Between Princetown and Tavistock stands a fabulous rock pile, some call it ‘The Sphinx of Dartmoor’ most call it Vixen tor. It has been a place of reverence since the ‘Men of Bronze’ built their ancient tombs in the shadow of its towering granite mass. But the tor hides a dark and sinister past because many, many years ago an old witch called ‘Vixiana’ lived in a cave at the foot of the tor. Some moorfolk say their grandparents told them the old witch had the cave hewn out of the granite by creatures from Hades itself. Either way this was where she lived, deep in the granite bowels of ‘The Sphinx’.
She was an awesome sight, she stood at around 6 feet tall and was a thin as Devon shovel handle. Her nose was large and hooked like a buzzards bill. Her eyes were sunk deep into her head and as green as the moss in a featherbed (Dartmoor bog). She had only two rotten front teeth the shape of peat knives and these hung slightly over her bottom lip. Her skin was as wrinkled and cracked as a dry peat hag and her hair was long, limp and greasy. Those that were unfortunate to get close to her said she smelt of sheep’s urine. All in all she was a fearsome character and unmistakable as she stooped along carrying a huge, gnarled gorse stick. As you can imagine her temperament matched her appearance. She hated everything and everything hated her, the moor sheep would scatter when she passed, if any of them were slow in doing so they would probably receive a stinging blow from her stick. She was even know to smash the skylark eggs that are normally so well hidden in the moorland tussocks.
A sun up and at dimpsey (dusk) she would scrabble up on top of the tor and just sit and watch. Her green eyes darting over the landscape in search of lone travellers. This was not difficult because the old Tavistock to Chagford trans-moor track passed by the bottom of the tor. When she spotted an unwary traveller she would wait until they neared Vixen tor and then she would cast a spell that summoned up a thick moor mist. This would engulf the poor soul below and completely disorientate them. She would then call out supposedly directing them to safety but in fact she was luring them into a deep bog near the foot of the tor. When she heard their terrified screams she would disperse the fog. This then meant that she could see the final death struggles of the traveller as they got slowly sucked into the dark, stinking depths of the bog. Probably the last earthly sound they heard would be the deranged cackling from the crone sat above them.
Before long people realised that this stretch of the trans-moor track was best avoided and they would then take a longer but safer detour to avoid Vixen tor. It was only the odd ‘visitor’ who would fall into Vixiana’s lethal trap. This annoyed her immensely as her evil and sadistic pastime was no longer providing any sport.
Vixen tor (foreground)
Around about the same time a young moorman from ‘Oakey’ way got to hear of these stories and decided to have a wander over Vixen tor to see what was happening. Now there were three things that made this young man rather special, firstly he had a deep hatred of witches and witchcraft. Secondly he had two magical gifts given him by the piskies, they were the ability to have clear vision through any moorland mist or fog and a magic ring that when worn made him invisible to all eyes, good or evil. Finally he was afraid of nothing which was not surprising when you consider his special powers. So the moorman set of across the moor to Vixen tor. The journey seemed to take an age but finally he reached the old track which ran down past the witches liar. Vixiana was at her post when she spotted this lone figure carelessly wandering towards her. She was beside herself, it had been ages since she watched anybody getting sucked down into her mire. Her mouth was watering at the thought of hearing those desperate screams again. So as the traveller approached she summoned down a thick, swirling mist which engulfed the moorman. Eagerly she waited to hear the splash as he fell into the mire but no such sound could be heard. She cocked her head to one side and listened intensely, still no splash. Because of being able to see clearly in mist and fog the moorman was able to avoid the mire and walk out of the thick, dense cloud. When Vixiana saw him safely emerge from her trap she shrieked in desperation and started to summon another thicker fog. Hearing the scream the moorman looked up and spotted the old crone on top of the tor, he slipped on his ring and immediately disappeared from sight. The old witch was dumbfounded, because she couldn’t see her victim she didn’t know where to direct the fog. Meanwhile the young man slipped behind the back of the tor and scrambled up to the top. There he saw Vixiana on her lofty perch, she was wailing and screaming and leaning over trying in vain to see where the traveller had gone. Quietly the lad tiptoed up behind her, he was quite repulsed how ugly and smelly she was. He stood there a few seconds watching her frustration. Slowly a smile spread across his face and with one mighty shove he pushed the old witch over the edge of the tor. She spun down like an ash key into the mire below where the black ooze slowly sucked her down into its murky depths. First she sunk down to her waist, then down inch by slow inch until the black liquid peat reached her neck. Her screams were ear piercing and blood curdling. It was only when the stagnant waters filled her mouth that the moor went quiet. The moorman remained seated on the tor, it was as if he was waiting for the mire to spit the old hag out in revulsion but happily that never happened and her bones were left to rot amongst those of the poor travellers she had lured into the mire.
In recent years Vixen tor has become the subject of a modern tale and has become known as ‘The Forbidden Tor‘ insomuch as the landowner has denied public access despite numerous attempts by various authorative bodies to persuade her otherwise. So now instead of a witch luring people to the tor the landowner is now deterring them away from it, an ironic twist of fate if ever there was one.