It is said that the wretched ghost of Mary Howard haunts the heart of Dartmoor.
Some say they have seen her spectral form at the gatehouse of her old home in Tavistock; others, that they have glimpsed a mysterious coach travelling across the moors. The spectre of her dog, with demonic eyes, has been seen running along the dark lanes to Okehampton Castle. The stories have been told over and over in the old pubs in Tavistock and Okehampton, perhaps as a warning to unwary travellers or to hurry the drunks off home to bed.
Even the famous lyricist and historian Sabine Baring-Gould recalled a number of eyewitness accounts of the famous white lady who appears every night at midnight by the Tavistock gatehouse. There she boards a spectral coach made of human bones; the skulls of her four husbands are at each corner, and it is driven by a headless coachman:
I’d rather walk a hundred miles,
And run by night and day,
Than have that carriage halt for me
And hear my ladye say –
‘Now pray step in, and make no din,
Step in with me to ride;
There’s room, I trow, by me for you,
And all the world beside.’
– Sabine Baring-Gould, 1908
A skeletal black dog with fiery eyes accompanies her, according to Baring-Gould, running alongside the coach as it flies across the winding roads of Dartmoor, past the ruins of old Lydford Gaol and out towards Okehampton. On arrival at Okehampton Castle, Mary plucks a blade of grass, and then the coach returns as fast as it came, all the way back to that gatehouse—back and forth every night, from midnight till dawn. Mary must make this journey every night for eternity as penance for murdering four husbands, the story goes say; and once she has taken every blade of grass from the grounds of Okehampton Castle…the world will come to a gruesome end. Also, according to the legend, whenever someone sees the white lady on the road, a death will occur.
(Some variations on the story say that Mary Howard must make her journey until the end of the world. I prefer the (probably more modern) version that when she has plucked every blade of grass from Okehampton, then, will the world end. The impossibility of removing every blade of grass implies the world will never end, as grass continues to grow, hopefully that is…)
Link to purchase this book is in the image caption above.
(Source: The Devil Comes to Dartmoor—The Haunting True Story of Mary Howard: Devon’s Demon Bride by Laura Quigley)