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Witch Hare

Witch Hare

Long, long ago just outside of Tavistock there lived an old witch and her grandson. They lived in a thatch covered cottage with walls made of wattle and daub. The witch knew many of the spells belonging to the black art and a few from the white art. Her claim to fame was that at will she could turn herself into a hare. The moorfolk kept well away from that little cott for fear of what may happen. Obviously her magic wasn’t that strong because they needed to buy food and it was her ability to turn herself into a hare that earnt them the coin to pay for it.

She would sent her grandson up to the big house to see the squire. He was a keen huntsman and kept one of the best packs of hounds on the moor. The boy would knock on the big door and ask to see the squire, he would then tell him that he had spotted a huge hare in a nearby field. The squire would then gather his dogs and set off in pursuit of the hare. For his information the lad would be given sixpence which he would then take back to the small cott. Meanwhile, as promised, the squire would find a large hare sitting in the field where the boy had said he had seen it. He would un-leash the dogs and the hunt would begin. Time after time the hare would lead them on a fine chase, up over tors and down through the mires, mile after mile until the dogs became exhausted, never once did they get near to catching their quarry.

By and by the squire became suspicious and started to think that maybe the “Devil was in the dance”. Afterall no matter how fast the hounds ran they could not close in on the hare, and why was it always the same boy who knew of its location. He began to make enquires and discovered where the boy lived and who he lived with. He also became aware of the old woman’s reputation and decided it was time to put a stop to her ‘unnatural ways’.

So for the next week the hounds were rested and well fed and a watch was kept on the old woman’s cott. A few days later his man returned to say that he had seen the woman and the boy leave the cottage together, the witch had gone up to the moor and the boy was heading to the big house. The squire sent for his hounds who by now were eager for a hunt. As normal the boy reported where he had seen the hare and was duely paid his sixpence. The squire dashed out collected the hounds and hurried to the appointed field. This time the hare was not expecting them so soon and when they sped, baying and howling into the field, was completely taken by surprise. This chase was different, time and time again the dogs just missed bowling the hare over, in a moment of blind panic the creature shot under the field gate and headed off down the lane. The dogs gave chase and were soon hot on its heels, the squire could see they were nearing the small cott where the old woman lived and as soon as the hare reached the gate it swerved onto the garden path and shot under a gap in the door. The dogs were too big to fit into the hole so they stopped baying and scratching at the door. 

The squire hammered on the door and demanded that the old woman come out but there was just silence from within. He tried to smash the door down but was unable to do so. By now a small crowd had gathered to see what the commotion was all about. The squire sent one of them down to the town to fetch the parson and the justice whilst he and his dogs kept watch on the cottage. It did not take long for the party to arrive from Tavistock and once the constable had demanded the old woman come out the door slowly opened. The old woman stepped onto the path and enquired what was the matter. She was soon faced with allegations of witchcraft, sorcery and turning herself into a hare. She vehemently denied them all. The squire was not best known for his patience decided that he would lose his dogs and let them decide who she was. At this stage of the proceedings the old witch broke down, she knew only too well what the dogs would do and so confessed to all.

She wept and wailed and pleaded for mercy, her grandson wept and wailed and asked that the old woman be spared. She promised to recant her evil ways and to renounce the Devil and all his works, she even promised to attend church every Sunday. It was decided that on this occasion they would be lenient and the old woman was to be whipped, a task that the squire soon undertook, and it must be said, seemed to get great pleasure from. The old woman was left lying on the path, sobbing and moaning, justice had been done.

Sadly it did not take the old witch long to return to her old ways. Admittedly she no longer turned herself into a hare but made up for this in many wicked ways. This time she was arrested and leniency was not forthcoming. She was tried for witchcraft, found guilty and burnt at the stake and her grandson was banished from the moor.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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