The Tors and heathland of Dartmoor is a landscape that breeds legends. Legends, myths, mysteries and ghosts.
The guidebooks tell you not to go out onto the moors when the weather is foul. When the fog descends, as it often does, and when the misty rain falls on the gorse, and on the matted shag of the unshorn sheep that graze the Tors, shapes can appear to move where rock piles sit. In the sunlight, the Tors are rocky pointed hills. In the fog, they are feral wolves and wild beasts.
This is the world at Hound Tor. The rocks, from nearly any angle, can resemble the most hellish shapes. It is little wonder that Arthur Conan Doyle found his dark inspiration here for The Hound of the Baskervilles.
But it’s not these rocks and shifting shapes that is the story I will tell you.
No, this is a brief narrative of a lonely place beside the road. A tale told a thousand times, in a thousand places about thousands of men and the unfortunate women who believe false promises in exchange for their virtue.
Mary Gray was born somewhere in Devonshire in the late 18th century. She was born into poverty and, because of the status of women in those days, she was destined to die in poverty. (This is still true today–some things never change.) She was sent, as a young teenager to work as a domestic on one of the farms near Hound Tor. She washed the floors and cooked the food for the farmer, his wife and son. She also was pretty enough to catch the lustful eye of the son. They met–behind the stone barn, behind the hedges and in the woods. One place they did not meet was in the open sunlight sky and where others could see affection.
Mary gradually lost her real given name and became known as Kitty. Perhaps a snide reference to “loose morals”. The son promised her an honest life–if she would give herself to him when he felt the urge.
She gave herself to him. He lied to her.
She became pregnant and the farmer, fearing the shame, had her put out. The son turned his back on her. He had gotten what he wanted from her. Kitty was labelled a slut.
Knowing she could never find work in the region again–not as a ‘soiled dove’, she made a decision. A final decision. A terrible decision.
Kitty Gray hanged herself. Her child died soon after.
The local deacons of the church refused to bury her in consecrated ground. She was Eve. She tempted the farmer’s son. She sinned with gravity.
She was buried, at night, in the fog, at the cross-roads.
There she lay, in a lonely and forgotten grave by a lonely forgotten lane.
Decades later, a couple of farm workers were digging in the area. A small white object–thin–then another. A doctor was called and identified the remains as that of a young woman and child. The old folks of the tiny village recalled the story of Kitty Gray. A man, an honest man with a kind heart had her bones placed in a box and reburied in her grave. This time with a small stone to mark Kitty’s last rest.
Stories soon began to be told about strange occurrences at the grave site. Fresh flowers were always seen near the headstone, but no one ever saw anyone put them there.
And, at night, some say they have glimpsed a hooded figure bent over the grave–as if in prayer.
Who places the flowers? Who is the hooded figure? Some say it’s the spirit of the farmer’s son who is cursed to keep vigil over the woman he betrayed. Or, is it Kitty, praying for her own soul and the soul of her unbaptized child?
If you were at the grave site six days ago, you would have seen someone place a wildflower on the stone.
It was me.
I looked around. I saw Hound Tor behind me. The moors around me. A light mist began to fall–but blue patches of sky peeked through the cloud cover.
It didn’t take much of an imagination to picture the grave on a day of lead-colored skies, soaking rain, chilling winds and fog.
Or, when the full moon lit the nearby fields with the magic and mysterious light that only the Goddess Luna can provide and a breeze rustles through the gorse and hedges, anyone who holds their breath, will surely hear the soft cry of a young woman named Kitty.