Long ago Chagford must have been a lively town to live in because this legend is unique on Dartmoor. It is said that any woman who was proven to be unfaithful to her husband was sent onto the moor so as to expiate her sins. This took the form of four tasks of repentance, and to fail at any of them was enough proof of her guilt. The first was to walk to Cranmere Pool and wash her sinful body in it’s waters which if it was a dry summer would prove rather messy if not impossible. Then with head bowed in shame she must make her way to Scorhill Stone Circle and run around it three times. This presumably was to drain her of any excess energy that might have been spent in other ways. After that she was to go down to the nearby Tolmen – a holed stone in the river bed of The Teign and pass through its sacred portal, this presumably was for purification. Finally she would trudge over to The Grey Wethers circles. Here she would prostrate herself in front of one of the stones and earnestly pray for forgiveness. If the stone remained erect (which probably would remind her of the purpose of her visit in the first place) and ‘insitu’ she was deemed to be well and truly purged and forgiven. But if the stone fell on her then she was pronounced dead, and unforgiven because her sins were too great. But I should imagine that being unforgiven was the least of her worries, especially with a few ton of granite laid on top of her. All in all this quest would have meant a round trip of a good 20 miles which crosses some of the hardest ground on Dartmoor.
Well what can one say? Cranmere Pool, Scorhill Circle, the Tomen Stone and the Grey Wethers do exist. Having lived in Chagford I can say with hand on heart that ‘faithless wives’ do not exist?
Due to the lack of faithless wives this story must have carried and still carries a great deal of moralistic weight. It clearly deters any wife from straying. In addition not only could a wife be subjected to such treatment they could also be sold at a wife sale. Baring Gould cites an example of a man from nearby North Bovey who in 1868 walked into Chagford and by private agreement sold his wife to another man for a quart of beer.
Should you wish to find any ‘faithless wives’ or even buy one for 2 pints of Guinness try any of the above locations.