The Piskies are a happy band, And live right merrily, And only in a pleasant land Are they content to be.
For centuries is has been a known fact that Piskies live on Dartmoor and are famous for their good deeds they perform for true believers. OK, at times they can be mischievous, especially if somebody has crossed them, but even then the tricks they play are fairly harmless. But way back in the dusty corners of time there were in fact two sorts of piskies. There were the ‘good’ piskies who lived in the moorland combes and often would visit the farms and cotts of a night. But there were also the ‘evil’ piskies who lived deep down in the tin mines of Dartmoor, their sole purpose was to wreak havoc and mayhem in the human world. So as not to cause confusion let’s call the little folk who lived on the moor – piskies and those that lurked down the mines – pestkies. It could be said that to compare the two races was like comparing ‘chalk with cheese’ and to toss in another adage – ‘oil and water do not mix’. Maybe it would be as well to explain something here. Because the piskies helped the folk they favoured they would always be given food, drink, clothes and other treats which could not be said for the underground pestkies. The only humans they came into contact with were the tin miners who basically were a mean lot and treated them with contempt. So to say there was a degree of jealously between the two races would be an understatement.
Gradually over time the resentment grew and grew amongst the pestkies, at first it was just a few dust-ups, (more like handbags at dawn really) whenever the two should meet and maybe, on the odd occasion the pestkies would gate-crash a piskie revel or two. However, one day a gang of pestkies were sat at the entrance to an old mine adit when they spotted a lone piskie out collecting nectar from the Cowflops growing in a nearby gert. Now for a piskie to be on their ‘turf’ was bad enough but to be there in plain site of the pestkies was asking for it and so accordingly he got ‘it’ in a big way. Not to put a finer point on it they kicked the living daylights out of him and sent him home with a message – this meant war!
Now, because the pestkies lived in the tin mines that had learnt by watching the miners how to smelt metal but instead of making tin ingots they made swords and arrow heads which meant they had weapons of mass destruction. Whereas the piskies had no such technology, probably the most offensive weapons they had were the baskets they collected their ‘hurts‘ in which was not the ideal situation to be in. A council of war was convened and it was decided that the whole of the piskie nation should take refuge in the remote Black-a-tor Copse which lay just above the West Okement river. This was a grove of dwarf oak trees whose floor was strewn with moss covered boulders that provided plenty of caves and crevacies to hide in. It was also decided as an extra precaution to build a defensive wall around the copse which may repel the pestkie invaders for a short while. Whilst this work was taking place the piskies placed lookouts on the lofty tor known locally as the ‘Roof of Devon which loomed above the copse. From here any impending danger could easily be spotted and a warning given to those below. The only material available enough to make a sensible defensive wall from was the moorland peat turves and so parties were hurriedly sent out to cut as many as possible. Having collected enough turves the little folk began building their wall, each time a piskie placed a turve it they were told to think of one good deed it had done to mankind. Slowly the wall grew until finally the last turve had been placed thus completing the ‘Wall of Deeds’.
Now, so the tale goes, the pestkie hoard had assembled at the old Wheal Virgin mine which lay about three miles to the east of Black-a-Tor Copse in the valley of the East Okement river. So having sharpened their swords and strung their bows they began drinking a huge keg of cider they had stolen from the tinners. Now that stuff is pretty potent at the best of times and it was not long before they had worked themselves up into an army of beserkers. Finally in a fit of frenzy they all staggered off over to Black-a-Tor Copse, shouting and screaming abuse as they went. With all that racket going on the lookouts sat on the ‘Roof of Devon’ was soon alerted to their approach and hurriedly scampered back down to their people to warn them of the impending danger.
Eventually the rabble came to the copse and saw the ‘Wall of Deeds’ much to their amusement, how on earth would such a pathetic thing stop them from getting over it and slaughtering the cowering piskies? But each time they tried to knock it down or climb over it they were mysteriously repelled, hacking and slashing with their swords was useless and when they shot their arrows over the wall they simply bounced back. Time after time the pestkie hoard flung themselves at the wall and each time they did a livid ring of light encircled the copse and grew brighter with every onslaught. Fair do’s to the pestkies they weren’t giving up easily, swearing and cursing and spitting and screaming they had worked themselves up into a right frenzy but all to no avail. Morning passed into afternoon and afternoon passed into evening and it was not until the final rays of light faded over the moor that the little sods decided they had had enough. Grumbling and grizzling they dejectedly stomped off back to Wheal Virgin to drown their sorrows.
Once the angry hoard had crossed back over the ‘Roof of Devon’ and out of sight the mysterious magical rings began to float off across the moor in every direction, it surely was a sight to behold. Golden rings wafting up and out into the night sky gradually fading into the distance as they went. A couple landed near to the copse and the piskies watched with astonishment as each ring turned into a livid circle of lush green grass. Amongst the spectators was the wise-woman who immediately knew exactly what these strange circles were as she had heard folk of old talking about them. They were ‘Piskie Rings’ and it was told that if ever a piskie stood inside one they would be protected form all harm which is why from that day on the little folk always held their nightly revels at one. So if ever you find a ring of bright green, lush grass you can be sure its like a local nightclub for the wee people but just be sure never to enter it or visit it at night – you have been warned!
What happened to the pestkies you may ask? Well, because of the poor performance they put in at the ‘Battle of the Wall of Deeds’ they were too ashamed to show their ugly faces above ground ever again. Oh and if you have ever wondered where the plot for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ came from now you know – Dartmoor!