Tales for the campfire, from the moors
There’s a reason that so many great scary stories come from the moors. A place where stone circles loom up out of the mist and sounds drift out unechoing over a sparse, empty landscape is always going to get the hairs on the back of your neck prickling. Many of these stories are campfire classics, passed down through generations in the flickering light, often changing with the times but always given their sharpness by that simple kernel of truth, that even though you can see for miles on the moors, you never feel completely sure what’s behind you.
Here are a few of our favourites to bring a chill next time you’re sitting round the fire:
The hairy hands of Dartmoor go a bit further to put fear into people than rattling chains and moaning. The apparition, said to have been seen on several occasions between Two Bridges and Princetown near the centre of Dartmoor, actively attacks anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path. The earliest reported sightings followed the death of a doctor at a local prison, who crashed his motorbike on the lonely road. Several motorcyclists reported being hit and clawed as they travelled over the nearby bridge and one farmer reported an attack by a “wild clawing beast”. Worse things befell anyone unwise enough to move any slower. A young soldier who got lost in the fog of the moors during a training exercise thought he was lucky when he finally found a road. He followed it down a hill to a small bridge over the river, but before he could cross, he felt the rough, choking grip of the hairy hands around his neck. Wrestling with his unseen assailant, he fell into the icy water. The hands relented and he crawled to the bank, freezing but alive.
A man and woman on her honeymoon had a near miss after their caravan broke down. As her husband went looking for help, the woman stayed in the car, staring out into the darkness. A thump on the roof sent her scrambling for a torch. She shined it at the passenger window and saw a great pair of coarse palms pressed against the glass. When her husband returned, she was speechless with fear. There were no marks anywhere to be seen, except for two giant smeared handprints on the car window.
The moral of all these stories then, is that if you’re passing through Dartmoor late at night, keep a decent pace.
Slightly less terrifying than being choked to death in a river, are the mischevious creatures of the North York Moors, known as boggles. Almost every dale and nook was thought to have its own boggle and many of them were said to have become a part of particular farms or families. Stories range from praising them as helpful additions to the household, to blaming them for your possessions going missing or your animals being spooked.
They were quick to anger, especially when not rewarded for their work, and extremely hard to get rid of. One legend tells of a Farndale family who had become so fed up of their boggle’s behaviour that they packed up all their things and left the house in the dead of night, leaving the boggle behind. By morning they were miles away and a passerby called out, “You flitting then?” and before anyone in the family could answer, a tiny voice from a chest of clothes replied, “Yes, we’re flitting.” So the only thing to worry about if a boggle takes a shine to you is to keep it busy and make sure you praise it now and again.
The stone circle known as Long Meg and her Daughters, just north of Penrith, was described by Wordsworth as being second only to Stonehenge in its importance and beauty as a historical site, but if legend is to be believed, it has a dark past.
The story goes that every stone is one of a group of women, who danced on the moors during the sabbath and were petrified for their profanity. The strange symbols carved into Long Meg, the tallest stone, are thought to play a role in the enchantment, which also includes a hex that makes it impossible to count the same number of stones in the circle twice. If anyone ever does, the spell will be broken and Long Meg and her daughters will return to human form and instantly be given their own Netflix show. That’s not part of the traditional story of course, but you’d watch that wouldn’t you?
Dancing on the sabbath is no longer as frowned upon as it once was, but if you’re on Dartmoor and fancy a jig, maybe restrain yourself, just in case.
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