Dartmoor abounds with tales and legends, and none more so than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, The Hound of the Baskervilles. It is said that the inspiration for the book was his spooky experience of the area around Hound Tor, and anybody who has been on Dartmoor on a dark foggy night will understand exactly how he felt.
Less than a mile away from the tor is Kitty Jay’s Grave which has a tale of its own, and although it has been embellished by some over the years, this is not a fictional story, but one that still evokes the spirit of Dartmoor in a way that is every bit as mysterious as Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous book.
It is said that Kitty Jay was a young baby girl when she was taken in as an orphan at the poor house in Newton Abbot. When she reached her teens, she was sent to Canna Farm near Manaton where she was employed as a housemaid and farm worker.
The farmer’s son, not unnaturally, took a bit of a shine to her. Whether she fell in love with him or not I wouldn’t know, but at least he would have been able to provide her with a family and a permanent roof over her head, which no doubt would have been an attractive proposition in itself.
When she fell pregnant, the farmer’s son showed what his real intentions were, and Kitty Jay was unceremoniously kicked out of the farm with nowhere to go. With her reputation in tatters, she realised that she was now unemployable and the only practical option left open to her was to go back to the poor house – a prospect that she didn’t relish. The only other option in her mind was to end her life once and for all, and a short while later she was found hanging in a farm outbuilding.
In those days people who committed suicide could not be buried in consecrated ground: They were often buried at crossroads (sometimes with a stake through the heart) where the spirit couldn’t easily find its way back to where the incident took place and haunt the locals – and this is what happened to Kitty Jay.
Odd things started to happen around her grave. It’s said that a figure in a black hooded cloak could often be seen kneeling at her graveside under a moonlit sky. Several explanations have been put forward as to who the person might have been, one of which was supposed to have been the soul of the farmer’s son who was sent to look after the grave of his victim and unborn child.
Whether these ghostly apparitions had anything to with it or not who knows, but later on a Mr James Bryan dug the body up and re-interred it at the present location in a more suitable resting place.
The story doesn’t quite end there because somebody, nobody knows who, regularly puts fresh flowers on the grave. It doesn’t matter what time of the day or night, day of the week, or week of the year, fresh flowers can always be seen on Kitty Jay’s grave – and it’s been going on for more years than anyone can remember. These days, the grave also attracts other votive offerings such as small crosses, toys and coins.
The grave can be located at 50.60509°N 3.79269°W, but if you’re of a nervous disposition I suggest you visit during daylight hours – after all this is hairy hand country.