A prior named John broke the Sabbath to go hunting. He became separated from his hunting party when chasing a stag from St Germans. Finding himself wet, alone and shivering in Sheviock Woods, Prior John rather wished he had resisted the chase. An old beech bowed down to brush his ears and he jumped in disquiet. His horse was lame but he galloped unevenly on after the stag. At last he was forced to rest his mount. The stones evened to a bed of leaves and Prior John rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Through the mists and trees he was sure he could make out a magnificent feast laid out beneath the trees and a dark stranger tending a fire. Perhaps Prior John’s senses deceived him as he smelt the smoking meat and swilling wine. ‘Why not feast as well as hunt on the Sabbath day?’ A charming voice invited the wet, cold prior to warm himself by the fire and join the party. ‘Why not indeed?’ thought Prior John as he felt ravenously hungry and there was surely too much for one lone hunter. He ate and drank more than his fill, then merrily told the stranger, ‘I would go to hell and back to find such food again.’ ‘Then so you shall!’ said the stranger, who in an instant changed into a horned beast and goaded Prior John into a second hunt. This time poor Prior John was ruthlessly chased by his own hounds, whipped on by Dando, the Horned Hunter. The chase went on through the parishes and along the cliffs from Downderry to Portwrinkle , all the way to Rame and back again, before hounding John and his horse back to Sheviock. Instead of returning him to St Germans as John dearly hoped; the Horned Hunter and his pack of wild black hounds rounded his horse down St George’s Lane. John’s own hounds ran whimpering amongst them. Before the lane took a steep dive toward the river, John looked longingly across fields to a familiar expanse of woodland where he had first seen the stag. He longed to pray beside the river at St Germans where soft green mud flats caressed the water. The Horned Hunter laughed at the Prior's belated piety and forced him on. St George’s Lane was walled with ivy. The rain patted into a stream running through the leaves and over the stones as the lane narrowed and drove steeply toward the Lynher, but all the rain could not dampen the sparks that burned in the hunters eyes and flickered from his tail. At last the trees opened to a beach and the surging river. They did not stop to dismount or take down the boat stowed in the bank; they did not pause to dismount and lead their mounts across with care. The hounds bit at John’s heels as they chased him along and dragged him down the deep Dandy Hole. Dando the Horned Hunter leaped in after them, taking Prior John all the way to hell. The monks at St Germans Abbey went searching for their Prior. They followed the tracks of his horse, they followed his footsteps, but saw only the rain pattering down on the grey Lynher. Trees hung low over the river, their bare branches dropping weeds into the water, but there was no sign of Prior John. He was never seen again. Dando though, that’s another matter.......
retold by Anna Chorlton
adapted from Robert Keys, Memory, Place and Identity
- Downderry / Seaton