Dartmoor, the first national park in Britain, was formed in 1951. It’s a large open area famed for its moor, the bogs and stone tors, and wild ponies. Around 33,000 people live within the park and many others visit to experience the wilderness.
Man has farmed, mined the stone, lived and visited the Dartmoor region for at least the last 12,000 years as evidenced by stone circles, ancient bridges and other monuments.
Since the area has been inhabited for so long there are hundreds of tales involving ghosts, both evil and benevolent. Piskies or pixies, fairies, witches and wizards also live in Dartmoor, so it’s not good to travel through the moors after dark—not if you value your life.
During more recent years, tales of the beast of Dartmoor—a big black cat—have become common. There have been numerous sightings of big cats, but so far no one has definitive proof of one residing in the park.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his Hounds of the Baskervilles in Dartmoor, and it’s said he was inspired by ghostly tales of black dogs haunting the moors. Here’s one of the many ghostly tales of large black dogs.
A stagecoach with two female passengers was traveling from Tavistock, which is the largest town in the area. All of a sudden, the driver started whipping his horses, and when the passengers called up to him to slow, he pointed at the large black dog galloping alongside the coach. It was the ghostly black dog.
When I was deciding where to set Mistress of Merrivale, I wanted a place that was wild and potentially dangerous. The bogs and the isolated parts of the moor fit my story needs nicely. I added in a mention of ghosts and set a murderer loose. Understandably the locals become very nervous and start to glance over their shoulders and cast blame.
I chose Merrivale for my setting within Dartmoor, but my village is different from the real one since I took liberties and made it much larger. I added shops and made the church bigger. I also added to the population for the purposes of my story. In truth, the real Merrivale has an inn, a few houses, a chapel and a nearby mine, and thank goodness, they don’t harbor a murderer!
Would you be willing to walk alone at night in Dartmoor National Park? Why or why not?