Sunday, November 14, 2010

skaigh two

Crockern Tor, way across the moor to the south of here, is said to be the home of the mythical Old Crockern, variously described as a spectral figure on horseback, galloping across the moor on a skeleton horse with his phantom Wisht Hounds; or as a local god of the moor in pre-Christian times.

“The gurt old sperit of the moors, Old Crockern himself, grey as granite, and his eyebrows hanging down over his glimmering eyes like sedge, and his eyes as deep as peat water pools.”

The Wisht Hounds, stabled at nearby Wistman's Wood, are a pack of fearful hounds who hunt across the moors at night in search of lost souls and unwary traveller's. Old Crockern sometimes appears to the locals in their dreams, to give warnings about not disturbing the apparent emptiness of the moors and for them to pass on these warnings to whomever might be causing offence. People have tried to farm or otherwise tame the moor but these plans never work for long and the moors are littered with the remains of such attempts.

Crockern Tor, was also the venue for Devon's Stannary Parliament. The Stannary Parliaments (there was another for Cornwall) were the tin miners' own parliaments with their own set of laws which generally overruled the English Laws. These parliaments date back to the 12th century and Devon's Parliament last met in 1748. There are some unusual acoustics at Crockern, which give the effect of a natural amphitheatre and make it a suitable venue for speaking.

Crockern Tor is almost in the centre of Dartmoor, a little north of Two Bridges, making it the omphalos of Dartmoor. Tors are also known as pixie, or rather locally as 'piskie' castles. If a fog comes down here and you lose your path and get lost it is described as being piskie-led. The piskies also have their own parliament.

The rivers here can become quite dangerous and people do drown in them every year, to the extent that the river Dart even has this local rhyme associated with it;

"Dart, Dart, cruel Dart, every year she claims a heart"


"River of Dart, oh, river of Dart!
Every year thou claimest a heart"

When we leave the woods we should be able to get a glimpse of a tor.

Information from High Dartmoor by Eric Hemery (Robert Hale 1983) drawing upon folklore research by Theo Brown [kindly supplied by Tracy Brown of Wisht Maen magazine].
And the fantastic website Legendary Dartmoor: which is very much recommended.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

skaigh valley

This morning we set out to walk onto Dartmoor proper, first by traveling to Sticklepath and following the river Taw upstream in the Skaigh Valley, around Belstone Cleave and out past Belstone and onto the moor. This is a very pretty walk this time of year as it is early Autumn and the leaves are just beginning to turn. The path is mostly fine for walking but does become rocky and slippery in places so good walking boots are very much recommended and keep an eye on those rocks underfoot as we don't want to turn an ankle out here.

The river Taw where we are walking is mentioned as a location in Henry Williamsons Tarka the Otter and the river winds its way northwards from here until it meets the coast of Devon 45 miles away. The Taw is in a sunless valley this time of year for most of the first part of the walk and the river courses over many rocks and boulders on its way. As we reach the latter parts of the walk we will come out onto the open wilds of Dartmoor where there will be another very rocky part of river and finally a very quiet smooth stretch on the moor to look forward to. We should also be able to see some Tors on the tops of the hills but we won't have enough time to go up and look at them today so we must save them for another time. There will probably be wild Dartmoor ponies too, which I will not eat my sandwiches in front of so as to not upset them or arouse their curiosity.

The weather as we set off is very fine; still and sunny and bright, though this being Devon and more specifically Dartmoor it can change pretty much instantly into torrential rain or dense fog, so it is good that I am fully equipped with my all terrain mountain hiking slippers, kiss me quick hat, a bit of water, sandwiches and of course plenty of good healthy cigarettes to help invigorate the lungs. Actually it already looks like its going to rain soon and although we are out of the wind down here we won't be when we get out onto the moor. I'm starting to think that waterproof trousers would have been a very good idea and seriously, a compass and a map are a must.

Hopefully next time I might have the space to talk about some of the myths and legends associated with Dartmoor. There are more legends and myths around these parts than sticks can be shaken at, even here with all these sticks we have at hand to shake at things. You go on for a bit and I'll catch you up, I've got a few photos to take and a fag to smoke. See you in a bit.