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Merrivale Pigs

Merrivale Pigs

It was a dark foggy night and the moor was as still as the grave, not a fox barked or an owl hooted. Times as this everybody should be firmly shuttered up infront of a warm peat fire and if they weren’t they wished they were. One poor soul found himself travelling across the more from Moretonhampstead to Princetown. The cold damp mist swirled across the moor in waves, one moment it would be just about possible to make out the road and then in an instant it was engulfed in a dense cloud. In such conditions any sound will travel for miles and so the travellers footsteps seemed to echo all around. The man knew the road fairly well, only too sure of the fact that on each side were the derelict stone huts of the ancient moor folk. Occasionally he could make out the silhouette of the low circular walls and at times it seemed as if figures were stood in the granite doorways. The traveller pulled his coat collar up as far it they would go in an effort to hide from the horrors of the night. By his reckoning it must have been getting on for midnight which meant that there would be little chance of a warming drink at the New Inn, besides from the stories he had heard about that place it was preferable to carry on with his journey. After climbing the short steep road that winds up from where the Curlicombe Brook bubbles under the track the route becomes flat. From here the man could see that his supposition about the New Inn was correct, not a light could be seen. Ahead he could see a huge dark figure stood in the road, it appeared to be staring intently in his direction. The man faltered, stood, and listened, not a sound apart from the gurgling of the Walla Brook down in the valley. Still the figure stood defiantly as if daring anybody to pass. With a sigh the man bravely strode forward to meet whatever creature of the night was waiting for him. A slight breeze wafted across the ridgetop and momentarily cleared the mist allowing the man to get a good look at the big black sinister figure of a –  pony nonchantly stood in the road. The traveller smiled to himself, he had been out in the mist enough to know that everything seems about five times larger than it actually is. The closer he got to the pony the more it gradually shrunk until it returned to its normal size. The man double clicked his tongue and the animal slowly saunter to the roadside. Suddenly to his left the figure of a large, thin man loomed out of the murky night, his shoulders hunched down and his arms by his side. Again the traveller smiled, “ah, reached Bennet’s Cross then,” he whispered to himself, “soon be at Postbridge.” He saluted to the old silent granite cross as he passed. Onwards he trudged past the shuttered inn, all sign of life extinguished like a candle. By now he was starting to get tired, his knees ached and his feet throbbed, the only comfort being the journey down Merripit Hill.

All of a sudden he could hear a loud shuffling coming urgently across the moor and towards the road. The traveller stopped, this was no normal night time sound, he cocked his head and strained his ears. Whatever it may be it was getting closer and heading straight in his direction. The sound of grunts now accompanied the scuffling and as they grew louder the grunts turned into a high squeaky voices. “Starvin! starvin!” they cried. A deeper voice then replied, “Cator Gate! Cator Gate; Dead hoss, dead hoss, dead hoss.” With that a sudden chill came across the moor and the smell of must wafted everywhere, then the ghostly figure of an old sow and her litter of piglets appeared from nowhere. They appeared to be bathed in a dim green light and were almost transparent, The pigs seemed to be oblivious of the traveller’s presence and just shuffled across the road and headed off in the direction of Cator.

A couple of days later the traveller was recounting his story of the ghost pigs to a an old moorman. “Ah,” he said, “the ghost pigs of Merripit Hill, thems bin a ‘aunting that moor fur twu ‘udred years.” The old boy took a deep swig of his cider, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and slowly nodded. “Tell ee summit else, if ee ‘ad a followed um to Cator gate ee ‘ud have ‘erd the rest of the tale.” The moorman leaned back on the settle and with an authorative wag of his finger he added, “The reason they be gawin to Cator Gate is that there be a dead hoss on the roadside and them little pigs be a starvin’. But when ‘um gets to Cator Gate them pigs finds that the crows have picked ‘un clean and all be left is a pile of bones. Those who have witness the ghost pigs at Cator Gate swears blind that them little pigs squeals out “skin an’ bones, skin an’ bones,” to which mother sow answers “let ‘un lie, let ‘un lie.” Then the pigs gaws a traipsin’ back off across the moor. An that tis Gods ‘onest truth.”


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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