The Real Lorna Doone
One of Chagford's most famous legends was that of Mary Whiddon.The town's historic St Michael's Church contains a fascinating memorial to Mary Whiddon dated 11th October 1641. Her violent death is believed to be one of the inspirations behind R.D. Blackmore’s world-famous novel Lorna Doone. Mary, the legend claims, was shot dead by a jealous suitor on her wedding day as she came out of the church. Lorna Doone includes such a shooting, (although the heroine in his story survives).
The memorial reads:
Here lieth Mary the daughter of Oliver Whyddon Esquire who died the 11th day of October Anodm 1641
Reader wouldst know who here is laid
Behold a Matron yet a maid
A modest look a pious heart
A mary for the better part
But drie thine eyes why wilt thou weep
Such damsels doe not die but sleepe
St Michael's Church is well worth a visit and there are beautiful views across Dartmoor from the churchyard.
The Ghost of Lady Howard
Once the largest castle in Devon, the ruins of Okehampton Castle are located in an exceptionally picturesque setting with riverside and woodland walks nearby. Originally built as a traditional motte and bailey structure, it was converted into a splendid home in the 14th century by the Earl of Devon.
Unfortunately the Earl, Hugh Courtenay fell out with Henry VIII in 1538 and the property eventually fell into ruins. It is believed that the ghost of Lady Howard haunts the castle and legend says that every night she travels from Okehampton to Tavistock in the form of a black dog. You can soak up the atmosphere of historic Dartmoor at Okehampton Castle and there’s an audio tour with stories of wonderfully ghostly happenings!
Address: Castle Lodge, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 1 JA
To the north of Chagford,near the village of Drewsteignton, there is a field with an unusual structure consisting of a large stone slab or capstone supported by three upright stones. This is Spinster's Rock, the best surviving example in Devon of a Neolithic dolmen or burial chamber. The Rock’s name comes from the legend that three spinsters (meaning spinners not unmarried women)decided to have a go at erecting some large stones in an upright position.William Crossing in his iconic Guide to Dartmoor suggestshow the name Spinsters’ Rock may be derived from Celtic words meaning stargazing place, a credible explanation for many prominent Dartmoor features or landmarks.
The Faithless Wives of Chagford
In this well documented legend ‘faithless wives’ of Chagford were made to trek across the moor for several miles to the west to Cranmere Pool (where they would wash their hair), before arriving at the stone circle known as Grey Wethers situated just beyond Fernworthy Reservoir. Here they prayed for forgiveness, if the standing stone stayed erect they were forgiven, if it fell they must face the consequences.
The Chagford Cavalier
In 1643 during the Civil War, a body of Parliamentary forces was billeted in Chagford. A Cavalier Force commanded by 33-year-old Sydney Godolphin, son of Sir William Godolphin, surprised them on the morning of 8th February, on entering Chagford and during the skirmish that followed, centered around the large stone porch of what is now the Three Crowns, Godolphin was shot with a musket and died of his wounds on the cold granite floor of the porch. The ghost of tragic Sydney Godolphin is said to haunt the historic Three Crowns Hotel in full Cavalier uniform. Chagford was a noted Cavalier town whilst nearby Moretonhampstead supported the Roundheads! The famous Three Crowns with its solid granite walls, fireplaces, mullioned windows and oak beams, now a stylish and inviting place, is well worth a visit.
Other Dartmoor Legends:
Bowerman the Hunter
Bowerman’s Nose situated approximately 6 miles to the south of Chagford is a prominent granite stack. Legend tells how Bowerman, a hunter pursuing a hare, rode his hounds through a coven of witches who became very angry that they had been disturbed. When next hunting, one of the witches turned herself into a hare and led Bowerman all across Dartmoor until he was exhausted. The witches then turned Bowerman to stone and his hounds became the rocks at Hound Tor. It is believed that the locals became so angry that they drove the witches out of Devon forever.
At Hunters Tor above Lustleigh Cleave, some 6 miles south east of Chagford is the ruins of a Roman hill fort. During a full moon Roman legionnaires have beenreportedly seen patrolling the ruins of their fort. Some sources report tales of a ghostly Tudor hunting party being spotted in this area too.
More information about Dartmoor Legends can be found at:
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