Wistman's Woods are not the only location on Dartmoor said to be haunted by the Wisht Hounds. James Motley in his 'Tales of the Cymry' (1848) states "Certain spots on Dartmoor are more commonly haunted by the wish hounds than others, Several ancient roads are mentioned as their peculiar resorts, as "The Abbot's Way", "The Ridge Road", and on certain nights, of which St John's Eve is always one, they are supposed to go in procession through the long deep shady lanes which abound in this district."
Hunt, in his 'Popular Romances of the West of England' (1865) writes, "The Abbot's Way on Dartmoor, an ancient road which extends into Cornwall, is said to be the favourite coursing ground of the wished or wisked hounds of Dartmoor".
Whilst visiting Dartmoor we decided to take a look at Abbot's Way for ourselves, and walked along the stretch near Cross Furzes that continues out on to the wilds of the moors. We walked along the path to the Abbot's Way, past the ancient gnarled trees, and over the mossy stone bridge...
This lead us on to the Abbot's Way.
We stopped to take a look at some muddy paw prints. It must have been rather terrifying in days of old, to be walking along the Abbot's Way and come across a trail of fresh paw prints, hear the distant wild yelping of the Wisht Hounds, and know the Wild Hunt was near....
The gate that marks the beginning and end of the moors.
The path continues over the open moors, with rolling hills and ancient standing stones...
The Black Huntsman and his hounds did not make an appearance I'm glad to say, but we did decide to pursue the legend further and headed to Buckfastleigh Holy Trinity Church, the resting place of Richard Cabell, a wicked man of local legend associated with the Hell Hounds of Dartmoor.
Baring-Gould writes in the Methuen's Little Guide on Devonshire (1907) that "Before the S. porch is the enclosed tomb of Richard Cabell of Brooke, who died in 1677. He was the last male of his race, and died with such an evil reputation that he was placed under a heavy stone, and a sort of penthouse was built over that with iron gratings to it to prevent his coming up and haunting the neighbourhood. When he died the story goes that fiends and black dogs breathing fire raced over Dartmoor and surrounded Brooke, howling."
Embellished versions of the tale tell that he was an evil man and keen huntsman who sold his soul to the devil, or that he killed his wife, though other versions say that his wife outlived him by 14 years at least. Another version of the tale says that Richard Cabell beat his wife and accused her of infidelity, and chased her over the moor, catching her and stabbing her to death in a fit of rage. It is said that her faithful hound tore out his throat in revenge, and that both fell to their deaths. Another version tells how on the night of his burial a pack of phantom hounds bayed across the moor and sat howling at his tomb. Some say he leads the hounds on hunts across the moors, sometimes with a headless horse and coach. Many of these versions and more can be found on the Legendary Dartmoor website, including some interesting information about a cave below his tomb.
It is thought by some that the tale of Richard Cabell inspired the writing of Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles. In January 1907 Cecil Turner wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle and asked if Hound of the Baskervilles was based on the Black Dog of Herguest Court legend. He replied in a letter, "My story was really based on nothing save a remark of my friend Fletcher Robinson's that there was a legend about a dog on the moor connected with some old family", this quote comes direct from the letter, that was sold through Bonhams Auction house.
We headed along to Buckfastleigh Holy Trinity Church to take a look at Richard Cabell's tomb, and it certainly does have an eerie feeling surrounding it.
According to the Legendary Dartmoor website, the sold wooden door at the back was placed there to deter Satanists from gaining entry, as black magic rites have been carried out at the church and at Richard Cabell's tomb. The church itself was very badly damaged by fire in July 1992 when the church was broken into and a fire started under the altar, and what stands now is little more than a ruin with no roof and crumbling walls. In the church remains I found the below pentagram scratched on to the wall, though for what sinister purpose I'd rather not know...
Sources & Further Information
Tales of the Cymry, James Motley
Popular Romances of the West of England, Hunt
Methuen's Little Guide on Devonshire, Baring-Gould
Legendary Dartmoor Website, Buckfastleigh Church
British Listed Buildings, Richard Cabell Tomb