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A Devilish Place

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What better place to walk than on the hills and valleys of Dartmoor? Beside bubbling brooks crisscrossed with stepping stones and flanked with miniature ponies who blink from beneath their heavy fringes. Over green mossed, golden gorse laden slopes and wild landscape laden with the seductive promise of yet more beauty beyond the next tor.

Each year around 3million people are lured to Dartmoor's 368 square miles of outstanding natural beauty, and each year, a good percentage of them get lost on it. The notorious Dartmoor fog has a tendency to descend, confusing ill prepared hikers and often necessitating a lengthy and expensive search and rescue operation.

And then there's the devil. Usually, legend has it, accompanied by several large black dogs, known as wisht hounds. Folklore tells us that 'the evil one' as he is traditionally known in this neck of the woods, spends his time roaming around looking for sinners. Who he then hurls off cliff tops and allows his equally evil hounds to savage.

But the definition of sinner seems to have been called into question late in the 13th Century, when the bishop of Exeter and his chaplain - surely both godly men - were travelling across Dartmoor on foot. When an old man popped out from behind a rock and offered them some bread and cheese, they were charmed - as you would be. Until the chaplain, an observant type, spotted a cloven hoof peeping out from beneath the elderly gent's cloak. Shouting 'Strewth, you're old Nick,' or something along those lines, he knocked the proffered snack to the ground, whereupon it turned into rocks. (Never a good sign where food is concerned). Having been thoroughly rumbled, the devil backed down surprisingly quickly and promptly disappeared, leaving the men of God to go on their way unharmed.

What this story tells us, of course, is that if the devil considers a bishop easy prey on the sinner front, he's hardly going to be fussy when it comes to the rest of us. Personally, if I ever encounter any kind of satanic entity, on Dartmoor or anywhere else, I intend to quickly ask if he's heard the one about the devil and the lawyer - in a bid to bond with him before he can start hurling me off a cliff or unleashing his horrible dogs. When he says no (as he will, it's a really new one), I'll explain that the devil comes to a lawyer one day and offers him a deal.

'You'll win all your cases from now on, and make huge sums of money,' says the evil one. 'But in exchange, I want your soul, your wife's soul, and the souls of your children.'

The lawyer looks puzzled and says, 'What's the catch?'