Thursday 1 September 2016

Twenty Dartmoor legends for The Coach of Bones

The Lych Way (oil on linen-backed map)
'Lych Way', by Ethan Pennell

From Central Asia to South-West England... People really seem to like the idea of The Coach of Bones, so I think I'm actually going to try to write it at some point. (If James Raggi doesn't want it, I can always just put it up for free on the blog.) To do that, though, I'm going to need to do a whole lot of research into Devonshire folklore first.

Here's a start: a bunch of local legends from Dartmoor which strike me as the sort of things that could easily be slotted into a D&D game. Feel free to borrow them for your own games the next time the PCs find themselves in some remote moorland village...

(If anyone's interested, most of these come from the second, expanded edition of Ruth St Leger-Gordon's Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor, which was published in 1972.)

Image result for childe's hunter dartmoor
  1. Each night, Lady Howard's ghost rides from Tavistock to Okehampton Castle in a coach of bones. The coach is drawn by four black horses and accompanied by a bloodhound. Sometimes she takes the form of a huge black dog with a single burning eye in the middle of its forehead.
  2. Many parts of the moor are haunted by black phantom dogs, believed to be the ghosts of the sinful dead.
  3. A horned huntsman named Dewer rides across the moors with his pack of demonic 'Wish Hounds' on stormy nights, hunting unfortunate travellers and the souls of the unbaptised. They are most often found in the vicinity of Wistman's Wood.
  4. Between the Ancient Tenements of the Forest of Dartmoor and the church at Lydford lies the Lych Way, along which the corpses of those who died on the moors were once carried for burial. (When the winter made the road impassible, the residents of the Ancient Tenements were said to preserve their dead in salt or brine until spring.) Ghostly processions of mourners carrying corpses can still be seen along the length of the path at night. 
  5. According to local legend, Sir Francis Drake was able to transform himself into a seagull in order to do battle with evil spirits.
  6. The pixies of the moors love to lead travellers astray into bogs and mists. Those who are 'pixy-led' can clear their heads of enchantment by drinking the waters of Fice's Well. 
  7. Some of the sheep, cows, and ponies on Dartmoor are not what they appear to be. No-one's sure what they are, but an experienced hand can sense them by instinct. Such creatures look like animals, but are actually something else, and must not on any account be rounded up with the rest of the herd or flock: otherwise, disaster is sure to follow.
  8. After being hanged for sheep-stealing, the spirit of Binjy Gayer, five times mayor of Okehampton, was banished to the pool at Cranmere. He's not alone in there; the spirits of other malefactors have been bound into the pool over the years, and their sighs and wails may be heard there on stormy nights.
  9. At the tomb of Childe the Hunter, a medieval nobleman who froze to death on Dartmoor, bands of ghostly monks may sometimes be seen searching for his corpse.
  10. Something lives beneath the surface of Bradmere pool, and its influence makes all those who gaze too long upon the pool want to throw themselves into the water.
  11. The River Dart demands the death by drowning of at least one person each year. ('Dart, Dart, wants a heart.')
  12. At dusk, a moaning voice may be heard over Crazywell Pool, announcing the name of the next person who will die in the district.
  13. On a stone bridge over the Blackaton Brook, the sound of ancient phantom battles may sometimes be heard. 
  14. An old bridge over the River Bovey is haunted by an amorphous creature with long waving arms, which chases travellers by night. 
  15. A murder was once committed at Bloody Corner in Drewsteignton; and now, every year on the anniversary of the crime, a stream of blood trickles out from beneath the cottage door and into the road outside.
  16. There is a phantom cottage in Haytor, which can sometimes be seen from a distance but can never actually be located. 
  17. A supernatural white bird appears to each member of the Oxenham family of South Tawton shortly before their death.
  18. A great wealth of gold lies at the bottom of the Roman Mine at Challacombe Down, watched over by an ancient raven which is said to be the same one which accompanied Noah on the Ark. Any who descend the mineshaft to search for the treasure will have their ropes cut by knife-wielding arms reaching out of the walls, which presumably belong to the evil spirits that dwell there. Their broken bodies will be found laid out on the heather the following morning.
  19. When walking on Great Hound Tor, some people experience sudden surges of inexplicable dread. Those that ascend it alone sometimes come back down it in a state of trance, speaking in ancient Hebrew.
  20. Wicked Squire Cabell is buried outside Buckfastleigh church, with a large slab of stone across his grave to ensure that he can't get out of it. His ghostly hounds may be heard by night baying for him along the road outside.
Image result for dartmoor lady howard


  1. Super creepy stuff!

    In the future I'd love to see a little more background on Dartmoor and this era in English folklore.

    1. Thanks! I'm sure that more material related to 17th-century Devon will continue finding its way onto the blog for as long as I'm worrying away at 'The Coach of Bones'...