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Piskie Pole

Piskie Pole

Even today there can be problems walking across Dartmoor, mist, rain and snow to name but a few, however it wasn’t that long ago that another peril could have been added to that list – piskies. There are several tales on this website about people getting ‘piskie led’ on Dartmoor whereby they wander aimlessly around in a mist until the spell is broken. Some of those unfortunate travellers were daft enough to incur the wrath of the little folk which befell upon them by being piskie led. On the other hand a few pilgrims had the misfortune to simply meet a mischievous piskie who out of spite decided to confound their journeys. The folk of the moor lived in mortal fear of this piskie practice and went to great lengths to ensure they were not left wandering around the wastes. The time old and well documented protection against getting piskie led was to wear ones coat inside out. But there is another way of confounding the little folk and it’s one that I was told about many years ago in a Princetown pub and that’s the ‘Piskie’s Pole’. Apparently there were special ‘poles’ or walking sticks that would be carried on moorland journeys and these had the power to to safeguard the traveller from piskie harm. The sticks would be cut from hazel or rowan and on them would be carved ‘gargoyle-like’ faces of piskies. These would either be carved into the wood or if the pole had small shoots growing from it then these were used to fashion the face. It was also necessary to tip the stick with a metal ferrule as this too was meant to deflect any evil forces. This tradition is to the best of my knowledge undocumented and no such examples of piskie’s poles have been seen. At the time I thought this story to be a rather fanciful idea born from a good session on the Guinness, that was until recently…

Whilst rummaging around a moorland ‘antique’ stand at a market I happened to spot an old brass coal scuttle with some walking sticks in it. Amongst them was a short stick with what appeared to be carvings on them, as desperate fumble for the glasses soon revealed that there were indeed some carved heads down the length of the stick. On closer inspection I could see that there were in fact six carved piskie heads with various expressions on their faces – see the picture gallery. Some where smiling, others were obviously in pain and one looked down right bored. Each little head was wearing a green acorn shell hat and all had long flowing beards with noses that protruded out from the wood, the actual stick was 90cm long and tipped with a brass ferrule. The stick looked as if it were hazel with a good coating of varnish, the only sign that it was old being the wear and patina on the ferrule along with some unfinished wood at the bottom. I asked the stallholder where he got it from and was told that it came from a house clearance on the moor. The memory of that previous conversation at Princetown came flooding back and begged the question, “was this a piskie’s pole”? Without trying to show too much interest I asked the stallholder if he knew what it was and was simply told a, “walking stick”. Then I enquired as to how much he wanted for it, with a sharp intake of breath he shook his head slowly, pursed his lips and said, “call it a tenner”, the stick was tossed back in the scuttle. “Well, let’s try eight quid”, came the response, “No, let’s try five quid”, I replied. Luckily someone else was looking at a vase which judging by the speed my offer was accepted was going to bring in a lot more than a fiver.

So, ifs, buts and maybes, there is a possibility that if this stick did come from a moorland house clearance then it maybe a legendary piskie’s pole and I apologise to the gentleman in Princetown for ever doubting his word. But if it didn’t originate from Dartmoor why are their piskie faces carved all over the stick and where did it come from? I suppose the only way of finding out is to go and annoy some piskies and see if I get piskie led.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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