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Piskie Treasure

Piskie Treasure

Back in the long lost time when moorfolk believed in the power of the piskies there lived an old tin miner called Hugh Plymswode. For most of his life he had earned a meagre living from streaming for tin in the cold waters of the river Erme. Poor old Hugh would spend the week high up on the moors at Erme Pits where after a long days work he would hobble back to his small tinner’s hut and settle down for the night. On Saturdays he would allow himself the luxury of plodding down to his small cott at Holne to see his wife. But come Sunday afternoon he would trudge all the way back up to Erme Pits so as to be able to start work the next day. For all the hardships he had to bear you couldn’t say he had coin a plenty, in fact he had very little. As the years passed by the tin became harder and harder to find and slowly the rheumatics were eating away at his old bones. Many of his fellow tinners had begun digging deep into the depths of the moor to find the precious ore but old Hugh new his frail body would never cope with such a thing. So day after day he scoured the cold waters in all weathers hoping to find enough ore to enable him and his wife to live together in their little cott at Holne.

It was on a cold October night when old Hugh was sat huddled by the peat fire in his beehive-like hut that he heard a strange moaning sound coming from just outside the small doorway. At first he thought it was just one of the Buckfast Brother’s sheep that had strayed over from the Avon. But, straining his ears he was sure he could just about make out the odd word or two mixed in with the moaning and bleating. It sounded like someone was saying, “silly me, silly stugged”, but in a very high pitched voice. Wearily he grabbed his lantern and a pick and crawled out of the tiny hut to investigate the strange goings on. It took a while for his old eyes to become adjusted to the gloom of the moor night and as they did he could see what looked like a sheet of paper blowing on the night breeze. He studied it intently and realised that it must be caught on a tussock or something as it remain in the same spot all the time. It was cold and he was tired so to save any more ado he shambled off over to see what exactly was what. As Hugh approached the paper he could just make out by the dim light of the lantern what seemed to be a small hand holding the bottom corner. Ten more elderly strides and Hugh to his amazement could see a small head and shoulders holding a large sheet of paper. The old man’s heart began to pump like a robin on a well handle, he had been on the moors long enough to know what a piskie looked like and that was exactly akin to what he was now staring at. For at his feet he could now clearly see a small bald head with spiky grey hair and the top of a green tunic. Hugh gaped at the piskie and the piskie frowned at Hugh, both very, very unsure about what to do next. Now Hugh was known for his caution, he never did anything on the fly, every decision was carefully arrived at with every avenue explored. So, true to form Hugh sat down on a nearby rock to ponder his next move which didn’t please the piskie none.

“Oi, lang limbs”, the little man shrieked, “be you gawing to leave me bide here or are you going to get I out”?

Hugh looked and saw that the piskie must have fallen in a small slapper or mining pit and as he did so the spoil must have tumbled in after him and wedged him firmly in the hole.

“If you’m a praper piskie”, Hugh drawled, “thin ee kin magic yer way out of yer predickyment”.

“Normally I culd”, the piskie muttered, “but this be a tin lode that be a trappin’ I and piskie magic dun’t work on tin”.

Hugh, slowly scratched his head and reached for his clay pipe, this would really take some figuring out because to actually have a trapped piskie laying at your feet could mean a great deal of wealth.

“If I lump ee out of thik slapper what be in it vur I”? Hugh quizzed, drawing thoughtfully on his old pipe.

“If you dawn’t lump I out of this slapper a parcel full of grief be in it vur ee”, the little fellow exploded.

This made Hugh slightly nervous for he knew only too well that to upset one of the little folk was to invite a whole waggon load of trouble never mind a parcel. On the other hand if he could get this piskie to part with some of his treasure then it would mean no more miserable days stood in the freezing river Erme. Every man jack on the moor knew that each piskie had a hoard of treasure stashed somewhere.

“What be written on that ole scrap of paper then”, Hugh asked.

The piskie cocked one eyebrow in a very sly manner, looked at the paper and then with a wry smile on his face stared old Hugh in the face.

“What this ole scrap of paper”? the piskie whispered, “why this is nought but a map of where all the tin be to in this combe, a treasure map if you like”.

Hugh slowly licked his old dry lips, he knew only too well that over the past few years he had scoured every inch of the pits and had taken every ounce of ore that he could find.

“Now I knaw’d ee be a lyin’,” Hugh exclaimed, “I’d a jest about work’d thik stream out”.

“And so you ‘ave”, the little fellow agreed, “everywhere barring where the richest ore a lies”.

Slowly the old tinner recalled all the places he had streamed and in the end could think of nowhere that he had not searched for the tin.

“You’m be a bare faced liar and i be ‘avin’ nought to do with it”, Hugh shouted.

“Oh well, then you leave I ‘ere and carry on a working in they freezin’ waters till yer rheumatics gets the better of ee”, the piskie simpered.

Hugh said not a word, the old man just sat on his boulder with his mouth agape and as he did so he could feel the cold granite begin to make his joints ache. Just maybe for once in his life he should throw caution to the wind and take a gamble he thought.

“Tell ee what”, I u’ll lump ee out of thik slapper if you’m give to I yer treasur’ map”, Hugh dared.

“Deal”, the piskie shrieked.

Hugh stood slowly up, his bones crick cracking in displeasure, and slowly he shuffled over to the little fellow. Very carefully he took hold of the corner of the map and gently tugged. At first the delicate sheet of paper began to stretch as the piskie firmly held it in his grasp. And then it floated free and began to waft in the night breeze.

“Out Now”, the piskie demanded in a shrill voice, “Out now, you’m promised, out now”.

So insistent was the command that the old miner immediately put the map in his pocket and set to hauling all the loose rocks out of the hole. No sooner was the last stone clattering down the bank than the piskie leapt up and bolted into the dark moorland night. For a moment old Hugh stared blankly into the inky black night, slowly he took the old crumpled map from his pocket and held it under the pale light of the lantern. He was relieved to see some feint black scrawling on the paper, at least he hadn’t traded a unique opportunity for a blank bit of paper. But the light wasn’t strong enough to read the map properly and after the excitement of his encounter the old man suddenly realised how tired he was. So with slow purposeful steps he made his way back over to his humble shelter. By the time he returned his fire had burnt down to its last embers and so consoling himself with the thought that he was poor when he met the piskie and if the map was a fake he was the same as before, nothing better but nothing worse. That said Hugh spent the rest of the night spending all the coin that he knew the tin would bring him, his hopes riding high as a buzzard soars.

At first light the old tinner was stood on his spoil heap staring quizzically at the map. The river was marked and so was the old ancient’s grave on Green Hill, even the Blacklane Brook was shown. Slowly he began to work out what was what and then he noticed a small ‘X’ which if the map was correct was slap bang on the edge of his workings. Now he knew he had be taken for a fool because there was now way there was any ore left, he had found it all. Inch by inch he had turned over every rock and boulder in and near the river. Why the only place that had not been touched was where his tinner’s hut stood and that had been there ever since he began working that part of the Erme. Like a bolt from the heavens the thought suddenly struck him, “The only place that had not been touched was his tinner’s hut, that was it, that was where the tin lay waiting”.

With an amazing turn of speed for an old one, Hugh darted over to his hut and began wildly swinging his pick into the granite walls. His only thought was to get the thing down and to tear up the trampled floor and pull out those shiny black rocks which would make him rich as a lord. The old tinner also began to feel a trifle guilty for not trusting the piskie, obviously all the stories he had heard about their trickery were, “nought but vicious lies”.. With every swing of his pick Hugh was dreaming of the food, clothes and luxuries that he would be able to buy. Why he could even afford a huge feather mattress where he could rest his weary bones and if he wanted he could lay in it all day. No moor freezing water, rheumatics or loneliness just a warm fire and food a plenty on the table. So deeply engrossed in how he was going to spend his money that it was not until a splinter of rock hit him in the face did he suddenly realise how deep he had dug. Why he could nearly smell the brimstone from hell the hole had gone that deep. It was then that the old miner’s heart sank down into his boots, there was no tin here, the only wealth he had found was a grubby old ha’penny that must have fallen out of his jacket at some time. No wonder that pesky piskie had darted off so quick, and all those trickery tales were true. Slowly he looked around, there was a deep hole, which was rapidly filling with water, a pile of rubble where his hut once stood and a grubby scrap of paper weighted down with a rock. Now what? the old man knew that it would take days to build another shelter and for what? all the tin had gone and he was too old to find another place to stream.

Slowly he began shoving his gear into an old hessian sack and having done so tied it over his shovel and pick and shuffled down from the moor for the last time. What he was going to tell his wife was anybodies guess, they had very little coming in before but now there would be nothing apart from the old ha’penny he found under his hut. Just goes to show, there’s no fool like an old fool, especially an old fool that trusts the piskies. Bit like today when those piskies from the National Lottery tell you that you will be rich beyond belief, every week us old fools fall for it?


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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