Friday , June 14 2024



This tale begins high up on the wastes of Southern Dartmoor on one of those days when the fickle Dartmoor weather can swing either way. The early morning sunrise was a weak affair and as the huntsman lead his hounds upon the moor the sky was tinged with a weak pink wash. The dogs were abnormally quiet as they scampered in and out of the gorse bushes, it was as if there was some unseen hand holding fast onto invisible leads. There was a heavy dew carpeting the tussocks with silvery jewelled drops of water and every now and again a gossamer spider’s web hung limply under its weight of moisture. It was a fact that the dogs had their work cut out to find any scent but stoically they drew every bush and stand of heather. The huntsman just began to think that the morning was going to be a long one when suddenly the hounds gave cry as a large dog fox bolted from a small clitter. Immediately the master spurred his horse and gave chase to his pack as they sped across the moorland waste. It seemed as if ‘Old Hector’ was going to provide some sport as both he and his pursuers sped through tussock, stream, and bog. So engrossed in the chase was the huntsman that he failed to notice the increasing amounts of tiny droplets splashing on his face. By the time he had reached the top Caters Beam it was too late the veil of droplets had turned into a dense shroud of mist that effectively shut down the moor. In the distance he could hear his dogs baying for the foxes blood as their chase now relied on smell alone. The huntsman fumbled for his horn and gave several loud blasts which was the order for his pack to return but blow as he might the sound of his dogs simply faded into the mist covered moor until they could no longer be heard. With a heavy sigh the man turned his horse towards the west and headed off with the intention of picking up Black Lane which by following the small brook would safely take him down to Erme Pits. From here it was just a case of following the river down off the moor to Harford which wasn’t that far from where he began the day.

His horse was well versed with the moors and its mists so it was with a calm trot that it headed into the dense curtain of mist. After a while the huntsman noticed the horse was becoming more and more edgy as it picked its way around the ever increasing number of verdant green boggy patches. This was not right, because by now the huntsman knew he should be hearing the sound of metal horseshoes clicking against granite as the Black Lane headed down the small rocky valley bottom. The other slightly alarming factor was that what light there was began slowly fading as the night began to draw its heavy mantle across the moor. Suddenly the horse began to nervously stamp its feet as if to say, “I am not going in there”. The huntsman dismounted and immediately landed up to his boot straps in a thick, oozing pool of peat. As if from nowhere a strong wind blew across the moor and temporally lifted the mist when to his horror the man could see he had somehow blindly wandered into a mire. About 10 feet away he could just make out the sodden walls of a ruined tinner’s hut, a heavy feeling of nausea churned his stomach as he realised he must be in Fishlake Mires. The only way this could have happened was that he headed too far east and missed Black Lane altogether. What irked him more than anything was the thought that by now his dogs had probably found their way to the low ground and were safely on their way home. By now the light was that bad that even squinting through mist sodden eyes was useless. The problem he faced was that if he headed north he would end up in Aune Head Mires which was a lot worse than his present problem, this meant that route must be anyway but north, but which way was which? He listened intently for the sound of running water which if he could locate it would be his salvation but the moor was as silent as the grave. By now he was cold, wet, hungry, lonely, miserable and above all afraid, the stories of lost souls on the moor he knew only too well. It was only a few years ago that he, or rather his dogs had found the corpse of such an unfortunate traveller.

All of a sudden the mist seemed to part and an old man sat astride a small grey pony materialised from the depths of the gloom. As he rode closer he could tell from his clothing that the wizened rider was of the gypsy persuasion but that mattered not as hopefully he could lead him off these God forsaken moors. The Romany just kept trotting along and when he drew level the old man simply touched his cap and beckoned the huntsman to follow. Needless to say the huntsman didn’t need asking twice and turned his horse and set off closely behind the grey pony. After a while the huntsman noticed the ground was getting rockier and in the stillness of the now opaque night he could hear the sound of running water. Soon both pony and hunter were stood next to a fast running river which the huntsman knew was the river Erme. With a deep sigh of relief the huntsman knew he was safe and reached back into his saddlebag to find a fitting reward for the gypsy. By the time he had found his purse and turned around the gypsy had silently disappeared into the night without a bye or leave. The huntsman spurred his horse on down the river bank in the hope of catching his saviour up but that was the last he ever saw of the gypsy and his little grey pony.

Several years passed and despite relating his story to whomever he met nobody had ever heard of an old, wizened gypsy who rode a small grey pony. That is not until 10 years had passed and one day whilst attending hunt ball he saw a painting of the gypsy surrounded by an old, gilt frame hanging on the wall. The huntsman walked closer to the painting when he was finally certain that this was the man who saved his life that mist covered night on the moor. Suddenly he noticed a small, engraved plaque nailed to the bottom of the picture, he wiped away the dust and saw the name, “Limpety”, and then to his horror he saw the date of his death – 50 years previous, which meant ten years ago the gypsy was already …

Although this story appears on several ‘paranormal’ databases for Dartmoor as a 20th century tale, I think you can take it as read that its source is one ‘Willy Poole’ but in his version the events took place over Widecombe way?


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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