Woven deep into the history of Devon is a tapestry rich in superstition and ancient customs. Therefore, it’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that the county has quite the plentiful abundance of folklore tales. CHRISTINE MILLER tells us of five of the most fascinating Devon Folklore Tales.
The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor
Probably one of the most infamous folklore tales to come out of all of Devon is the story of a pair of disembodied hands that caused (and may still continue to cause) chaos, terror, and even possibly death on the B3212 during the 20th century.
Numerous shaken drivers would report the same tale to perplexed police officers: while driving the lengthy road, a pair of invisible, but incredibly hairy hands would forcefully take control of the steering wheel of their vehicle, and suddenly, deliberately, veer them off the road.
Luckily, victims survived.
Well, most did.
It has been alledged that the menacing hands may have been responsible for the untimely violent demise of one Dr E.H. Helby who worked as a physician in the nearby Dartmoor Prison.
He mysteriously lost control of his vehicle and careered to his death, while his two young travel companions, who were daughters of the prison governor, thankfully managed to survive.
Was the good doctor’s death the malicious work of the hairy hands?
It seems we will never know.
But one thing is certain, there has been an extremely disproportionate number of road accidents on the B3212 in Devon, especially during the early 1900s. Read in more detail about the terrifying folklore tale here.
The Devil’s Footprints
It was a cold winter in February 1855.
Unusually cold, even for the Exe Estuary in Devon.
What became even more unwonted was, that over three nights, cloven hoove prints began to appear in the particularly heavy overnight snowfall.
These ungodly (at least to the superstitious locals) were some 4 x 3 inches in diameter and could be tracked, incredibly, over 100 miles; over rooftops, through churchyards, atop of walls and across open fields across the county and even into Dorset.
The Church immediately speculated that Satan himself was prowling the local area in the twilight hours, awaiting his chance to enact who-knows-what type of evil on the by now terrified Devonshire inhabitants.
Perhaps prowling is the incorrect word, because, rather than there being a procession of left and right impressions, the tracks were one after the other, almost as if the mysterious miscreant had hopped the entirety of the long journey.
Over the years, many have tried to rationally explain the unsettling prints. They have been blamed on a number of animals: from badgers to mice, and even kangaroos (yes, really), yet there is still to be a satisfying consensus as to what was the cause of the mysterious Devil’s Prints of Devon.
Kitty Jay’s Grave
The legend of Kitty Jay is a tragic one; the tale of a young woman, a victim of suicide.
Young Kitty is buried in her grave at a set of crossroads, having been denied a Christian burial within consecrated ground, as was custom for those who died by their own hand. Being buried as a crossroads would ensure that her restless spirit stayed put, lest she attempted to wander back to where she was most familiar with in life.
Some say pixies are responsible for the frequent bestowment of gifts such as fresh bouquets left neatly propped up by Kitty’s final resting place, but crosses and candles are also often contributed.
Kitty’s grave does seem to have something rather otherworldly about it. More than a few late-night motorists have seen the grim figure of a robbed man protectively kneeling at the grave, only to have glanced back in their rear-view mirror to see the man now standing up, his eyes burning into them.
Similar to the Irish Leprechaun, the Devon Knocker is diminutive at only two feet tall, with shrivelled skin, gangly arms, and long, cat-like whiskers.
This tiny terror is a long-time nemesis of many a Devonshire miner and likes to entertain himself by procuring miners tools by illicit means, as well as chowing down on any of their unattended packed lunches.
The name “the Knocker” is said to come from the foreboding pounding noise that would emit from mineshaft walls prior to a collapse. Some miners believed the Knocker to be a well-meaning forewarner of doom, while others blame the accident and disasters within the mines solely on him.
To keep in the Knocker’s good books, miners would often leave a corner of their tea-time pasties for the little chap.
Just to be safe.
The Legend of the Parson and the Clerk
The story goes that the Bishop of Exeter was ill, gravely ill.
One of his many “concerned” visitors was a parson with his eye on the title of Bishop, should the old man succumb. However, the Bishop was taking his time to meet his maker, which greater irked the already irascible parson.
One increasingly stormy night, the parson began the long journey back to his parish after visiting the ever-increasingly ailing bishop, while being guided by his clerk, both men found themselves lost. The parson entered into bad-tempered hysterics and cursed his clerk, who should have known the way, proclaiming he would prefer to be led by the Devil himself.
At that moment, the by now brawling pair were accosted by a horseman who offered to show them the way.
An offer they readily accepted.
The duo was taken to a beautiful mansion bustling with life and frivolity, where they were to spend the night before setting foot home again. The drinks flowed, and the men were merry when there came word that the bishop has finally passed away. The parson and clerk, alongside their guide, immediately got ready to leave to seek to take advantage of the newly vacant position.
The horses who were to drive their carriage, however, refused to move. The parson wrestled with them, becoming angrier and angrier as he did so until he screamed “Devil! Take these bloody brutes!”. In a flash, the guide grabbed the reins, thanked the parson for his instructions, and with lightning speed, drove the carriage over the cliff.
The devil turned the parson and the clerk to stone, where they face the sea for all of eternity, so why not pay them a visit when you are next near Teignmouth in Devon, and let us know about it in the comments section below.