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Sheepstor Piskies

Sheepstor Piskies
Now before we start, in order to appreciate what a magical place Sheeps tor is it may be as well to have a look at what the area looks like. As you can see from the picture below Sheepstor stands on a mighty hill that looks over many little valleys and streams. In fact it towers over so many valleys and streams that the wicked humans built a socking great dam and reservoir there, that is the body of water that can be seen in the front. But can’t you just picture the piskies living in this secret world? Secluded from all human contact apart from the few folk who lived, nestled in the little village of Sheepstor which lies in the western shadow of the mighty tor.

Sheepstor Piskies 

Since time ticked away its first hour the little folk have lived in the caverns and caves of Sheepstor. For generations they have toiled in the gently flowing streams, streaming for gold, they have dug into the very bowels of the moor in search of the precious metal. For thousands of years they managed to hide their secret, even from the ancients who built the nearby stone circle. But eventually a few moormen came to know their secret and a solemn pact came into being, as long as the folk of the little village never revealed the piskies hidden wealth they would live in harmony, helping each other when ever needed. Accordingly the piskies would help the farmers and protect the miners, on the moorfolk’s part, they would leave out food and presents in the Piskies Cave, which was the entrance to their underground labyrinth. But as time passed it happened that the humans needed something far more precious than gold, they needed water. To this end a huge dam was built and before long it had flooded many of the piskies magical places such as their fairy rings and meeting places. Even their magic could not stop the men and machines, don’t get me wrong, they tried, but all in vain. So it is today that no longer do the little people live on the tor, and no longer do they help the villagers of Sheepstor. They took with them their secret knowledge of the precious gold deposits but one thing they did leave behind were many stories of their exploits, such as…

Late one evening many, many years ago a labourer was making his way down past the old Eylesbarrow mine workings when he heard some voices. T’was a strange time of night for folks to be abroad so he walked over to a deep gully from which the voices were emanating. Being a clear night the oyster moon lit up the moor thus enabling the labourer to see into the shadowy depths of the miners gash. There below he could clearly see a host of piskies busily at work with picks and shovels, the chatter of their shrill voices sounding melodic as they were accompanied with the ting and crash of their little tools. Suddenly one of the little folk stopped work and shouldered his pick, “time for supper,” he chirped.

The moorman spoke without thinking, “Ees, I shude zay, specially if you’m as ‘ungry as I be, sides wat you’m a diggin’ vor?”

“Tin,” the piskies cried in unison.

“Oh, I zee,” replied the labourer, “‘elpin ee’selfs to the old men’s ore be ee, why dun ee dig vur gold?”

“After supper,” cried the mini-miners.

The mans stomach groaned with hunger, “then if that be the game, I u’ll ‘ave so supper with thee, I be famished,” he said.

In a swing of a pick the man found himself being carried down the hill by the hoard of piskies, eventually he was then shoved through a tiny crack upon which he found himself in a huge dining hall. But much to his dismay and the anguish of his stomach all he could see was a huge table laden with plates the size of a farthing and tiny dishes of berries, nuts and honey.

“Lawd, tis nought to fill a human soul on thik table, he exclaimed, “what about a drap of tay instead?”

A huddle of piskies were gathered around a fire busily filling a large kettle that was precariously perched on a brandis iron. As the labourer clumsily crossed to the fire one of his boots caught one of the legs of the triangular kettle support, sposh, he scat the brandis and kettle all across the floor. The piskies fell silent and looked at the stream of tepid water gushing over the floor.

“No supper, no gold,” trilled the piskies in one voice.

With that they rushed at the labourer, hoisted him on their shoulders and dashed out of the Piskie Cave. The next thing the poor man knew the first beams of sun were rising in the sky and he realised he was lying in the gully where he first saw the little people, bemused, tired and goldless.

“No zupper, no gold, he snorted, “There bant n’ither vur I, that’s vur zartin. Drat the little toads; I ‘uld ‘ave vurgived un vur no zupper if um let I haive a pockit vull o’ gold.”

Not that long ago, a luckless farmer and his wife lived on a small holding on the edge of Sheepstor. He was just one of life’s misfortunates, everything that could go, did go wrong. His cattle never did, his ewes and lambs never thrived and to cap it all he had recently lost his son in a horrendous car accident. But life goes on and the couple struggled on in the knowledge that things couldn’t get any worse.

One autumn day the farmer returned home from spending the day mending fences on the moorland edge. He was cold, tired and miserable and so went into the kitchen, ate his dinner and went to bed. About two o’clock in the morning he was awoken by the sound of something moving around in the kitchen below. At first he feared it may be a prisoner who was on the run from Dartmoor Prison but then after listening carefully he realised he could hear several shrill voices. Having been born in Sheepstor he did not need telling who was in his kitchen – t’were the piskies. Silently, he crept out of bed and scrambled to the floor where there was a small crack in the floorboards. When he peered through the gap he could see, or he though he could see, a host of little folk dancing and prancing around the kitchen table. Luckily the fire was still glowing and by its warm orange light he watched the piskie’s antics and they danced and chattered amongst the plates an cups on the table. To this day he does not know why, but for some reason he had the urge to taunt the little folk which was not a good idea. He searched the pockets of his trousers that were laid across a nearby chair and found a large fencing staple. This he poked through the gap in the floorboards and let it drop down amongst the piskies. Now to you or I, a fencing staple is not very big but to a piskie it is big, heavy and sharp and the staple just missed one little fellow. As it clattered onto the table the whole host of piskies scampered out of the kitchen and into the night.

The following morning the farmer went out to see if the hay he had cut two days ago was fit for baling when to his horror he found that the lot had been burnt to ashes. As he shuffled through the thick, black carpet of ash that was once his winter’s feed he heard a loud chuckling and looking down he saw a piskie chortling and pointing at something by his feet. With a click and a tick the little man scampered off into some nearby rocks and when the farmer looked down to where the piskie had been he saw a blackened fencing staple.

From that day on the farmer always left a bowl of milk and a slice of bread and jam by the hearth each night. In return he often finds little jobs mysteriously finished or his barn swept and every now and again his tools sharpened.

At one time there was near to Sheepstor a working tin mine called ‘Kit Mine’ and it was here that one miner learned the consequences of stealing the piskies gold. One day a miner was working on a small tin lode when he stopped to have a mug of tea. In the still darkness he could plainly hear the sounds of a pick axe chinking rhythmically below him. This was strange as the old miner knew only too well that he was the only one working underground at that precise moment. What was even more puzzling was that the noise was coming from below him in the old abandoned adit. So he decided to investigate and with his candle stuck firmly on his helmet he descended to the level below. Once in the wet, slimy adit he crawled along to its end and saw a piskie busily chipping away at the rock face. Luckily the little fellow was so engrossed in what he was doing that the approach of the miner had gone unheeded.  The miner could see that the piskie had found some kind of ore from the pile of glistening rock at its feet. This was strange for the miner knew only too well that they had closed this level because all the tin had been worked out, he also noticed that the pile of ore by the piskie was shining brighter than any tin he had seen. It was then that it dawned on him, that was not tin it was gold, at about the same time as this realisation came to him the piskie realised that the miner was behind him. In a flash the little miner grabbed his pick and his gold and scampered off into the darkness. But much to the delight of the miner there were some large nuggets of gold that were too big to carry and so the piskie had to abandon them. The miner rubbed his hands with glee and promptly began filling his pockets, once all the gold was safe he scurried back along the tunnel and made for the ladder that lead up the main shaft. As he scrambled up the narrow rungs he called to the other miners on the surface, he was about to say he had struck gold when his boot slipped off a slimy rung and he plunged backwards down into the mine. As his body smashed into the wooden landing platform it dislodged one of the supporting timbers which then caved in filling the old mine with huge blocks of granite. That was the last time the miner was ever seen and despite a rescue attempt it was considered that too much rock had collapsed and the whole mine was closed.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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