In this run up to Halloween, I thought it was time to share with you some of the spookier stories and experiences I’ve gathered over the years, and what better tale to start with than the tragic legend of Kitty Jay and her much-visited grave.
For there is more to this story than meets the eye and not all of it features in the guide books.
There are many variations to the history and identity of the occupant of the grave mound at the crossroads you pass as you drive from Hound Tor towards Heatree Cross, near Manaton, or even if a body still lies there at all.
Details have been embellished over the years, but this is the version I like to share with people that I take to visit the spot.
Kitty Jay was an orphan girl who spent her early years in the poor houses of Newton Abbot, until she was given employment by the owner of Canna Farm, which lies further up the lane from the grave in the shadow of Easdon Tor.
She was put to work around the farm and given accommodation in one of the barns. She was a pretty little thing, and it wasn’t long before she came to the attention of the farmer’s son and they struck up a relationship, as a result of which she became pregnant.
Back in those days it was a cardinal sin to be with child out of wedlock, and, as the father rejected her along with the rest of his family, having no-one else to turn to for help, she felt the only way out of her predicament was to take her own life.
For poor Jay this was sadly a case of out of the frying pan into the fire - as she had committed another cardinal sin! Suicides, back then, were not allowed Christian burial.
Instead, their bodies were buried at remote crossroads outside of the community where they had lived, sometimes with a stake through the heart, adding insult to injury, the idea being that the deceased’s spirit would be disorientated and unable to come back and haunt the living.
As you will see, if you visit the site today, the crossroads is formed by the footpath crossing the main road.
For years after the burial, the lonely spot became a place the locals avoided at night for it was said to be haunted.
The landowner, hearing this superstitious nonsense, decided to put an end to the rumours by digging up the crossroads, and, to his surprise, he uncovered the remains of a young girl with child.
Finally, doing the right thing by Kitty Jay, he had the body reburied at the spot with proper ceremony, constructing the grassy mound and headstone that we see today.
Over the years, many legends have grown up concerning the grave, the most famous one being the fact that fresh flowers are to be found on it everyday.
Supposedly, each night at midnight, a mist shrouds the headstone and, when it lifts, a new display of flowers has appeared.
I’ve visited the site many, many times during my explorations, both day and night, but I’ve never witnessed this happening.
Oh, yes, there are always new offerings of flowers and plants present. I’ve taken it upon myself to photograph them every time I’m passing, along with piles of coins on the headstone for good luck.
A writer friend of mine once 'borrowed' some of said coins to buy a pint at the pub after our walk led us passed the grave, in return he gave Kitty Jay an acknowledgement in his next publication!
There was even a spate of cuddly toys being left, always dogs and bears, which, coincidentally, happen to be the familiars of the goddess Hecate, guardian of crossroads and the dead, revered by pagans and cunning folk... so has witchcraft got a hand in what goes on at the gravesite?
While at the grave, I’ve met several local people who have taken it upon themselves to tend to it, removing dead flowers and inappropriate objects, while leaving their own offerings, as do many other people as they visit.
But my friend and I have a theory that it is the owners of nearby Natsworthy Manor who have been tasked with paying their respects daily at the grave, for it would have been their ancestors, as lords of the manor, all those years ago, who would have ordered Kitty Jay’s burial at that site.
As you can see, the tales surrounding this spot are quite special to me, so much so that when I was asked to contribute to the BBC’s Video Nation online project, I included them in the film I made about the myths and legends of Dartmoor.
As usual I did too much, they only wanted about five minutes worth... I did a couple of hours!
The segment they eventually chose to add to their website was on Kitty Jay, and it certainly resonated with their audience, for the online message board attached to the piece soon started to fill up with viewer’s comments and personal stories.
Over the years, our Monday night TIP meetings have been visited by many wishing to share their own personal weird stories, several of them concerning Jay’s Grave.
One such visitor was a psychic artist, who went on to become a good friend to the group.
She told us about the time she was asked to take part in a TV programme, where she and a local medium were taken to the cottage down the lane from the grave, nearer to Hound Tor, to see if they could pick up any connection to Kitty Jay.
During the course of the filming, our new friend produced two drawings, one was of an old woman, a bit hag-like in appearance, the other was of a priest wearing an old-fashioned dog collar complete with hanging tags. Now, unbeknownst to the group, two of our newest members had gotten together to spend time at Hound Tor as it was one of their favourite places to go to meditate.
One of them had never been to the grave, so to put that right they had paid a visit and while there they both received a psychic vision of a young girl being held, by her wrist, in place by an old hag.
Trying to rescue the girl, they both meditated, sending her into the light, and felt they had been successful, only to have another blinding vision, as they drove home, of Kitty Jay still tethered to her grave!
They both couldn’t wait to come to the next meeting to share their experience.
Now, imagine their reaction when our psychic artist friend produced her two drawings at the same meeting and the girls recognised the old woman as the hag they had both seen in their visions... they freaked out!
The best piece of evidence I received regarding this particular haunting at Jay’s Grave came via a message on the Video Nation website.
It was from a girl who had been invited to stake out the site from the safety of her friend’s car. They had parked up on the bank overlooking the grave with headlights focused on it.
While they watched, two figures approached and knelt down by the headstone, as if in prayer.
Once done, they stood up and began walking back down the lane, the way they had come, in the direction of the cottage.
The two friends decided to drive after them, shining the headlights on the couple the whole way. The lights didn’t seem to bother them, instead they just faded away to nothing.
The girl went on to describe the figures as an old woman and a priest with an old-fashioned dog collar. Needless to say, they too had freaked out!
On a lighter note, as I drove passed the grave in the dark the other evening, I encountered a herd of cows munching grass and ambling down the lane in front of me.
As I drew level to the headstone, I noticed one of them was chewing on one of Jay’s flowers!
I put my head out the window and shouted: “That’s a bit naughty, isn’t it?”
The cow dropped the stalk in shock and proceeded to join its mates in ambling down the lane, further blocking my path, until they chose to let me pass. Never upset a cow!
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