“North of the road are the pounds and hut circles known as ‘Black Tor Rings’, and here, amid the autumn blaze of golden bracken and gorse and the colourful foliage of the riverside trees, is a place to stand and regard the beauty of Shipley Gorge.” Hemery, High Dartmoor, p.319.
Adding a bit more flesh to Hemery’s description one could go on to say that ‘Black Tor Rings’ consist of the following archaeological features. “On the south east slope of Zeal Hill, at approximately 310m. OD., is a sub-rectangular enclosed settlement of 0.76 ha. The maximum dimensions are 105m. east to west and 80m. north to south… There are fifteen huts within the enclosure, all very much ruined and in three instances the type is uncertain.” If you would like to know more you can see the rest of the Pastscape record by clicking – HERE.
But why so little information on these Bronze Age relics you may ask? Quite simply because it’s not those that is the subject of this page. Oh no, for what we are concerned with one must turn to the famous Dartmoor author – William Crossing. Anybody who is acquainted with his works will know that he was probably the foremost authority on the Piskies of Dartmoor. Thanks to him we now know of the mysterious encounter one Reuben Willcocks had with the little folk many years ago. It all started one moonlit night when Reuben was making his way across the moors to South Brent. Apparently he had been out looking for his ponies who were thought to have been grazing somewhere up on ‘Sinners Hill‘. For some reason only be-known to himself he suddenly realised that he had strayed into the old pound of ‘Black Tor Rings’. As it was late at night he decided that rather than have to attempt scrambling over the nine foot enclosure wall he would find the ancient gateway and get through that. Well, ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ and all that, before he could he spotted a hoard of piskies streaming into the pound. Now, being a man of the moor Reuben knew only too well that this was not the place to be. Fortunately he suddenly spotted a gateway and made a frantic dash for it. Just as he was about to dart through the gap he noticed a rather old wisen piskie sat upon the huge gatepost. In a shrill shrieking voice the piskie yelled an alarm call; “I twit! I twit! thee,” he screamed. On hearing this all his fellow little folk stopped their frolicking and looked towards the entrance. By this time Reuben had sped through it and was running hell for leather out onto the open moor. On looking over his shoulder he could see that the diminutive hoard of piskies were hot in pursuit. Over rock, across the old rabbit burrows of Zeal Warren and over the old track they sped. All Reuben could think of was to escape the horrors of being ‘Piskie Led‘ for he knew if this happened he would be trapped on the moor until dawn. As the chase hurtled down the steep hillside towards the river Avon the poor man tripped and went sprawling on the ground. Immediately the piskie hoard pounced upon him and pinned him firmly to the cold clammy earth. Then to a hypnotic rhythm they began to slowly dance around his prone body. For what seemed an eternity they danced and pranced until the first rays of the rising sun yawned over Dockwell Ridge. On seeing this to a man (and woman) they scurried off to their underground castle leaving Reuben fast asleep on what was by then a very dew sodden ground.
A workman who was making he way up to the Redlake works spotted a body lying on the moor and went to investigate. He soon discovered the slumbering form of Reuben Willcocks and managed to awaken him. Although still very dazed the unfortunate Reuben related the horrors he had endured the previous morning. By the time he had returned to his small cott news of his nightmare had spread around South Brent. Sympathetic neighbours called on him throughout that morning. One brought him a hearty breakfast of Hog’s Pudding, bacon and egg, another donated a steaming flask of hot tea, another the local newspaper whilst many just expressed their concern. However, sympathy soon runs short, especially when another story began the rounds. It seemed that on his way back from ‘Sinners Hill’ he dropped in on the old warrener at Huntingdon Warren where whilst newsin’ they had imbibed on a ‘drap o’ two’ of what Crossing described as; “a certain liquor distilled in the good town of Plymouth.” In other words Plymouth Gin and also being someone who likes a ‘drap o’ two’ I can vouch for the fact that it has strange properties. Several well known effects are its ability to cause confusion, hallucinations, loss of spacial awareness and eventually stupor. Who knows it might also have the ability to let one’s imagination run riot enough to see the infamous Dartmoor Piskies?