The Wilds of Dartmoor
Standing at the top (yes, I did clamber up there), the view was awe-inspiring. Nothing but bleak, rolling hills for as far as the eye could see; dotted with the occasional straggly sheep or distant tor. When you’re standing there, amongst all that wildness, it’s easy to understand why the locals loved their ghost stories so much. After all, this is the ideal backdrop for spookiness – a desolate, untamed panorama that somehow manages to look vaguely threatening, even on a sunny day.
Dartmoor’s Celebrity Ghosts
Dartmoor is home to some famous ghosts. The best-known legend is The Black Shuck; a ghost dog that’s as large as a small horse, with flaming red eyes. Superstitious types believed that if you looked the shuck in the eye, you’d die soon after. Some others believed the dog was a portent of death itself, arriving at the scene whenever a villager was about to pass away.
Of course, no-one really believes such a creature exists. Though Arthur Conan Doyle was impressed enough by the story to write The Hound of the Baskervilles…
Another of Dartmoor’s renowned stories is the Hairy Hands. These ghostly hands (that’s right, no accompanying arms – think Thing from the Addams Family, only with a lot more hair), seize the handlebars of unwary motorcyclists, driving them off the road. One unfortunate couple, staying in their caravan one night, noticed one of the hairy hands climbing up their window, which happened to be open. Fortunately, the woman managed to shut it in time, otherwise who knows what might have happened, eh?
The Lesser Known Stories
There are literally hundreds of ghost stories hailing from the Dartmoor region. A hanged man haunts the Gibbet Hill area, with locals claiming they can hear his voice on certain nights, begging for a drink of water. Venture out to Beetor Cross on a lonely night, and see if you can spot the ghost of the ominous highwayman, who stands at the crossroads, glaring at the road with empty eye-sockets. There’s even a ghostly pig on Merripit Hill, who has been seen leading her piglets around, searching for food!
Of course, it’s not just ghosts that roam the spooky moors. Some people still believe there’s pixies at New Bridge, who lurk around, watching passers-by. The Guardian Beast at Chaw Gully is another cracking legend – the story tells us that a terrifying beast skulks nearby, protecting hidden gold. If an intrepid treasure hunter comes too close, a raven releases a warning call, then the Beast swiftly dispatches with the gold-seeking explorer. Let that be a warning to you, folks.
Rich Pickings in Impressive Locations
Unsurprisingly, Dartmoor often crops up in my writing. In fact, I can think of at least two short stories I’ve written recently that feature it – and yes, they’re both spooky!
It’s great to get inspiration from your surroundings. It doesn’t have to be a remarkable natural location, of course. Sometimes, even listening to people chatting in a café can be inspirational. When immersing myself in a particular environment, I like to pay attention to the smaller, less obvious details. For example, what smells can you detect? What tiny aspects of the scene make it interesting? What are the background noises? These details all help to bring your tales to life later on.
If you’ve been inspired by a location, do share your thoughts on social media – it’s always fascinating to hear what sorts of environments trigger writing ideas.