Storyteller: The Pixie Cave of Sheepstor

Torbay Weekly

On a recent rainy and foggy Sunday afternoon, I took two friends of mine on an adventure over the moors, primarily so we could record more of my stories for broadcast on Riviera FM.

My good friend, David Hammond, hosts the Thursday morning slot, and since last year he has run a segment called South Devon Folklore, featuring my renditions of Dartmoor tales and my own spooky experiences.

We were in desperate need of new material for the following week's programme, so we had to go up, whatever the weather.

Why not record at home in the dry, you might well ask? Well, it’s my belief that tales should be told at the location where they take place, this is the philosophy behind both my Moors & More Tours business and the book I’m currently collaborating on with my friend Helen, it helps add atmosphere to the recording, especially in bad weather!

One of the aims of this visit, was to show my friends the Pixie Cave that is marked as being among the rocks of Sheepstor on the Ordinance Survey map of the area.

Even armed with this information, it’s still difficult to find, as it involves clambering over rocks until you find the tiny opening that you have to crawl through to gain access.

My first few attempts to find it on my own proved fruitless, so I had to rely on someone in the know to show me before I eventually got inside.

As it is a tricky climb over boulders, I felt any attempt to access it in rainy conditions would make things a bit slippery, so we had to be content with making our recordings from the safety of the car, while watching the tor itself flit in and out of view as the fog ebbed and flowed... very atmospheric!

Pixie Cave is said to be the home of the pixies, in that particular area, and, as I said, to access it, you have to literally crawl in on your stomach, or on your back in my case, but, once inside, you can stand up, to about a height of 6ft, and have a good nosy around, as it is a sizable space full of nooks and crannies, even with a big flat rock, perfect for sitting or lying on!

Through another small opening you can access a secondary chamber, quaintly dubbed Pixie Paul’s Cave, but I haven’t been brave enough to explore that section up to now.

On my first visit, there was a porcelain pixie figurine perched in a little alcove with a tea light, sadly it was gone the next time I crawled in!

It also contains a couple of letterboxes with rubber stamps and visitors’ books, so you can sign them, and leave comments, to mark the occasion.

As with all legendary areas of Dartmoor, it comes with its fair share of mythology.

It is said that it is customary to leave an offering for the pixie folk, when you visit their domain, this can take the form of pins, or small scraps of rags, so they can make garments for themselves, even coins are acceptable!

However, failure to show respect in this way can result in the visitor returning home to find they have been pinched black and blue as punishment!

On occasions, the sounds of a baby crying can be heard emanating from within the cave.

This is as a result of the pixies substituting the infant for one of their own.

The human baby is brought up there by the pixies, while the pixie baby thrives with its new human parents.

So, beware if you have a newborn, and you live somewhere pixies are said to reside...

Our subject has also been named Elford’s Cave, for it was here that one, John Elford, once hid after the Civil War, to escape the clutches of Oliver Cromwell’s men.

Elford owned Longstone Manor, a sizable house with land, just outside the village of Sheepstor, ruins of which can still be seen on the edge of, what is now, Burrator Reservoir.

Sadly, much of the land and other antiquities were lost when the valley was flooded to form it, some can still be seen during times of drought in a hot summer.

Elford had supported the King during the war, and when Charles I was beheaded, he still remained an outspoken opponent of Oliver Cromwell.

Hearing word of his continuing dissent, Cromwell sent soldiers to deal with him.

Having been tipped off regarding his impending fate, Elford fled his home, and sought sanctuary in the cave among the rocks on Sheepstor.

Here he stayed, being fed and watered by the goodly residents of the village, who risked everything keeping him safe under the noses of the soldiers, maybe the pixies helped too!

Once word reached Elford that Cromwell’s men had finally given up their search and left the area, he came out of hiding, and was forever grateful to all his helpers, both big and small, for keeping him safe during his ordeal.

As I said, my first attempt to find the cave was unsuccessful, but I still went armed with suitable offerings.

Not wanting to deprive the wee folk of my gift, I selected an outcrop of rocks just below the tor, which comprised a small cave that I deemed worthy of a pixie home, and secreted my pins and my pennies inside.

I went home content, and thought nothing more of my good deed.

That following week two things happened, firstly, I received a sizable monetary reward from a bank for spotting, and taking out of circulation, a fraudulent credit card, while working at the Festival Theatre, and secondly, my partner and I attended the charity midnight matinee there, put on by all the acts performing in Torbay for the summer season.

I entered the raffle draw and won Sunday lunch for two at the Imperial Hotel, no less!

I’ve always regarded these veritable strokes of luck as a thank you from the pixies, in return for my generosity...

After we finished our recording, during that recent visit, we went to explore the remains of Longstone Manor by the reservoir.

The journey there, through puddles and flooded lanes was atrocious, but the views of the rivers in full flow was spectacular!

Having seen our fill of John Elford’s old home, we returned to the car to find it wouldn’t start.

In fact, we needed the help of the AA to get us safely home again... I feel this was punishment by the pixies for not respecting them during our recording session, so please, make sure you always leave an offering whenever you go near the Pixie Cave!

Finally, as readers will know, I hold regular meetings for anyone wishing to hear my stories, or share their own, face to face. I’m currently planning to take these meetings on the road, so to speak.

If anyone owns, or knows of a suitable venue in the area that might be interested in hosting such meetings/talks, then please get in touch. I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities to share my stories, gain inspiration for more tales and articles, and even new places to investigate!