In folkloric terms, Dartmoor has it all. Legends abound in this area; from red-eyed demon dogs, to eerie knockers, luring miners to their death in the tin-mines. Little wonder then that I so often turn to Dartmoor for inspiration!
Today’s focus is on the rather unusual legend of Crazywell Pool.
A lack of lakes
One thing that’s interesting about Dartmoor is that it has no natural lakes whatsoever. What it does have, though, is a manmade ‘lake’ near Princetown, called Crazywell Pool. To put this into some sort of context, Princetown is a strange little place, close to Dartmoor Prison, and in the middle of a vast, uninterrupted wilderness. It’s about as remote as you can get – which is a great setting for a strange, folkloric lake.
It’s believed that Crazywell Pool was made by tin miners. It was either an old flooded mine shaft, or created to serve as a reservoir for collecting water. It’s fed by a hidden spring, and is close to the Crazywell Cross, one of several crosses that mark the old track between two abbeys at Tavistock and Buckfast.
The legend of Crazywell
There are many stories associated with Crazywell. It’s still fairly common to hear people refer to it as the ‘bottomless lake’, as back in the day, it was believed to be impossibly deep. According to the legend, the people of a nearby village tested its depth using the bell-ropes from the local church. Even after all the ropes were tethered together (equalling 500 feet in total), and lowered down, they still didn’t touch the bottom.
This rather evocative tale was thoroughly disproved in 1844, when the Plymouth Dock Water Company pumped all the water out. It turned out that the maximum depth was very much less impressive 16 feet.
Other legends compensate for the debunking of the ‘bottomless’ one.
It’s said that the water levels rise and fall in accordance to the tides, even though the sea is many miles away. Some also claim that the waters speak, waiting until dusk to chorus out the name of the next local person to die. Even more eerily, others say that they’ve seen the face of those about to pass away, reflected in the surface of the water.
As with all good legends, there’s a supernatural character attached to it too. The Witch of Sheepstor was believed to have haunted the lake, and was notorious for giving people really bad advice. There’s a great tale about her, which goes something like this:
The witch advised a wealthy local man, who’d been banished from the royal court in the 1300s, to return the King. She claimed that the man’s ‘humbled head’ would ‘soon be high’. Relieved, the chap trotted back to court, but was unfortunately seized by enemies of the King, and beheaded. His head was placed high up on the battlements – proving that the witch’s prediction was absolutely right!
A lake of death?
While the truth of these stories is somewhat murky, it’s correct to say that Crazypool has seen its fair share of death. In 1998, a teenage boy drowned in the water, while taking part in a routine exercise for the Marines. Even more recently than that, two young men visited the lake at midnight on their motorcycle, as a dare. They never made it back home again, as their bike mysteriously came of the road shortly afterwards, and they both died of their injuries.
The mysteries of water
It’s not surprising that ghost stories so often feature water. It’s a changeable, unpredictable force; which provides us with water and food, but can also take away life. Deep water is also unnervingly unknowable. I always find it incredible that we know more about the moon than we do about the Mariana Trench, for example!
It’s dark down there, and for all we know, there could be things, lurking in the depths. When bobbing on the surface, you’re suddenly incredibly vulnerable, no matter how excellent a swimmer you are.
Crazypool Pool may not be a bottomless wonder, but it obviously has something about it that has captivated and unsettled people for centuries.