trapped in the gibbets, offering tit and a little nourishment to keep them living longer. Other visitors weren't so pleasant and the cairns of stones still seen atop Gibbet Hill were originally left there to throw at the prisoners.
Worse still were those who came to prey morbidly on the corpses of the men who died in the gibbets. A strange belief had started amongst local members of the criminal fraternity. They believed that if they cut off, and took with them, a finger belonging to one of the gibbets' victims, they would be rendered all but invisible when committing burglaries.
Why they should've felt this it's impossible to know. After all, if the dead felon had been so good at getting away with his crimes, he wouldn't have ended up in the gibbet!!
A gruesome practice and the tale is unique to this part of Dartmoor. It was a story Sabine Baring-Gould collected from the mouths of local people, when documenting the area's folklore.