Monday, 26 September 2011

Pixies Hole at Chudleigh Rocks, Devon

Not far from Dartmoor lies another Pixie Cave, hidden away in the Chudleigh Rocks. These rocks are steeped in Pixie stories varying from kidknapped children to pixy-led travellers. According to John Britton's 'The Beauties of England and Wales, Volume IV' (1803), the caverns are said "in the traditions of the peasantry to be inhabited by Pixies, or Pisgies, a race of supernatural beings, "invisibly small".

John Page, in his book 'The Rivers of Devon' (1893) informs us that the main object in the cave is the Devil's pincushion or Pope's Head, a soft mass of rock "into which both credulous - if any there now be - and incredulous tourists delight in sticking a pin as a propitiatory offering to the elfin inhabitants."

The rocks are also mentioned in Issue 61 of Notes & Queries, Dec 28 (1850):
"At Chudleigh rocks I was told, a few weeks ago, by the old man who acts as a guide to the caves, of a recent instance of a man's being pixy-led. In going home, full of strong drink, across the hill above the cavern called the "Pixies' Hole", on a moonlit night, he heard sweet music, and was led into the whirling dance by the "good folk", who kept on spinning him without mercy, till he fell down "in a swoon". On "coming to himself", he got up and found his way home, where he "took to his bed, and never left it again, but died a little while after," the victim (I suppose) of delirium tremens, or some such disorder, the incipient symptoms of which his haunted fancy turned into the sweet music in the night wind and the fairy revel on the heath."
Chudleigh also get a mention in Lady Northcote's Devonshire Folklore article in Folklore Vol II No 2 (1900), as a place where "mothers used to tie their babies to them in bed at night for fear of the Pixies." She also tells the following story:
"A keeper and his wife used to live at Chudleigh, near the rocks, whose holes the pixies "bide in". This couple had two children, and one morning when the wife had dressed the eldest she let her run away while she dressed the baby. Presently her husband came and asked her "where the little maid was to?" For she was gone and was not to be found. They searched high and low for days; the neighbours came to help, and at least bloodhounds were to be sent for. But one morning some young men thought they would go and help themselves to some nuts from a clump of nut-trees not far from the keeper's house, and at the farthest side they came suddenly on the child, undressed, but well and happy, and not at all starved, playing with her toes, or toads; I do not know which. The pixies were supposed to have stolen the child, and are still firmly believed to have been responsible for her disappearance."
The most scenic way to get to the Pixies Hole cave is through The Rock Gardens at Station Hill, Chudleigh. A small entry fee will gain you entry to the rock gardens, which are lovely and overgrown and wild in the best way possible, and lead through to Chudleigh Cave, a narrow illuminated cave full of interesting and rather creepy rock formations. To get to the Pixies Hole and other caves you leave through a gate at the back of the gardens into the Clifford Estate. The paths here are not as well maintained and it's rather easy to accidently stray from the path and get a little lost, and the paths to the caves require some scrambling over rocks to get to, though we might have missed an easier route! The cave itself is gated and locked to protect a colony of bats living inside it, but on a sunny day you can see quite far into the cave.

John Britton, quoting Mr Warner, in his book 'The Beauties of England and Wales, Volume IV' (1803) gives a full description of the cave, for those intrigued as to what lies behind the metal gates.

"The entrance to the cavern is by a natural arch, about twelve feet wide, and ten high: the passage continues nearly of the same dimensions for about twenty yards, when it suddenly diminishes to nearly six feet wide, and four high, and still decreasing in size, extends about fifteen yards further. Here it expands into a spacious chamber, which dividing into two parts, runs off in different directions: but the rock dropping, neither of them can be pursued to any great distance; though tradition asserts, that a dog put into one of them came out at an aperture in Botter rock, about three miles distant."


Sources & Further Information
The Beauties of England and Wales, Volume IV, John Britton
The Rivers of Devon, John Page
Notes & Queries, Issue 61, Dec 28 1850
Devonshire Folklore, Lady R Northcote, Folklore Vol II No 2
The Rock Gardens, Chudleigh


Vivienne Moss said...

I have enjoyed reading your posts on pixies and faeries. The pictures are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks Vivienne! I have a ton of updates to write from the Dartmoor trip, so shall be updating lots this week :)

Anonymous said...

Hello FF- nice to see the blog back in action after a summer break!

There seem to be a lot of stories where encounters with faeries/elves/pixies lead to the witnesses' demise the following day. We've got one in Cumbria about a chap who witnesses an elven procession at Staveley. Odd that it was quite specifically elves as they're usually faeries in Cumbria! (I understand the the elf word is of Viking derivation and faery Celtic. No idea about pixies.)

...and toes/toads... lol!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thanks, good to hear from you again! :D The weather has been terrible up here lately so haven't managed to get out much for fairy walks, hoping for some drier weather over the winter so I can go for more wanderings! Off to Aberfoyle again in October, might wander up the fairy hill on Halloween if i'm feeling brave! :)

There does seem to be a fair few stories about people seeing the fairy folk and then dying or never fully recovering. Leaves me wondering if perhaps like the Banshee and Black Dogs of legend, the fairies sometimes appear as an omen of death rather than causing it! Seems strange how it only happens sometimes though, and others who encounter the fae have positive encounters or just a bit of mischief. Very intriguing that it's specifically elves that were spotted at Staveley! Don't as often hear of them referred to as elves, though as the duerger story around here shows, some stories do seem to refer to specific types of fae you wouldn't normally expect to hear of in England!

The toes or toads thing made me laugh too!!! Gotta wonder why the confusion, did a Victorian reporter just not understand their accent and was too polite to ask! :D

Ent said...

I reacon it was the accent - when you hear proper old Devon volk talking to each other I can imagine not really being able to tell unless you spent quite some time with them - Toes/toads is all to easy to imagine! Brilliant research here - a lot I hadn't heard. I know its not strictly fey but there was also supposed to be a red protuberance of rock up their somewhere known as the Popes Nose that people stuck pins in... I will have to visit - I love the unkempt paths you travelled - verdant pixieness at its very best!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Glad you liked it, I must admit it's a bit scarier covering faery tales around Dartmoor as if I get anything wrong you're sure to notice! :P It mentions the Devil's pincushion or Pope's Head as being in the pixies cave... is that the same as the Popes nose do you think? Would love to see that! Though strange that they'd stick pins in the Pope, seems a bit un-Christian! Have tons of Dartmoor entries to write up but managed to catch an icky cold when I was down south and have been a bit ill this week, feeling better now though so hopefully will put more entries up this week :)

Ent said...

Don't worry about me - For a start I am not native to these hills - I hail from Bristol! For a second thing I have a dreadful memory, and for a third I have no belief in correct versions of folklore - that is the brilliant thing about it - it grows and evolves with each telling - I love watching the turning story through the ages, and think you must to, judging from your love of old and various sources.

It probably was the popes head, not nose - not sure now. I think it may be a catholic/protestant thing - The long version of 'Remember remeber the 5th of November' is very anti-pope, and I have read that effigies of the pope used to be burned with cats in them to get a realistic sound of him burning in hell... Pretty grim. It may have been a reverential thing - a continuing catholic worship under protestant control, but that seems a little unlikely - why name a rock as the pope...?

The Faery Folklorist said...

I do very much enjoy seeing how the stories change over the ages! I always take it as a challenge to find the earliest sources I can, just to see how the story started out, and it's so much fun seeing all the embellishments that have been added to the story over the years by various authors!! :)

Hadn't thought of the catholic/protestant thing, bet you're on the right track there! That cat burning is horrible, people really have done some terrible things over the years in the name of religion!!

ross said...

Great blog. I always wondered whether the pixy legends were race memories of other human species. You might want to check my blog out there's a few blogs on elementals associated with springs. Incidentally, the username is Pixyled!

The Faery Folklorist said...

Hi Ross, what a fascinating blog you have! :D I find wells fascinating too, and there certainly are plenty of fairy stories connected with wells! Have you heard about the Fairy Well or Pin Well up here at Wooler? Would love to know more about that one!

There's Coventina's well up here too with it's Roman dedications to the Goddess Coventina. Nothing to see there now though unfortunately :(

Will be subscribing to your blog and I look forward to reading your future posts! :D