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Globetrotter: Visit an old haunt for Halloween
Wistman’s Wood, the supposed hunting ground of the Devil’s Hounds and, according to folklore, ruled by a headless horse and horseman
THE train journey there and back was a necessary bookend – escaping from Oxford to Dartmoor for a weekend of spooky goings-on and real-life scares (as it turned out), made it all the more important we were comfortable. And take it from me, we were.
Travelling First Class is shockingly different to ‘Standard’, and comes with a shockingly hefty price tag to boot (those free teas and biscuits clearly cost a ransom...) but for those special occasions, it’s worth it.
Our particular assignment was to spend the weekend seeking out the darker side of Dartmoor, something that, being fans of anything spooky and supernatural, was right up our street.
And after spending the first two nights at the delightful Bedford Hotel in the old market town of Tavistock, we headed out onto the moors to continue our trip at the Two Bridges Hotel, about a mile outside of Princetown and in the heart of Dartmoor National Park.
Not surprisngly, the further onto Dartmoor our journey took us, the greater the sense of isolation became.
The national park is huge and the scenery is both stunning and bleak. In fact, the opening scenes of An American Werewolf in London sprang to mind as we passed field after rocky field of heather, our only company a taxi driver and several hundred Dartmoor sheep.
The Two Bridges Hotel is set within 60 acres of spectacular scenery and is an ideal destination for anyone looking for peace and solitude.
Formerly a coaching inn, the hotel has 32 rooms, huge log fires and cosy lounges.
On arrival we were shown to our room by the lovely Kim, who advised us – quite seriously – not to leave the hotel grounds after dark.
Whether or not this was to stop us from bumping into any of the sinister locals, like the Devil’s Hounds, supposedly kennelled in nearby Wistman’s Wood and controlled by a headless horse and horseman, we were not sure.
Nevertheless, before we could get too comfortable, it was pointed out to us that our room for the weekend had once been the home of a certain Mrs Trinman who was known to make her presence felt from time to time.
Haunted or not, our room oozed olde worlde country charm. We had a four-poster bed and a wonderful deep spa bath. Plus the view certainly had the wow factor.
Dartmoor has been used as a location for many films and television shows over the years, including several versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles (see picture below).
Looking out over the moors as darkness began to fall, it was not difficult to imagine a monstrous black hound, with huge red eyes and spectral glow, running across the open countryside, just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had done from his hotel window in Princetown more than a century before.
Our first evening we had dinner in the hotel’s award-winning Tors Restaurant and, I have to say, the cheeseboard of local Tavistock cheeses was especially welcome.
The next morning over breakfast we had another interesting chat, this time with Tess – one of the team of staff who stay overnight – and she, too, admitted there were areas of the hotel that gave some staff the heebie-jeebies.
After breakfast we ventured out to Princetown to visit the Dartmoor Prison Museum.
The prison was once category A prison (now a ‘C’), housing some of the country’s most hardened criminals. There have been several successful escapes over the years, the most notorious of them being Frank ‘The Mad Axeman’ Mitchell, who was ‘sprung’ by the Kray Twins while on a work detail out on the moors.
The Prison Museum gives visitors an insight into the history of the prison and the local area and also a glimpse of life inside the prison today.
Displays include uniforms, a punishment post and the stories of some famous inmates.
There were also examples of the handiwork of prisoners, some the darkly ingenious weapons improvised by inmates over the years and found during cell searches. Other examples are the sculptures, artwork and woodcraft made by inmates, some of which was available to buy in the shop. At £3 entry per adult, this was a very enjoyable way to spend the morning.
Walking back into Princetown later, the fog descended frighteningly fast. In fact, within five minutes we could hardly see six feet in front of us but managed to stumble across the now disused Church of St Michael and All Angels, today open to the public. It is the only church in England to have been built by prisoners of war.
Reassuringly, the weather lent the graveyard, with its old leaning gravestones, such an eerie atmosphere it would have been perfectly believable for a zombie to have popped up from behind one of the stones.
Sadly, nothing of the sort happened, so after lunch we returned to the hotel and our second destination.
Wistman’s Wood, is, according to legend, an ancient Druid shrine and the home of the Devil’s Hounds. After a couple of pints of Jail Ale, which is brewed on Dartmoor, we headed off across the moor in search of this mystical wood.
It is signposted but after a mile or so the trail became, on this occasion at least, harder to follow. Even the sheep were decidedly unhelpful, refusing to give us directions.
Being city folk, neither of us had expected to get quite so close to the local wildlife which roams freely across the fields.
Having watched the horror film Black Sheep probably didn’t help, but the sheep didn’t seem bothered by us one bit.
We got to the top of the hill and could see the oak wood about half-a-mile away.
Unfortunately we would also see the fog looming towards us and had to reluctantly make the decision to turn back while we could still see the way and drink one more ale.
But the Moor did have one surprise to deliver...
That night Mrs Trinman decided to visit our room.
The light next to the bed repeatedly turned itself on and off and one of the wardrobe doors opened all by itself on several occasions.
Was this the ale or the foible of an old building? Or was it Mrs Trinman? We knew what we believed.
Dartmoor is a beautiful place but if we were to visit again, we would definitely drive. The Two Bridges Hotel is stunning but isolated, while its sister hotel, The Bedford, is obviously more accessible and Tavistock makes a great base for exploring the area.
Oh, and one last thing – the staff at both hotels were extraordinary, with – hotel manager please note! – special thanks to Tess and Miranda, who took us to and from Princetown to save us the cost of taxis.
Our stay on Dartmoor was exactly what we wanted it to be, peaceful and quiet, but with just the right amount of spooky to give us some rather enjoyable heebie-jeebies...
Spooky fun for Halloween
- Shriek Week – Halloween Special at The Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre at Lifton near Dartmoor. Come and ride the Ghost Train and enjoy live performers, magic, illusion and circus skills. Join in all the Halloween fun of the vintage fair. Visit www.fairground-heritage.org.uk
- Spooky Spectacular in the Tamar Valley on Halloween – The Tamar Valley will be transformed into a coven of witches, wizards and monsters with a Spooky Spectacular on Wednesday. Children and adults taking part will be wearing their scariest outfits and enjoying an evening of fun including apple bobbing, pumpkin carving, creepy crafts, witches brews and spooky snacks. As dusk arrives, a trick or treat walk will take place in the nearby woods. Everyone taking part is encouraged to bring a torch as they search for treats and hunt for pumpkins in the woodland. The fun takes place between 3pm and 5pm and costs £5 per child. Grown-ups and dogs are welcome, too. Parking is at the Tamar Trails car park at the head of the Tamar Trails (off the A390 between Gunnislake and Tavistock, PL19 8JE) and costs £2 for the day per car. To book, call 07985 926001 / 01752 424830 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Halloween Haunted Ghost Walk in nearby Plymouth on Wednesday at 7.30pm. Haunted Plymouth will take you on a journey to discover why this ancient port has such a wide array of supernatural phenomena. Adults, £5; children under 15, £3; children under three go free. Starts outside the Tourist Information Centre, the Barbican Plymouth. www.visitplymouth.co.uk
Ruth and Nigel Webb stayed at the Bedford hotel in Tavistock (just a few minutes from the heart of Dartmoor) and the Two Bridges Hotel (smack in the heart of the national park).
Call the Bedford Hotel, Plymouth Road, Tavistock, on 01822 613221 or visit www.bedford-hotel.co.uk
Call the Two Bridges Hotel, Dartmoor, Princetown, Yelverton, on 01822 890581 or visit www.twobridges.co.uk
For further information about Dartmoor, visit www.dartmoor.co.uk
Nigel and Ruth travelled courtesy of First Great Western. Visit www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk