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Tales of the South-West – The Ghosts of Dartmoor

My latest project (yep, the one I said was unpublishable) is set in Dartmoor. Come to think of it, the last three books I’ve worked on have all been too. But trust me, if you ever get to visit the place, you’ll immediately understand the appeal.

A Haunted Landscape?

I’m one of those mean mothers who frequently drags her children on huge walks, despite their desperate pleas to do something else. Just lately, we’ve been doing a lot of walking on Dartmoor and I think even the kids have been impressed.

There’s just something about that endless expanse of empty moor that reeks of the supernatural. The tors, jutting out of the sparse grass like giant teeth; from a distance, you could almost imagine they were about to get up and move when you weren’t looking. The lonesome streams that trickle through the hills like veins. The eerie stone circles (Dartmoor is full of standing stones), which often have gifts and offerings left inside them.

It’s inspired me to write several ghost stories, so it’s unsurprising that it’s inspired people in the past. Here are some of my absolute favourites.

The Ghosts of Dartmoor

  • The Hairy Hands. I know I’ve mentioned this one before, but it really is a beauty. Many of Dartmoor’s spectres are benign – but not this one. According to the legends, this particular ghost haunts the road between Postbridge and Princetown; a long, winding road that is more often than not completely deserted. Several motorcyclists have reported being yanked off the road by a pair of ghostly, hairy hands. Yep, that’s right – just the hands, no body attached!

Even more disturbingly, a couple were camping in their caravan by the side of the road, when the woman woke in the night to see a hairy hand clambering up her window, trying to get in. Fortunately, she had the good sense to leap out of bed and slam the window shut…otherwise who knows what that dastardly ghost-hand might have got up to?

  • The ghost of Richard Cabell. If you visit the Holy Trinity Church near Buckfastleigh, you’ll find Richard Cabell’s tomb. You can’t miss it – it’s incredibly oversized, especially when compared to the surrounding graves. Richard Cabell was an unpopular man in life; indeed, many people were frightened of him and said he was in league with the Devil.

After his death, people reported seeing phantom hounds gathered around his tomb – and to this day, there are suspicions that Satanists visit the place to carry out secret rituals. Oh, and did I mention that Cabell inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Hound of the Baskervilles? Well, I did now.

  • Kitty Jay. Just beyond Hound Tor, you’ll find Kitty Jay’s grave; an inconspicuous site at a crossroads. However, this seemingly unimportant grave is the location of one of Dartmoor’s most famous ghost stories. The story goes that, in the 1700s, Kitty Jay got pregnant by a wealthy landowner, who refused to take responsibility for the act. Kitty killed herself – and because suicide was considered a sin, she wasn’t buried in consecrated ground.

The site was excavated a while back and sure enough, the remains of a young woman were found (which were duly reburied). Many people claimed to have seen a shadowy figure bending over the grave, and perhaps even more mysteriously, there are always fresh flowers on it; though no-one knows who leaves them there.

  • Gibbet Hill. This spot was another major inspiration for a story I’m still working on, called ‘Gibbet’. For those of you who don’t know, a gibbet cage is a particularly nasty form of execution / setting an example to others. Typically, the criminal would be hung first, then his corpse left in a gibbet cage to rot, to deter people from committing the same crime. However, on occasion, the person was put in the cage alive and left there to die. As you can imagine, this was a horrific, drawn-out death – especially as the crows often came to feast before the victim was dead.

Gibbet Hill was a notable spot for gibbet cages – its elevated position meant that they could be seen for miles. Over the years, people have reported hearing the screams of the ghostly victims, and the creak of an unseen cage swinging in the wind.

Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, is available to buy – you can do so here (US) or here (UK). Likewise, you can also buy The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger on Amazon and (lo and behold), the third one, The Case of the Hidden Daemon, is also out soon!