This great mass of rock looming above the river Plym, on the south-west edge of Dartmoor, is linked with the Devil. According to a contributor to Notes and Queries in 1850, ‘During a deep snow, the traces of a naked human foot and of a cloven hoof were found ascending to the highest point,’ though the writer unfortunately does not make clear whether he is referring to something recently seen, or to mere tradition. He adds, ‘The valley below is haunted by a headless black dog.’
But there was more than one spectral dog in the valley, according to Murray’s Handbook for …Devon in 1879; this, after mentioning the footprints, continues:
… and on stormy nights the peasant has heard the ‘whish-hounds’ sweeping through the rocky valley with cry of dogs, and ‘hoofs thick-beating on the hollow hill’. Their unearthly ‘master’ has been sometimes visible – a tall, swart figure with a hunting-pole.
The ‘whish-hounds’ or Wisht Hounds are the Dartmoor version of the Wild Hunt (see PETERBOROUGH, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough), the ‘tall, swart figure’ probably the Devil. Slaugh Bridge was said to be one of his favourite haunts; from there he would lure travellers to the Dewerstone and then drive them over the edge, so that they fell to their deaths.
Some other mid nineteenth-century accounts call the demon huntsman of Dartmoor ‘Dewer’; hence, they say, the name of the rock (though the reverse is far likelier to be true). He hunts the souls of babies who die unbaptized. A man riding home one night across Hamel Down, north of Widecombe, was startled by the sound of a hunting horn and the belling of a pack of coal-black hounds with fiery eyes which swept past him, followed by the huntsman. The man recklessly called out, ‘What sport, Mister? Give us some of your game!’ Laughing, the huntsman threw him a bag, telling him to keep it. When he reached home he unwrapped the bundle and found inside it the dead body of his own child.