The legend of the Devil and his Hell-hounds is a world wide one. The hounds are known by different names in different localities, in Yorkshire they are known as the Yeth Hounds, on Dartmoor they go by the name of the Wish Hounds. The Wish Hounds are commonly believed to hunt in the long. narrow lanes on the borders of Dartmoor, especially at St. John's Eve (Midsummer Eve, June 23rd), and do so in a long procession behind the Devil, who is mounted upon a horse and cloaked in black.
The Wish Hounds legend in Devon is closely connected with another Devonshire legend, that of The Black Dog or Bargest. Its haunts include the Dewerstone Rock (a large rock in the valley of the River Plym, near Shaugh Bridge), the borders of the Moor and wooded glens on the Moor.
The chorus of the song mentions the 'wishful swain', by which is meant a slow, mournful dirge connected with the illness, peculiar to Devonshire, of 'wishness'. Wishness is a strange kind of melancholy and sadness which is reputed to be brought about by being in close proximity to the Wish Hounds. Another place mentioned in the song is Jay's Grove which is a lonely roadside grave on the road. from Haytor to Manaton. The third verse is connected with a legend that once upon a time, after a deep fall I snow, the traces of cloven hoof shaped human footprints were distinctly visible leading up deep valley in the parish of Dean, another haunt of the Bargest. Other hell bound legends include the Welsh Dogs of Annwvyn the Yorkshire Yeth Hounds, and the Cornish tale of the pursuit of Tregeagle. See R. Hunt's book 'Romances of the West of England,' and Theo Brown's articles in 'Transactions of the Devonshire Association to, the Advancement of Science.'
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