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Witch of Dendles

Witch of Dendles

As the Broadall Lake tumbles down from Penn Moor it flows through a shady wood called ‘Dendles’. Many years ago this was home to an old woman and her son. They lived in a small dilapidated cot at the woodlands edge just below the stone circle of the ancients. Old Hannah was the most feared woman of that part of the moor. Many suspected she was a witch but nobody could actually prove it. Old Hannah was known to be skilled in the magic arts and some were sure they had felt the effects of her craft.

Nobody could understand how they managed to live, the boy had never earned a shilling in his life, there was no garden to provide vegetables and no livestock to meat on their table. Some say as they ate ‘snails’ just like the two old woman at the Snaily House up Bellever way. Others were sure they were stealing from the surrounding farms.

It came about that one night a local farmer lost some hens. When he checked the coop there was no sign of a fox and so he became convinced that it was either Old Hannah or her son who had stolen them. Local ‘newsin’ soon put the word around and everybody knew of the farmers plight. Shortly after his hens disappeared the farmer’s best cow fell sick with ‘wooden tongue’ and no matter what the farmer did it just got sicker and sicker until in the end the poor animals tongue was that hard and swollen that it couldn’t eat. Three days later it died of starvation much to the anguish of its owner. Bad news always comes in three’s and the farmer soon found this out, the following week a number of his sheep went mad with the ‘gid’ and died. Again the story got around and the blame was put squarely on the black magical spells of Old Hannah. Two days later the farmer was taken to his bed with a mystery illness, this time the moorfolk decided to pay the old woman a visit. As always when a large group gets fired up it is one thing to talk about a certain course of action but it is another to actually carry it out. As the group got closer to Dendles Wood the fear of Hannah wavered their resolve. It was decided to hide up on Penn Beacon and wait until she had gone out before investigating further. After several hours people began to get restless and were muttering about returning when all of a sudden the son came out accompanied by a lurcher. From their advantage point the moorfolk watched as boy and dog walked over towards the rabbit buries on Trowlesworthy Warren. As soon as the first rabbit scurried away the lurcher was ‘slipped’ and went dashing after it. A mute squeal was heard as the dog caught its prey, the boy rushed over and quickly stowed it the poachers pocket of his coat. At least now the locals knew how the old woman and her son managed to survive – dining on rabbit meat. There were several warreners in the ‘posse’ and having seen the events unfold decided that they were not going to allow the old crone to blatantly steal their livelihoods and so they gave chase. The boy and the dog soon spotted the men racing down the hill and charged off in the direction of Broadall Lake. The warreners quickened their pace and soon caught them up at the waters edge, the boy nimbly leapt across the stream boulder by boulder and got to the other bank. The lurcher repeated the same process but as the dog leapt onto a small round boulder it slipped and fell into the water. There was a huge splash followed by a human scream and the warreners saw to their amazement that instead of the lurcher it was Old Hannah splashing and flailing in the fast flowing current. The effects of the pure moorland water had broken the old witch’s spell and turned her from the lurcher back into her human form. The moorfolk now had their proof, Old Hannah was definitely a witch. The men dragged her coughing and spluttering from the water, having done so, they made her promise to renounce her evil ways and remove the curse from their sick neighbour. Within days the man was out of his sick bed and back to his normal rude health, Old Hannah however died sometime after.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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