Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Wisht Hounds Part 3 - The Dewerstone

One of the most mentioned locations for the Wisht Hounds is the Dewerstone. This tall and craggy hill that dominates the landscape is said to be home to the Black Huntsman himself, known in this location as Dewer, and thought to be an incarnation of his infernal majesty, The Devil. An early mention of the Dewerstone is found in Notes and Queries Issue 61 (1850):
"The Dewerstone is a lofty mass of rock rising above the bed of the Plym, on the southern edge of Dartmoor. During a deep snow, the traces of a naked human foot and of a cloven hoof were found ascending to the highest point. The valley below is haunted by a black headless dog. Query, is it Dewerstone, Tiwes-tun, or Tiwes-stan?"
Murray, in his 'A hand-book for travellers in Devon and Cornwall' (1851), elaborates further on this and claims "on stormy winter nights the peasant has heard the"whist hounds" sweeping through the rocky valley, with cry of dogs, winding of horns and "hoofs thick - beating on the hollow hill." Their unearthy "master" has been sometimes visible - a tall swart figure with a hunting pole. Dewerstone is probably "Tiw's-stan," the rock of Tiw, the Saxon diety from whom we derive the name of Tuesday".

He also tells the story of the footprints in the snow. It may be from these descriptions, or an earlier source they are quoting, that the story arose of the Black Huntsman leading victims up to the rocky crags, or chasing them, and then disappearing leaving them to stumble around in the darkness and eventually lose their footing and plummet to their death. Another account of the Devil's footprints can be found in the Devonian Year Book 1910. Unfortunately no exact location is given for where the footprints were found.
"Some of you may remember the great excitement caused by mysterious footprints in the snow in the great snowstorm of 1881. These footprints were not those of any known animal, they were at enormous distances apart, and neither hedges nor houses formed any obstruction. Parents were afraid to allow their children to go to school, and for some time the whole country was in a state of panic. The mystery has never been solved."
Baring-Gould writes of Dewer in 'A Book of Folklore' (1913) and suggests a motive, he is hunting for human souls:
"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 firebreathing 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. Two old ladies who lived at Shaw, near by, assured me that they had often heard his horn and the yelping of the pack.
So along to the Dewerstone we headed. Today, the area is well marked with trails and paths so is not quite the dangerous trek it once was, though if like us you miss the old mining track and end up scrambling straight up the hill, it's a bit more strenuous and stressful! The journey begins by crossing the river, and following the path that curves....

Past the little cave with the rocky face, and up the stoney path that leads you up the hill....

Follow the little track on the right, but not too far, and you'll reach the main pillars of the Dewerstone. I didn't venture too near the edge, and some of the rocks were being used by rock climbers, but I hope these photos give an idea of just how far the drop down is! Imagine being led here in darkness by a cloven hooved gentleman, who suddenly disappears, leaving you to fumble around in the dark, before placing one foot a little too near the edge....

We continued up the hill, accidently completely missing the easier miner's path, and eventually came to the summit. At the very summit lies a large rock, carved with the name 'W Ford' and some other writing. The views are spectacular.

My story doesn't end there. Not far from the summit I discovered a beautiful and magical hidden gem, where the sun sparkled through the oak leaved trees, and bounced off the moss covered boulders. Hidden amongst the trees is a little rocky shelter, and 2 trees stand together like a doorway to faerie.

I will leave this entry with a chilling short story found in an article titled 'Folklore Parallels and Coincidences' by M J Walhouse, published in Vol 8 No 3 of the Sept 1897 edition of the Folklore Journal.
"A story is told of this phantom that a farmer, riding across the moor by night, encountered the Black Hunter, and being flushed with ale, shouted to him "Give us a share of your game!" The Huntsman thereupon threw him something that he supposed might be a fawn, which he caught and carried in his arms till he reached his home, one of the old moorland farms. There arrived, he shouted, and a man came out with a lantern. "Bad news, master," said the man; "you've had a loss since you went out this morning." "But I have gained something," answered the farmer, and getting down brought what he had carried to the lantern, and beheld---his own dead child! During the day his only little one had died."
Sources & Further Information
Notes and Queries, Issue 61
A Hand-book for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall, Murray
Devonian Year Book 1910
A Book of Folklore, Baring-Gould
Folklore Parallels and Coincidences, M J Walhouse
The Modern Antiquarian, Dewerstone Settlement
Legendary Dartmoor, The Dewerstone
Shaugh.Net - Dewerstone
The Mysteries of the Dewerstone Walk, AA Website

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