Dark Dorset Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror
by Robert J Newland and Mark J North
Foreword by Jonathan Downes
The county of Dorset lies along the South West Coast of England and forms part of the ancient kingdom of Wessex. Often called Thomas Hardy's Wessex, Dorset is noted for its beauty, and even more so for its variety, almost every kind of coastal scenery that England possesses can be found some where within its compass, while inland the variety is maintained with rich pastures, undulating downs, picture postcard villages, barren heaths and ancient monuments.
Dorset is steeped in history, folklore and legend, much of which is mysterious and dark. This extensively illustrated compendium has over 400 tales and references making this book by far one of the best in its field. Dark Dorset Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror has been thoroughly researched, and includes many new entries and up to date information never before published.
The title of the book speaks for its self, and is indeed not for the faint hearted or those easily shocked.Any readers brave enough will find themselves touring a county full of sinister hauntings, decaying body parts, spellbinding witchcraft, malevolent fairies, gruesome murders, spectral black dogs, phantom armies, headless ghosts, flickering will o' wisps, strange phenomena, sea monsters, peculiar customs and superstitions, big cats, bewitching nymphets, the magical enchantment of conjurors and witches, uncanny events, death, destruction and the Devil himself, not to mention a horrific history few other counties can boast.
The reader can't help but be plunged into a sense of foreboding despair!
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: CFZ Press (14 Jun 2007)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 1905723156
- ISBN-13: 978-1905723157
Close encounter with the Ooser in Darkest Dorset
An encounter with the Dorset Ooser at Dorchester Museum led Robert Newland deep into the mysterious world of folklore and legend.
It was this that drew Robert into years of research which have now produced two books and the Dark Dorset website.
One of the books, Dark Dorset: Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror, has been written with his childhood friend and neighbour at Weymouth, Mark North, and the other, Calendar Customs, is Robert's work alone.
"I suppose it all began with the Ooser," said Robert. "I thought, what's all that about? I acquired some books and discovered it was a fertility symbol which was carried during May Day and midwinter customs."
Now, Robert is one who firmly believes that the old traditions should be kept alive wherever possible to preserve our precious English heritage.
Mark is a friend of Jon Downes, the director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, based at Woolsery in North Devon, and which has published the books.
As Jon says: "Mark and Robert have trekked across their native county of Dorset, not only collecting folk tales but attempting in many cases to investigate the truth behind these otherwise amorphous legends." Dark Dorset certainly shows the county in an eerie light, teeming with demons and monsters, witches and murderers, and strange phenomena including UFOs, crop circles and spectral black dogs and big cats.
In these profusely illustrated books of almost encyclopedic range, Robert and Mark have done Dorset a great service by preserving these strange tales, as well as the details of the county's quaint and alluring customs, for future generations.
- Dark Dorset: Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror, and Dark Dorset: Calendar Customs, are published by CFZ Press at £12.50 each. Visit www.darkdorset.co.uk
Review taken from Geoff Ward's Mysterious West, Western Daily Press 30th May 2008
An Interview with Mark North on "Dark Dorset"
In 2007, Ufologist/Cryptozoologist and Journalist Nick Redfern interviewed co-author Mark North, about the recently published book 'Dark Dorset Tales of Mystery , Wonder and Terror' for his "There's Something in the Woods...", his cryptozoology blog.
Yesterday afternoon, I conducted an interview with Mark North, co-author with Robert J. Newland of the book Dark Dorset: Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror, which is published by CFZ Press. The new edition of the book is an excellent study of all-things-weird from the ancient English county of Dorset and covers a whole range of mysteries, including ghosts, UFOs, witchcraft, magic, mythology, restless spirits and much more.
And Dark Dorset contains a wealth of material that will be of deep interest to the student of cryptozoology, too; hence the reason for my interview with Mark (who in the photo that accompanies this article can be seen standing outside of the famous Black Dog pub at Uplyme, Dorset, which takes its name from the spectral black devil dogs of British folklore that are said to haunt much of the Dorset countryside).
Nick Redfern: "Mark, how did you get interested in Forteana and weird phenomena?"
Mark North: "One of the main reasons was because of my grandfather. He used to tell me stories of strange things that happened in the local area. Also, my grandfather knew a famous science-fiction author named Eric Frank Russell, and who later became one of the main people on the British Forteana scene. So, I picked up on all this and that got me interested."
Nick Redfern: "And for people interested in cryptozoology, what can they find in Dark Dorset?"
Mark North: "There are a lot of stories in there about the phantom black dogs. I've done a lot of investigations into the stories and myths around black dog tales. There are some odd ones; the most recent I can think of was in the 90s. But if you go back to the older tradition of black dogs, I think a lot of it could have been invented. On the Dorset coast, for example, there was a very big smuggling trade going on centuries ago. I think a lot of the stories of these animals were invented to frighten people and keep them away from the smuggling areas. What was also happening around this time is that Dorset had a lot of connections with Newfoundland and they used to do a lot of trading with the fishermen there. It was around this time that the Newfoundland dogs were brought over here, to this country. So, you have a new type of dog being brought over here, which was very large and that no-one had ever seen before, and then you have these tales of large black dogs roaming around, and smugglers inventing these black dog tales. So, I think it could be that part of the story at least is that the Black Dog legends have their origins in these large, working black dogs brought over from Newfoundland."
Nick Redfern: "What are your views on sightings of so-called Big Cats in Dorset?"
Mark North: "There are a lot of reports in Dorset; and the thing about the Dorset countryside is that it's quite wild, particularly in the West Dorset area. It would be easy for a large animal to hide there. There's a piece of woodland there called Powerstock Common, which is very dense and where we get reports; it's an old ancient woodland which used to be the hunting ground for King John. It hasn't really changed for hundreds of years; so anything could hide there. And there are definitely some good quality cases of Big Cat sightings in Dorset. I took part in an investigation of a lynx-type species in Portland, Dorset, and found some good evidence: old animal carcasses, cat scats, footprints, and even what looked like a recent kill."
Nick Redfern: "How about sea-serpents off the coast? Anything like that?"
Mark North: "Yeah, we get a few. There have been some odd cases from the 1700s, where an unusual creature resembling a mermaid was washed up on the Chesil Beach. I think some of these could be explained, perhaps, as a manatee. There was also a very odd story of another story of a sea-serpent found on Chesil Beach which turned out to be a camel! Where the camel came from, no-one knows! But there was a very interesting and unusual case from 1995 by a chap named Martin Ball, who was walking along the coast and saw a type of large sea-horse creature."
Mark North: "We also get some old reports - in the past - of wild-man-of-the-woods stories. One of which happened just outside of Dorchester, where there were reports of wild-men haunting the woods. There's a lot of stories of lycanthropy and shape-shifting: witches transforming into hares and things like that. I think some of this can be explained by the fact that back in the 1700s, when many of these stories started, people were very superstitious. Back then, it was a completely different world. And that's what I like about it: it was very innocent in some ways back then; but you've got this superstition there that turns everything around and makes it a completely different world. Almost like a fantasy world. Dorset is a strange place, and you can go into some of the old woods and it's like being in a different world, where anything might happen."
Those wanting to learn more about Mark, his Dark Dorset book and his research can do so by visiting his Dark Dorset website.
Library exhibition marks publication of new book revealing county’s folklore and superstition
Tales of Dark Dorset
A special exhibition is now showing at Weymouth library and will last until Saturday.
It is to mark the publication of an interesting paperback, written by Robert Newland and Mark North, which has just been published. Dark Dorset is a pot-pourri of what is described as ‘tales of mystery, wonder and terror’.
As I have said many times, folklore and superstition are never very far away from most of us, some more than others, and few people can totally divorce themselves from the subject to the extent of totally rejecting it. The authors point out in their introduction that ‘here are some of the amusing tales that make Dorset bewitching and indeed Dark!’
The first tale is the familiar one of Saint Juthware whose tragic story gave the village pub at Halstock (now gone) its name of The Quiet Woman - the inn sign depicted a headless woman. There are alleged sightings of a spectre of a woman carrying her head on All Saints’ Day each year. Who has seen it?
Phantom coaches abound all over Dorset, but the most famous is the one which is connected with Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which uses the real life Turberville family from Woolbridge House, the Jacobean manor house at Wool.
The spectral coach is said to appear on the medieval bridge over the Frome at Wool and its appearance forecasts some sort of disaster, but can’t be seen by all. ‘None can see the ghostly coach of the Turbervilles but those who have Turberville blood in their veins’.
Another story in this book is one I have never come across before. The macabre drawing (shown above, far right) is by Mark North and it illustrates the story of Murderer’s Lane and the Gibbet Pit, set in the Melbury/Evershot area in the late 1600’s.
The tale is as gruesome as the illustration, which shows what punishment befell two murderers who were convicted of their grisly crime and were sentenced to be gibbeted alive - hung suspended in the air in irons or chains for the sake of example — and to be left until carrion crows had picked their bones clean!
It was made known that no one was to help the criminals in their distress — indeed, that was a criminal offence itself. How pendulums do swing. Now they are sent on holiday.
Will o’ Wisps or Jack o’ Lanterns mix happily in this book with fairies, monsters and fabulous beasts, premonitions, eye-witness accounts of sightings and the famous Cerne Giant.
The past does not have all the odd happenings - they still go on, even though more people would remain silent today in the absence of a rational explanation. UFOs are a classic example of this and a number of stories feature in Dark Dorset.
Can these sightings be put down only to a vivid imagination, misinterpretation of cloud formations, optical illusions or madness? I think not. Mankind in general has the arrogance to think that the inhabitants of earth are the only possible intelligent beings in the universe - we are probably the least so. Why shouldn’t other worlds exist?
One well-documented story of such a sighting came from a retired BOAC man, Angus’ Brooks of Owermoigne, who was out walking his two dogs near Holworth at 11.25am on October 26, 1967. Taking shelter from a force eight wind, the story goes, he saw a thin vapour trail in the sky over Portland and realised it was made by some sort of craft which descended at a very high rate and, as it approached, decelerated fast when only about 400 yards away. The craft hovered motionless 250 feet above the ground.
Mr Brooks described the structure as having a central disc, around 25 feet in diameter and 12 feet thick. Protruding forward was a girder-like fuselage, with three behind, parallel to each other.
Each was approximately 75 feet long, 7 feet high and 8 feet wide, having nose cones and groove fins.
The craft appeared to have no windows and was constructed from some transluscent material which changed to match the sky.
When it stopped the two outer rear fuselages swung 90 degrees to form a cross, with the disc in the centre. Mr Brooks watched with amazement for more than 20 minutes while his two dogs became very disturbed. The fuselages then moved around to line up with the third at the centre, making the previous leader fuselage different to when it arrived.
Very suddenly this mysterious craft turned 90 degrees in a clockwise direction, climbed at an immense speed and headed in an east-north-easterly direction towards Winfrith.
That night there were many reported sightings of mysterious flying lights over the whole of southern England. It appears that at 4am two days prior to the Holworth sighting, well before Mr Brooks’ encounter, two policemen on routine patrol in Hatherleigh, Devon, pursued an illuminated flying cross for 12 miles. That account was given by a man who had dealt with aeroplanes all his working life, so must be considered a credible witness.
Solving that one is in the future, but most of Dark Dorset deals with the past, though many things there still remain unexplained. This A5-format book is the sort of reading that belongs on the bedside table, to pick up and read at leisure.
Review taken from Dorset Diary by Audrey Johnson, Dorset Echo, 3rd April 2002
Authors feel the force of the dark side
Sightings of big cats in Dorset may have multiplied in recent years but two authors claim the beasts have been living in the county for nearly a century
In recent years big cats have been seen, particularly around Yetminster and the Blackmore Vale area. Farmers have reported finding half-eaten calves and partially eaten dead lambs and ewes which are believed to be the work of the so-called Beast of Yetminster.
In a new book Dark Dorset, Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror, authors Robert J. Newland and Mark J. North say big cat sightings have now become more commonplace than those of phantom black dogs.
The earliest known record of a big cat came in 1907 in a manuscript by Robin Young entitled Reminiscences of Sturminster Newton. The authors write: “He recalls a wild and savage monstrous cat, with eyes as big as tea saucers, which is said to haunt the top of Newton Hill beside the ruined castle at Sturminster Newton.
“Local people were so afraid of encountering this creature that they would take the low road just to avoid it.”
In their new book the authors also deal with tales of sea monsters, crop circles, spontaneous combustion, witches, strange storms, items falling from the sky and mysterious flying objects.
The book covers a wide range of mysteries and is littered with anecdotes from both modern times and years gone by.
It does not try to explain the tales and anyone with an interest in the darker, more mysterious side of the county is sure to find it a good read.
The authors conclude: “When the summer sun shines down on the Dorset countryside making it warm and beautiful then of course it is safe to laugh at such fanciful stories.
“But when the grey mist veils the downs and the winds roar, when Dorset is alive with hidden torment, then perhaps it is the time to think a little more seriously about such things.
“Is anyone wise or brave enough to say these tales have not, at least, a grain of truth in them?”
Review by Tim Edmonds, Western Gazette, 4th April 2002
Radio Interview with the Authors of "Dark Dorset"
On the 20th May 2002 at the Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset, Radio Solent reporter Alan Jones interviews the authors of Dark Dorset - Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror - Robert Newland and Mark North.
The interview was later broadcast on Radio Solent at 11.15am on 23rd May 2002
Review of Dark Dorset in Dorset Life Magazine, June 2002
A new book, Dark Dorset, is sub-titled ‘Tales of Mystery, Wonder and Terror’ If you are a dyed-in-the-wool cynic, it is not for you, but if you believe that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth…’. then you will enjoy this round-up of hauntings, legends and folklore. Most of the old favorites are here - the Posy Tree, Bettiscombe’s screaming skull, the Hellstone near Portesham - but there are also interesting pieces on the demons who are led over Eggardon Hill by Diana the Moon Goddess, collecting the spirits of the dead, and on the fairies of Hod Hill who supposedly ring the bells of Stourpaine church. It would have been more interesting still if it had explored the links and patterns within Dorset folklore.
Source: Dorset Life, June 2002
Day Satan sat in at cards-and a severed hand went for a walk around a Dorset village
Dirty deeds and dark devilment
Thunder rumbles overhead and I almost drop my notebook. The sky has turned an eerie shade of grey and it’s starting to rain hard.
Now I’m not a big storm fan under any circumstances and sitting in a graveyard talking about ghosts and witchcraft is the last place I want to be when lightning strikes.
The two people sitting with me don’t seem bothered though; they joke about how atmospheric this is.
Only a few moments ago we had been talking about a severed hand that was buried in this very churchyard in Pimperne near Blandford.
In December 1780, they tell me, there was violent confrontation between a gang of poachers and some gamekeepers at Chettle Down in North Dorset, during which one of the poachers had a hand shot off.
He fled to London and the hand was buried in St Peter’s cemetery.
But since his death it is said lanes around the village have been haunted by the bloody hand, crawling along the ground trying to find the arm it once belonged too. This is one of seemingly endless tales and supernatural snippets in Robert Newland and Mark North’s newly-published book Dark Dorset. The authors, who both live in the county, have known each other since they were children and live next door to each other.
They started working on the collection of mysterious stories in 1998 and have done all the illustrations themselves.
Just a glance at the index shows even Dorset’s most pretty and tranquil villages are associated with dark tales.
Some have been told before, some have been resurrected from books now out of print and others are new, including some Mark’s grandparents used to tell him when he was a child.
They wanted to log as many legends as possible passed down through families and communities before story-telling becomes a thing of the past.
“We have recorded stories that might get lost in future generations. People don’t tell tales now,” said Mark. “Some of the stories are not very pleasant. People seem to enjoy those more.”
One chapter tells the tale of Murderers Lane in West Dorset. It was so named after two men murdered a farmer there in a bungled robbery in 1694.
They were sentenced to be gibbeted alive in the place they committed the terrible crime. They were clamped in iron cages, hung from a tree and left for the crows.
They were there for many months until the birds had picked off every last piece of rotting flesh. The ghost of the farmer has been seen haunting the lane.
As recently as 1949 a woman told how, as a terrified child, her father - told her to stand aside as the farmer’s ghostly horse and cart went past.
The book also tells of how in 1970 archaeology students camped at Badbury Rings – claimed to be the site of a great battle where the legendary King Arthur killed at least 160 men single-handed — heard marching, the sound of metal clashing and shouting in a language they did not understand.
And how children said they were visited by a horse-like devil in Poole and young men fled a barn near Shaftesbury after realising that a mysterious gentleman who asked to join in their secret card game was in fact the Devil.
The book, published by Oakmagic Publications, includes reports of strange weather phenomena in the Bournemouth and Poole area and tales of fairies, mermaids and big cat sightings.
Research included compiling information from articles in local newspapers, including the Daily Echo
Mark said Dorset’s dark side was very under-rated.
Thumbing through the paperback book, Robert added: “Some people, perhaps for some reason, don’t seem to push it.
“But Dorset does have plenty of folklore that’s not well known”
They say some legends were embroidered to keep people away from where they were not wanted - a convenient tool for those involved in the illegal smuggling trade in years gone by.
But when a storm is brewing, the skies get dark and wind screams, through the quiet country lanes of Dorset, who can be sure?
Review by Melanie Warman, Bournemouth Daily Echo, 9th May 2002
Review of Dark Dorset in Dorset Magazine, July 2002
We all love a tale that sends a shiver down the spine, a tale that gets you thinking that just maybe there might be more to reality than science has answers to. Well, it seems that Dorset has its fair share of tales involving goblins and ghosties and things that go bump in the night, and our two intrepid authors have brought them all together in this book.
They’re all here, those visitors from the other side, and those other regions where nightmares dwell. Ghosts, poltergeists, fairies, goblins, giants, vampires, conjurors and witches, not to mention the odd UFO, big cat, demon dog and crop circle. Not only that, but you can look up a town, village or location and go straight to the tale or tales that apply to that particular place. Surprise, surprise, but right up there with a lot of nasties is Portland with over a dozen entries including big cats, black dogs, mermaids and monsters, though it’s Dorchester that’s top of ghoulish goings-on with nearly 20 entries!
It’s all good fun, of course, but the next time I’m wandering home at the dead of night out Loders way, and I do it all the time, I hope to God I don’t meet the headless coachman who haunts Yellow Lane going towards Waddon Hill. He’s looking for his head after it was decapitated by a tree branch and apparently he’s just one of a number of headless folk who are seen about the county. And it’s not always coachmen who lose their heads - on the Dorchester to Bridport road near Kingston Russell House, a headless coachman has been seen driving a team of headless horses with four headless passengers and a headless footman -you couldn’t make it up, could you?
I hope somebody did.
Source: Dorset Magazine, July 2002
Dark Dorset Tale of Mystery, Wonder and Terror
This book is of interest to readers of this magazine for several reasons. Firstly, it is unusual amongst the plethora of regional mysteries books which can be found all over the UK and, indeed the United States. Unlike so many of these books which merely rehash the same old stories in an unconvincing and uninterested tone, this book is truly a work of scholarship.
Secondly, it contains much information of interest to the fortean zoologist. In its pages are accounts of the spectral black dogs of the county, but whereas other books on this theme are content merely to rehash the same stories over again this book contains both analysis and a novel interpretation of the ancient legends, presenting a whole new hypothesis.
As well as the black dogs, other fortean zoological titbits include mermaids, big cats and other things 'which go bump in the night', all discussed with elan and flair.
Thirdly, this book is co-authored by none other than our very own Mark North, which means that as well as the excellent text there are some stunning illustrations which will surely establish North as one of the leading illustrators of forteana at the beginning of the 21st Century. It is impossible to criticise this excellent book, and I strongly urge all readers of this magazine to go out and buy it today.
Review by Jonathan Downes, Animals and Men: The Journal of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, October 2002, Issue 28 - www.cfz.org.uk