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Old Moll

Old Moll

In the small moorland town of Chagford lived an old woman who the locals called ‘Old Moll’. Nobody is sure if that was her real name but that is what she was known as. Depending on what people wanted she was either a healer or a witch, usually the latter. Like all of Dartmoor’s witches she had the ability to ‘shape-shift’ into any creature she wanted. Her favourite trick was to change into a hare which she had learned from another witch down by Tavistock. Regularly the old woman would wait until the local hunt went on the moor and then take the form of a huge hare. She would then lead them a merry chase up tor and down marsh, every now and then she would let the hounds nearly catch her but at the last minute veer of and speed away.

The talk of the taverns was of the big hare and how no dog could ever catch it. Rumours soon spread of how there was witchcraft at work and that trail only led to Old Moll’s door. People would watch the hounds leave the town and then wait to see where the old woman went but nobody saw her stir from the cott where she lived. But every time the huntsmen and their exhausted dogs would return caked in mud and empty handed.

Now it so happened that Old Moll had a brief love affair when she was Young Moll and her jilted ‘beau’ had never lived down the rejection and embarrassment and bore a vengeful grudge. As most of the town were pointing figures at the old woman he saw his chance to exact his revenge and so he went to a ‘wiseman’ would lived at the nearby hamlet appropriately called Wisdom. He was told that the only thing that would kill a ‘witch hare’ was a silver bullet. Accordingly the man went home and melted down an old silver watch chain which he then cast into a silver bullet. Word soon came that the huge ‘Puss’ had been seen in a turnip field on the edge of the moor. The silver bullet was loaded into the gun and the hunter set off to rid the town of the witch and to exact his revenge. By the time he reached the field the hare was still sat nibbling at the turnip leaves, slowly he raised the gun and took careful aim. A loud bang boomed out and a thick blue cloud of smoke wafted lazily into the air, the big hare was still in the field along with the hunters hand. Somehow the barrel of his gun had split and the explosion had torn off the man’s right hand.

The town was now at war with the witch and the witch was at war with the town. Anybody who crossed the old woman would have some misfortune occur and any fortune that did occur was the fault of Old Moll. There was talk of ‘ducking stools’, witch fires and all manner things in the taverns. One night somebody recalled that a few years ago there had been a big quarrel between Old Moll and the witch from Widecombe over some spell or other. Maybe, the people thought, the Widecombe witch could give them some ‘insider’ knowledge that would help them catch Old Moll. An envoy was duely dispatched the following day and came back with the news that their hunch was right, the old crone still harboured a grudge against Old Moll and had told them how to catch her. All they had to do was course her with a spayed bitch.

The spayed bitch took some finding but eventually a splendid lurcher was brought into town. All the children were then sent out to see if they could find the hare, it didn’t take long for a small boy to rush back. Breathlessly he reported that he had seen the ‘Puss’ in a clover field down by Rushford. The hunting party immediately set off to the field with the lurcher leading the procession. Sure enough, when they got to the clover platt there was the hare so the dog was slipped and the chase began. This time the hare could not shake off the dog and as it lunged into a hedge the lurcher managed to snap a huge chunk of flesh from the hare’s leg. Unfortunately the hedge was too tall and thick for the dog to follow so the hare escaped down the lane which led back to town. A few of the braver members of the posse decided to go to Old Moll’s cott to see if she was there. On approaching her gate all bar one brave man decided they were not going to risk the wrath of Old Moll and would go no further. He however heroically crept a small shuttered window and peeked through a tiny crack. Inside Old Moll was sat on a chair and was bandaging a deep wound on her leg, it was in the exact place where the lurcher had taken its mouthful of flesh. This was undisputable proof that the huge hare was the result of Old Moll’s witchcraft and that she had transformed herself into the ‘Puss’. From that day on the hare was never seen again and the town returned to an uneasy peace. No longer was there talk of ducking stools and in return no ill fortune was met by the inhabitants of ‘Sleepy Chagford’.

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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