Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Pixies of Bellever Tor, Dartmoor

A slightly humorous story of pixies on Dartmoor is the Huccaby Courting. I'm sure it was less than amusing to the young man involved, but I can't help but wonder if he really did meet with pixies or was just terribly bad at letting a lady down gently that he was no longer interested in courting her!

Tales of the Dartmoor Pixies (1890) by William Crossing tells that a young buxom lass was the "presiding genius" of the dairy at Huccaby Farmhouse, on the left bank of the West Dart, just above Hexworthy Bridge. She was said to be an attractive lady, and there was much rivalry among her admirers, but Tom White of Post Bridge was her favoured suitor. As Crossing points out, Post Bridge is 5 miles or so from Huccaby, and his farm duties would not permit poor love struck Tom to visit his lady during the day time, so he was forced to visit her in the evenings. "After a hearty evening meal--for Tom did not believe in making love upon an empty stomach--he would set out to walk the five miles like a man, and at the close of the interview with his fair "Dulcinea" would trudge back again to his home. A walk of ten miles after a day spent in labour is an undertaking that many men would shrink from: but what is it to a man in love?"

One summer evening, Tom stayed longer than usual, and as he began the trek home and mounted the slope behind her house, he noticed that dawn was approaching. He knew that he'd have to hurry home if he wanted to catch some sleep before he was due back at work in the morning. He walked over Lakehead Hill, and reached the slope of Bellaford Tor (present day Bellever Tor).

Tom passed the walls of the new-takes and approached the tor itself, when "he fancied he heard sounds as of merry voices in the distance." He paused again but the sounds were so faint that he decided he must be be mistaken and it was the sighing of the wind. Onwards he went.

The rocks of the tor began to rise infront of him, and the ground was strewn with granite blocks, so he proceeded with caution but eventually arrived at the tor, and threaded his way through the rocks with the intention of passing on one side of it. Suddenly, he heard sounds similiar to those earlier, and he looked around to discover from whence the noise of the merry party came. "Instantaneously it flashed into his mind that he had approached a pixy gathering, and stepping at that instant round a huge granite block, he came upon a strange and bewildering sight. On a small level piece of velvety turf, entirely surrounded by boulders, a throng of little creatures were assembled, dressed in most fantastic costumes. A great number of them had joined hands, and were dancing merrily in a ring, while many were perched upon the rocks around, and all were laughing and shouting with glee."

Poor Tom was terrified, not knowing whether to turn back the way he came or proceed on hurridly past the gathering. He decided to try and continue unseen and pass on the opposite side of the tor, when the little folks spotted him, "instantly forming a ring round him, danced more furiously than ever. As they whirled around, Tom was constrained to turn around with them, although, so rapid was their pace. that he was utterly unable to keep up with their frantic movements. Each one, too, was joining in the elfin chorus as loud as his little lungs would enable him, and although they danced and sting with all their might they never seemed to tire. In vain Tom called upon them to stop--his cries only causing the pixies to laugh the merrier--while they seemed to have no intention whatever of discontinuing their antics. Tom's head began to swim round; he put out his arms wildly, his legs felt as if they would give way under him; but yet he could not avoid spinning around in a mad whirl. He would have given worlds to stop, and endeavoured in vain to throw himself on the grass: the mazy gallop still continued, and poor Tom was compelled to take his part in it."

Lucky for Tom, the sun began to rise above the ridge of Hameldon, and at the first sight of the sun the noise stopped and the pixies vanished among the crevices in the rocks, and Tom hurried home as fast as he could. Poor Tom was so frightened by his experiences that he vowed never to go courting again, and the "buxom damsel of Huccaby" lost her lover forever. As Crossing points out, "It is probable there were not wanting those who were ready to doubt that Tom White ever saw the pixies at all, and were prepared to assign as a reason for his belief that he did so the probability of his having been regaled on something a little stronger than water" but Tom was insistent that his experiences were true. What became of the lady is unfortunately unknown.

There is a lovely original piece of music called 'The Pixies of Bellever Tor' on the John Craton Home Page, available to download for free. It fits the story beautifully and is well worth a listen.

Whilst on holiday in Dartmoor, my partner and I paid visit to Bellaford Tor. As William Crossing points out in his 'A Hundred Years on Dartmoor' (1901), Bellaford Tor was also called Believer Tor by the Moormen. Today it seems to be named on maps as Bellever Tor. There is a pay and display Forestry Commission Bellever Car Park and signposted Bellever Forest walks, a combination of the red and yellow trails will take you to the tor itself. As we walked out of the car park we saw a pair of lovely Dartmoor ponies.

We took the red path and followed the path through the woods, with views of the tor, stopping to pick a few whortleberries here and there.

We spotted this lovely toadstool, what a lovely stereotypical fairy mushroom!

Eventually we reached the rocky path that climbs up to the tor. Lots of lovely gorse bushes, and stunning views over the forests below.

We then joined the yellow path to the tor, and found ourselves in the terrain described in the Huccaby Courting story, the ground strewn with granite blocks, with plenty of places for pixies to hide.

The story tells of the pixies appearing in a "small level piece of velvety turf, entirely surrounded by boulders" and there are no shortage of places this could refer to, and no shortage of places where you might spot the pixies perched upon rocks, laughing with glee and mischief!

There's also definitely no shortage of places for the pixies to hide between their moonlit revels, with crevices between rocks, and gaps under huge granite boulders.

I also met a couple of very characterful natural formations. Mr Wise Old Toad, a rock that looked remarkably like a toad (just not in the photo, honest!!), and a mysterious creature made from branches and mud with a shock of grassy hair, trying to disguise itself among the trees!

Sources & Further Information
Tales of the Dartmoor Pixies, William Crossing
A Hundred Years on Dartmoor, William Crossing
Legendary Dartmoor, The Huccaby Courting
The Modern Antiquarian, Bellever
The Pixies of Bellever Tor, a musical piece
Forestry Commission Parking Information for Bellever


Vivienne Moss said...

Thanks for the story,I enjoyed reading it.

The pictures are again lovely. The Dartmoor ponies are so beautiful and that toadstool, magical.

Thank you for sharing your journeys with us.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a great place to visit - and I think you've spotted someone in that last picture! :)

The Faery Folklorist said...

Thank you both of you :) I love finding the fairy tale style toadstools, there's just something so magical about them! The ponies are lovely too, It's so nice seeing all the animals wander free around Dartmoor. My partner isn't so keen on the cows that look like road signs though! :D Driving home on a pitch black evening there were a row of black and white stripey cows lined up that looked rather identical to those stripey signs you get to say a corner is approaching. Luckily he realised it was cows just before turning an imaginary corner and we narrowly escaped ending up in a bush! Made me laugh though :D Tricksy cows!

That last photo definitely looks like a giant woodland mythical creature of some sort, it looked so out of place among the trees! If I return one day and find it's gone now i'll really start to wonder :)

Ent said...

Ha ha - stripy cow formations! Great - loved your photos - that tor is exactly how I imagined the setting for that tale would look like...

Have you thought of compiling a map of your posts? Comunitywalk is a good mapping website, but there is probably better ones.

The Faery Folklorist said...

Gotta watch out for those stripy cow formations, wonder how many other tourists they've tricked!! I did start making a map of Northumbrian folklore on google ages ago, but never got around to finishing it! Thanks for reminding me, i'll have to track it down and finish it at some point :D