I’ve heard of Dartmoor as the setting for the Hound of the Baskervilles. I was pretty excited to go there. Even as we were driving in I was having a pretty good feeling. But this is the story of why I won’t be going back by choice any time soon.
As we approached some of the towns in Dartmoor, it became clear that this was not just a cutesy touristy area of natural beauty. The first landmark we come upon was a huge, imposing prison looking out over the moor. This place is dark. It’s actually still a high security prison that has a reputation for being inescapable. But in fact, there was an escape: The Mad Axeman. This man was never recaptured. Great.
Next, we pulled up to our B & B, a really, really old farmhouse. The first thing the host said to us was, “Welcome.” The second thing she said to us was, “You better lock your car doors.” It was the moment in those horror movies when you get your first warning, but don’t think much of it.
Then we walked around for a little while, went to a 600 year old pub, had a nice dinner. It was June 21st, so really close to the longest day of the year and it was pretty nice out. So around 10 o’clock, there wasn’t really anything else to do so Andrew and I decided to go on a walk. We headed down the lane to this other little farm and we saw a sweet little foal and goo-goo-gaga-ed at it for a while. It seemed sudden, but the darkness crept upon us. I was overcome with thoughts of What was that? What was that?! It could be the Mad Axeman. I could tell Andrew was creeped out as well. We began to walk faster back toward the farmhouse. Then one of us, I’m not sure which one, says “I’m actually really scared of who we might meet on this road.” We’ve been warned to lock our car about three seconds after arrival, and this is a town of like 20 people, so you know that our host has inside knowledge of people that go around stealing from cars, perhaps even one of her relatives, and we feel an urgent need to get inside.
A few hours later, we were trying to sleep, and I kept hearing someone in the bathtub sploshing around. Now lets backup. We have a shared bathroom at this place and when we arrived, the host said that there is this guy “Chris” who is going to be staying here with us, but he won’t bother us. So again, this is weird. I hear the sploshing and Andrew says, “Maybe it’s Chris.” I fall back asleep and wake up a few hours later and I can hear the sploshing again. All I can think of is that I can’t go to the bathroom because Chris is still in the bathtub. In the morning I go into the bathroom and I look in the bathtub to look for evidence of water droplets. Nothing.
Something strange was afoot there. When we drove away I had one of those overwhelming senses of relief, just like I get every time a plane lands.
I’m not going back to Dartmoor unless I can guarantee an encounter with Benedict Cumberbatch, but I fully support anyone who loves this unique part of the world.
p.s. Update: The Mad Axeman was murdered by these guys.
p.p.s. The people of the unmentioned town we stayed in were actually lovely and helpful. This was my own experience of Dartmoor as seen in 24 hours. Although experiencing a rise in wealth, Dartmoor has been a rural area of economic hardship, its main economy being tourism and agriculture. Nobody we ran into there was scary, but like in many very isolated communities that thrive on tourism, there was a general insider vs. outsider vibe that comes with the territory.