NGR:- SX 62579 70302. On the south-eastern side of Fox Tor Mires, 500 metres to the north of Fox Tor, on Dartmoor, in Devon, is a solitary late 19th century stone cross known as ‘Childe the Hunter’s Tomb’ or ‘Childe the Hunter’s Cross’. There are some local legends attached to this cross and what lay beneath it – because we know there was an ancient burial tomb or Kistvaen with an outer kerb. In the 11th century a Saxon nobleman or thane called Ordulph was out hunting on his horse upon the moor but he became lost in a snowstorm and eventually died in the freezing conditions; his body was buried by the monks of Tavistock with a cross erected on that very spot, although the burial tomb beneath the cross predated Childe the Hunter and was of prehistoric origins. There are many other ancient burial cairns in this area. Originally the cross stood on blocks of granite which formed the tiered steps, but, these are now in a rather sorry, jumbled state and a lot of the stones were, sadly, robbed-away to build a nearby farmhouse in the early 19th century. In the west at Blowing House near Burrator Reservoir, Southern Dartmoor: take the trackway heading E onto the moor for 4 miles to reach Whiteworks, then, take the path SE across Fox Tor Mires for a few miles towards Fox Tor – the 1.3 metre high cross can be seen over to the NE, but there’s no proper footpath leading to it.
Crispin Gill (1976) tells us: “Legend has it that Childe the Hunter was buried here. Overtaken when hunting on the Moor by a snowstorm he slew his horse, disemboweled the animal and used it as a shelter from the storm. But he froze to death, leaving a message that whoever gave his body Christian burial would have his lands of Plymstock. The monks of Tavistock found the body and were carrying it across the Moor when the people of Plymstock sought to bar their way by blocking the bridge over the Tavy. So the monks threw a bridge across the river further up, and gave his body burial. It must be said that Tavistock Abbey, and the Dukes of Bedford who acquired the land after the dissolution of the monasteries, did own Plymstock, and a bridge east of Abbey Bridge at Tavistock is still called Guile Bridge.
“But when Childe’s Tomb is examined it is found to be a kistvaen, a prehistoric grave, overlaid with slabs of stone and surmoun-ted by a clearly-modern cross. There was an earlier cross surmounting a monument, mentioned early in the seventeenth century, which was thrown down and the stones used to build Fox Tor Farm in 1812. The ruins of the farm can be seen north-east across the River Swincombe. Childe’s Tomb was restored as we know it in 1885, with a new cross, but why the kistvaen was chosen is a mystery. The story is confused, but the late H. P. R. Finberg in Devonshire Studies pieces together the story of a giant Devon landowner buried at Tavistock Abbey, to which he left much land, and who was in his day a great hunter. ‘Childe’ he points out was a title of honour (like Childe Roland) in the eleventh century, the time of this giant. The story that has come down to us in Finberg sees as ‘an almost perfect specimen of folk-lore based on facts'”.
“On Fox Tor there is a 10th-century Saxon noble’s memorial called Childe’s Tomb. Lost in a blizzard, the nobleman cut open his horse and crawled inside for warmth. Before he died, he wrote his will in the horse’s blood on a nearby rock”, according to Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain (1977).
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Gill, Crispin, David & Charles Leisure & Travel Series — Dartmoor, David & Charles (Publishers) Limited, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1976.
Reader’s Digest, Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain, (Second Edition), Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.
Childe the Hunter / Childe of Plimstock (Roud 23155) (mainlynorfolk.info)
Wayside cross 1120m ENE of Childe’s Tomb, Dartmoor Forest, Devon (ancientmonuments.uk)
Childe’s Tomb Cross | Legendary Dartmoor
Childe’s Tomb (dartmoor-crosses.org.uk)
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2021.