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10 Dark Myths and Legends Around Plymouth

10 Dark Myths and Legends Around Plymouth


Plymouth is a city with a depth of background to which only historical documents can do justice. Suitably perhaps, local folk tales are fully enshrined in the rich history of the area. In this article we count down the 10 darkest myths and legends of Plymouth.


Smugglers’ Tunnels

One legend that that has spread through each Janner generation described various hidden tunnels underneath Plymouth. Some claim there is even a long-forgotten tunnel connecting Plymouth Hoe to Drake’s Island.

The most romantic myth describes a series of smugglers’ tunnels running underneath the Barbican. They say that in the 18th century, a Plymothian criminal gang kidnapped drunks in the middle of the night and took them onto ships through the smugglers’ tunnels. In fact, we now know that the “pressgang” or “impressment” was a tactic in reasonably common usage by The Royal Navy (and indeed many other nations too) during the Napoleonic Wars. They usually targeted sailors but some gangs were not beyond sweeping off drunks too.

The biggest legend describes a huge network of tunnels linking together underneath Plymouth. Supposedly long forgotten, we may never know if it exists, but some forgotten tunnels have already been found by urban explorers. Which may be a good sign.

Drake’s Drum

Drake’s Drum is the drum that Sir Francis Drake took sailing with him when he circumnavigated the globe. It soon became an icon for England as Drake became a nationwide hero. When Francis Drake was dying, he ordered that the drum be taken to Buckland Abbey, near Yelverton. It is said that he will return to England when the drum is beaten. But the drum must only be beaten when England is in danger. Local legend says that when war is declared on England, the beat of his drum can be heard in settlements across Devon.

The Demon of Dartmoor

A long standing legend describes a huge black four-legged monster that lives on Dartmoor. Ask anyone in Plymouth about the Demon of Dartmoor and they will have a story. Usually that their uncle once saw something that looked like a big monster pig while they were driving near Tavistock. To most of us it is just a myth, but many local farmers fear it will attack their sheep.

The legend goes back as far as the 17th century. It goes that the squire Richard Cabell sold his soul to the Devil. When Cabell died in 1977, a pack of demonic dogs were released into the moor to claim his soul and drag it to Hell. Some still believe they are on the moor, waiting for their next call.

The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor

The hairy hands of Dartmoor is another legend that everyone in Devon seems to know about. The legend is set in an area of Dartmoor called Postbridge. Since the early 20th century many drivers have reported mysterious motor accidents on the road passing through Postbridge. On August 26th 1921, a captain in the army reported that a pair of hairy hands had appeared from nowhere and grabbed his steering wheel. He claimed it forced him to steer his vehicle off the road.

In 1924, a married couple reported that a ghostly pair of hairy hands attempted to enter the caravan they were staying in. Reports of the hairy hands were published in newspapers across the nation, making it one of Britain’s biggest legends.

One of the origin stories of the hairy hands claims them to belong to a man who died in a car accident on that road. They say his deranged spirit attacks anyone who drives along the road on a misty night. So I must now warn you, do not ever drive through Postbridge on a misty night.


A number of very old Plymothian myths and legends come from the old mines of Devonshire. The best of those legends describe ‘knockers’. A knocker is a small goblin who lives in a mine. Some of them are kind to humans, guiding them to the best areas to mine, or warning them about danger in the tunnels ahead. They would thump their feet on the ground to lead you the way. But some would steal food or mining equipment. Legend even describes the best way to gain the favour of a knocker: just leave a pasty on the mine floor and they would love you.

Kitty Jay’s Grave

Kitty Jay’s Grave is a famous landmark in Dartmoor. It is said to be the grave of a woman named Ann Jay. “The remains of Ann Jay, a woman who hanged herself some three generations since in a barn at a place called Forder, and was buried at Four Cross Lane, according to the custom of that enlightened age.” wrote the North Devon Journal in 1851. The strange thing is that to this day, there are always some fresh flowers placed on the grave. None of the locals admit to being the person who places the flowers there, which gave rise to the legend that they are not placed there by a person at all.

According to folklore, the flowers are placed there by pixies. Some people have reported seeing a dark hooded figure kneeling at the grave while passing by during the night time. It’s pretty spooky.

Hound Tor

Hound Tor is easily the most legendary and mysterious area of Dartmoor. It is surrounded by abandoned medieval settlements and ancient graveyards. There used to be a column of granite that was shaped like a large dog. But it collapsed in 1995. The rock column was said to be a real hound that a group of witches turned to stone long ago. Some say that the stone dog collapsing was it returning to life – some even claim it to be the monster of Dartmoor. The legend goes like this: a huntsman named Bowerman once lived on Dartmoor. One day his hounds and he ran into a coven of witches. As the dogs accidentally knocked over their cauldron, the witches turned the hounds and Bowerman to stone. He is still said to be on top of the tor as a stack of granite.

The Ghost of Saltram House

According to legend, Saltram House has long been haunted by the ghost of a kitchen maid who was once murdered there. Her ghost can apparently be seen on Friday nights floating through the grounds of the house. So if you see a dark hooded figure… stay away from it.

The Tavistock Vampire

This legend was born from a rumour from the 17th century. It describes a vampire-like creature who lived in a secret room underneath Tavistock Monastery. He wouldn’t suck peoples blood. But he would break into houses and trash them. It’s one of the more silly legends. I don’t think Tavistock Monastery even has a secret room.

Ghosts of Royal William Yard

Numerous legends claim the Royal William Yard to be haunted by a whole load of ghosts. Over recent years, the yard has been under renovation, so reports of paranormal activity have flooded in. People regularly claim to hear the sound of cattle walking along the cobbled stone floor. They say that ghostly figures can be seen walking the old buildings in naval uniforms. But they can only be seen from the outside of the buildings, through the windows. Within the site, many doors are known to open and close by themselves as if by magic. As these doors are very heavy, we can certainly rule out the wind as a cause.

eskify.comThis is a guest post specially written for InPlymouth.com by the team at Eskify.com. Eskify is an incredible website full of amazing list articles and videos updated daily. They cover every topic you could imagine, ranging from History, Politics, Celebrities, Science, and the Creepy, to many more. Eskify.com is full of shareable articles and videos.

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