“On the very edge
Of the vast moorland, startling every eye,
A shape enormous rises! High it towers
Above the hill’s bold brow, and seen from far,
Assumes the human form; a granite god, –
To whom in days long flown, the suppliant knee
In trembling homage bowed. The hamlets near
Have legends rude connected with the spot,
Wild swept by every wind) on which he stands
The giant of the Moor!”
N. T. Carrington
The story of Bowerman goes back into a time when witches and witchcraft were rife on Dartmoor. In these times there lived man called Bowerman or to give him he full title ‘Bowerman the Hunter’. He was a tall man with the strength of ten. The moorfolk knew him as a kind, generous and jovial person and so he was much respected and liked. He lived on the Eastern side of the moor and his passion was as his name suggests – hunting. He owned what was reputed to be the strongest pack of hounds on Dartmoor, they were relentless in their pursuit and merciless at the kill. Both he and his dogs could often be seen drawing the clitters and the mires in search their quarry.
As mentioned before, witches were rife on Dartmoor. They would meet at secluded spots to make their potions and spells and the local folk held them in awe and fear, all except Bowerman that is. Whenever talk came around to witches he would just laugh and say how he was “afraid of no one, not even the Devil himself’ he would then explain that the moorfolk should not “a fear the crones for they were jest ole hags a ‘mumbo jumboing’ to ’em selves”. Naturally this got back to the local coven who were not best pleased. Firstly that Bowerman was not in fear of them and secondly he encouraged the moorfolk to be the same. The lack of fear made them less plausible and so the power they held over the moor dwellers was lessened. Although they would not admit it, the witches were secretly scared of Bowerman, after all he was a strong man that always had a fearful pack of hounds at his side. So there was a kind of unspoken and uneasy ‘live and let live’ arrangement. The witches carried on ‘ a mumbo jumboing’ and Bowerman carried on hunting.
However, late one Autumn evening as Bowerman was leading his pack homeward a large hare bolted out of some clitter and sped off down the hillside. With a whoop of delight Bowerman urged his hounds on and baying eagerly they chased after the hare – the hunt was on. It didn’t take long for the huge dogs to close in on the beast, but just as they were going for the turn the hare veered off into a small wooded valley. It took a second or two for the dogs to regain direction but soon they were in full cry down through the tree lined valley with Bowerman at full gallop. Suddenly the chase came to a clearing and Bowerman could see ahead of him a coven of witches all crouched around a bubbling cauldron. The hare darted through the middle of the assembled hags closely followed by the hounds and Bowerman. As his mighty mount leapt over the tangle of crones, cauldron and heaven knows what else Bowerman yelled in delight “mumbo jumboing now who’s all a muddling”.
An old postcard showing Bowerman’s Nose
The witches were incandescent with rage, they spat, they cursed, they shrieked and they wailed but all to no avail Bowerman was long gone.
After gaining some composure the coven reassembled around the cauldron and all agreed that Bowerman had gone too far and it was time for him to learn a lesson. There was one witch among the coven who had, in return for her soul, been given the power to turn herself into any animal she wished. The witches all knew that there was only one way in and one way out of the valley and that was the way Bowerman had charged in. So it was only a matter of time before he had to return back past the spot where the coven was amassed. A cunning plan was hatched, the one witch would turn herself into a hare and lead Bowerman and his dogs on a chase across the moor. Meanwhile the rest of the old hags would lie in wait to spring their trap.
As thought it was not long before the hounds could be heard coming up the valley, the witches vanished all apart from the one who transformed herself into a huge hare. It was not long before the dogs picked up her scent and were on her heels in full cry. The hare gave the hunter a chase like he had never seen before, they went across the moor, through bogs, across streams, up over hill after hill, around tor after tor and back down through mires, quakers and stables (types of Dartmoor bogs) and still the hare sped on. Finally, Bowerman and his hound were completely exhausted and it was only sheer determination that kept them going. As they crested a large granite topped ridge the hare slowed down enough for the dogs to gain on it and just as the lead dog went to flip the hare it darted off behind a tor. Bowerman and his pack followed and charged right into the witches trap, for behind the tor were the rest of the coven and a few witches extra for good measure. They encircled the hunter and shrieked and cursed in unison. Such were their numbers and such were their powers that Bowerman was helpless, both he and his dogs stood transfixed and helpless. The spell the witches cast was that of petrification and to this day you can see the result for Bowerman and his dogs were turned to stone. Bowerman became a huge granite figure-like outcrop and his hound the large boulders at his feet. It is aid that on some dark, misty, moonless nights Bowerman and his dogs come back to life and can be heard chasing some quarry across Hayne Down.