Don’t be fooled by their rather airy, faerie, wistful name – The Wisht Hounds of Dartmoor are hellish beasts; huge and slathering with fiendish appetites – especially for unbaptised babies.
Their nefarious reputation is vastly more menacing than being trapped on the Moor stifled by the infamous fog – without map or compass and no hope in hell of finding your way out. A terrifying prospect but avoidable if you go out equipped. The only thing that might save you from the ‘Wisht Hounds’ is wearing one of these.
‘The Wisht Hounds’ are the Devil’s own dogs.
I can’t claim to have ever seen them – thank god – but I’m in no doubt about their existence – it’s more a feeling. I’ve been around Wistman’s Wood their reputed lair – when the day is drawing to a close – and they’re palpable.
As you step up your pace to get off the Moor by nightfall – there’s a feeling that they are not far behind; baying and drooling for your blood. They are a cross between ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and your worst nightmare – only neither of those are real.
Yesterday – Wednesday 28th. December 2016 – I encountered a hunting dog with a less formidable pedigree – unless you’re a fox or a rabbit! It wasn’t on Dartmoor either – but right outside my garage – when I returned home from work at the end of the day.
He’d lost scent of the others in his pack – and was astray and noticeably confused. On first impression, he was nervous and unwilling to come close but after coaxing – I’m thrilled he came to heel. I remember smoothing his bracken-coloured coat that had patches of black and white intermingled – and of wanting to pick-up one of his muddy fore-paws to greet him. They were broad and spread-out between the toes – and I loved his lolloping action as he came to me. He was a strong, handsome breed of dog – a Foxhound. His eyes were beautiful – almond-shaped and amber in colour – and he had an unexpected gentleness about him that I fell for. I also loved that he had that sweet ‘whiff of horse’ about him – that brought back thoughts of Jessie. I’d quite liked to have kept him just for that!
I was so taken by the foxhound’s gentle demeanour that had there been time – I would have invited him in for some cat food – to help him on his way. Alas – no sooner had I got to ‘know’ my new friend – he’d pricked-up his ears to a-calling in the distance. To me – it sounded like someone just calling a pet dog or a cat in for teatime – not his Whipper-in calling him home to the Master. Surely – he’d have sounded the horn to bring any strays to heel? That late in the day – I’d seen no sign of huntsman – or horses – when I’d driven home – I think they had gone home – to earth. Really it was for the best that he ran off – because Dobby would have attacked him and vice versa; all hell would have broken loose in my kitchen and I’d have been the cause of it. Foxhounds are not really suitable as pets.
Just as I clicked the camera shutter – he took off with-out so much as a backward glance. In that moment – I managed to snap one shot to remember him by – as I’ll never get to pat him again. I love how my camera has caught his sudden movement as he turned without saying goodbye. If it wasn’t for this one fuzzy ‘memory’ of our meeting – I’d think I had imagined him.
Ever since seeing the film version of ‘The Ballad of The Belstone Fox’ at the cinema in 1973 – I’ve been ‘waiting’ – unwittingly wishing – for yesterday – when one of it’s stars – the foxhound – ‘Merlin’ would come lolloping out of the screen – to me. It was magical.
I hope ‘Merlin’ – or ‘The Wish Hound’ as I’ll remember him by – made it safely home to his kennels before nightfall; where he belongs.
Dartmoor has fired the imagination of many writers down the ages – including Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – and David Rook’s – ‘The Ballad of the Belstone Fox’.
And then there are the old stories that are not ‘mere’ works of fiction.