As with any ancient land Dartmoor has its own spirit who cares for the well being of his lands and usually any encounter with him forebodes bad luck. One such encounter was with a man who had recently moved down to the moor from Manchester.
He had already made a fortune from farming and was now intent on making another. So one day he walked out onto the moor and sat on the craggy piles of Crockern tor, Looking at the vast empty landscape he visualised all the improvements he could make to turn this barren waste into fertile and productive land. In his opinion it would not take much – a good dressing of fertiliser, some drainage and a lot of hard work. On his return he ordered all the machinery, seed and fertiliser he would need. He was determined he would show the ignorant locals how useless they were at farming despite the fact they had lived and farmed on the moor for generations.
A few days later he returned to Crockern tor to finalise he dreams when he met an old man of the moor who it transpired had lived in the area all his life. They just chatted in general and eventually the old rustic related a strange dream he had a couple of nights ago. Apparently the old man had dreamed that whilst out poaching rabbits from the nearby Wistman’s Wood Warren he met ‘Old Crockern’ the spirit of Dartymoor. Who had asked the old man if he knew the stranger who had just moved onto the moor. The old spirit was as grey as granite with deep set eyes as black and watery as peat pools and his hair was the green of lichen. On replying that of course he knew him the old spirit told the man to give him a message and that message was as follows; “tell the man from Manchester that I know his mighty plans and that many such men have come to my land with the same intent but like them I promise him one thing, if he as much as scratches my back with a plough share, I’ll tear his pockets out”. The ‘blow in’ just laughed at the old man and told him that in future he should keep his ridiculous dreams to himself. The aged local just shrugged his shoulders and made off towards Wistman’s Wood.
However the prophecy came true for try as he might the farmer could not prosper. Every year he lost money and the more he reinvested the faster his money disappeared. Instead of draining the bogs it was his purse that drained dry until eventually he became physically, mentally and financially broke. Once again Old Crockern had kept his promise.
Another tale of ‘Old Crockern’ is that on dark, stormy nights he travels over to Wistman’s Wood and releases the ‘Wisht Hounds’ from their kennels. He would mount a skeleton horse and ride of in pursuit of any lonely travellers that may be unfortunate to be tramping the moors.
Crockern tor is said to be the old God’s home and the rock piles supposedly depict his profiled head and face. What people perceive as the ‘Spirit of Dartmoor’ is a very personal belief and varies immensely in depth and intensity. Personally, it is possible to imagine a deep force of some kind on Dartmoor. At certain times the moor can be perceived as a living entity, obviously it is a living landscape but now and again the whole area seems to be one unified body. For example, in the summer Dartmoor is a bustling place with cars and people crawling over it like ants (or ’emmetts’ as they are called in Cornwall). By about nine o’clock everybody has gone back to their chalets, hotels, camps or homes. Stand on a tor and listen, a deep and distant sigh will be heard. It is as if the moor knows that for a few hours it can relax and recuperate before the next days onslaught.
On many occasions I have planned a days walk and on arriving at the start point have left in rain, mist, snow, or sleet. The moor has presented a choice, walk and get wet or go home – take it or leave it. But every now and again there are times when there is something you simply have to do, take a certain photograph, visit a special place or maybe show someone something. Without exception whenever this has happened the start of the walk has begun in foul weather, but by the time the objective has been reached the weather has cleared just long enough to do whatever has to be done. The latest example of this was a few months ago when I wanted a photograph of Cranmere Pool for this website. The morning was wet and foggy, but I strolled up to Cranmere regardless. By the time I got there blue patches of sky were appearing and the mist cleared. I took the photographs and no sooner was the camera stowed in my rucksack than the weather closed in again and stayed like that for the rest of the day. Several other people can related similar stories with identical outcomes – Old Crockern lives.