Tales from Hexworthy and Huccaby on Dartmoor

Torbay Weekly

Recently, I was asked if I knew of any spooky goings on at The Forest Inn at Hexworthy, up on the moors.

Unfortunately, this time, I was unable to help with the inquiry but I do know of a couple of interesting tales connected to the surrounding area that are worth sharing...

Just around the bend from the inn can be found a lovely little cottage that goes by the name of Jolly Lane Cottage and is famous for being the last of its kind.

Back in the days of rich landowners and poor tenants, there was an unwritten law that suggested if a tenant was able to put a structure together with four walls and a roof, in a day, and have a fire going in a hearth by sundown, then that tenant was able to lay a claim of ownership to the plot of land on which it stood.

That is exactly what the couple who farmed the land where the cottage now stands did.

One day, when their landlord was away on business, they gathered all their friends and neighbouring tenants together, having secretly informed them of their plans beforehand, and between them they constructed a suitable habitation for the couple.

By the time the sun started to sink, there was a roaring fire in the hearth, and a veritable feast was being cooked to thank all those that had helped them build their new home.

Later that evening, their landlord returned to be faced with this fait accompli.

He knew the law wasn’t legally binding but in order to keep faith with his tenants, he felt obliged to adhere to this old tradition. However, he wasn’t happy!

Allowing the couple ownership of their new home and the plot of land on which it stood, he paid a visit to the local magistrates, demanding that this practice be outlawed.

He wanted himself and other landlords to be protected so that they couldn’t have land 'stolen' from them in this way in future.

Sadly, once again, money got its way, and a law was passed making it illegal to build and own your own home in a day!

So Jolly Lane Cottage still stands as a memorial to those old ways, lived in, over the years, by generations of the couple's family who originally built it, and still lived in today, albeit in a more modern version.

Next to Hexworthy lies the little hamlet of Huccaby, which was once home to a young lady who features in an interesting tale about the mischievous pixies that frequent that part of the moor.

She was the girlfriend of a young farmhand, by the name of Thomas White, who lived and worked on a farm to the north of Huccaby at Postbridge.

In between them lay the majestic heights of Bellever Tor, and Tom would pass by the tor every evening after work, on his way to meet his true love.

One night, Tom was later than usual leaving her house to return to his. It's not recorded why he stayed late, far be it for me to speculate here, but he had work early the next morning, which is why he couldn’t stay over.

By the time he reached Bellever it was quite dark. As he picked his way through the heavy clitter, he started to hear the sound of voices mixed with laughter and music, as though there was a party going on among the rocks on the tor.

Being a curious fellow, he couldn’t resist finding out just what was going on, so he climbed higher up to get a closer look.

As he peeked between two large boulders, he couldn’t believe his eyes, for there on the grassy plateau in front of him there was indeed a party in full swing, attended by hoards of pixies!

Not wanting to disturb them, he started to back away, but as he did so he dislodged a stone, sending it skittering across the clitter.

Alerted to the fact they had been seen, the pixies went in search of who was spying on them, finding poor, scared Tom cowering behind a rock.

Realising he was no threat, the tallest among them took him by the hands and drew him into their circle, encouraging him to join in their revelries, and boy did those guys know how to party!

Once the pixie band started playing their music again, they didn’t let up until dawn, forcing poor Tom to dance with them the whole time.

Dancing jig after jig, whirling him around in a circle, getting faster and faster, making him quite dizzy and faint.

Eventually, as the sun started to come up, the music stopped, and all the wee folk scurried away to their homes beneath the tor, leaving Tom lying exhausted on the grass.

The lad was shattered, and soon fell fast asleep, only waking up when the sun was high in the sky.

Having no idea what the time now was, he ran back home to the farm, where he received a right ear bashing from the farmer for missing nearly half a day's work!

Taking his punishment like a man, he felt foolish telling anyone what had happened, doubting they would believe him anyway.

He vowed never to cross that part of the moor again, even though that meant never seeing his girlfriend again.

The poor girl never did find out the truth behind why Tom had dumped her, the last thing she would have suspected was that it was because of those pesky Dartmoor pixies.