A stone cold legend re-told by our storyteller Martin Maudsley.

Enjoy this tale from The South Dorset Ridgeway, our Land of Bone and Stone.

This story is part of Dorset AONB’s Myths and Legends project.

The Hell Stone

The Hell Stone
When it hailstones on the Hell Stone
The Dorset Ooser awakes
To stamp his feet and champ his teeth
Till all of Dorset quakes…

Legend says that years ago the Devil threw the rocks that make up the Hell Stone from Portland in a game of quoits. But since then those dark stones have become the lair of another devilish character, the Dorset Ooser, with cow-horns upon his head and a beard of sheep’s wool. For most of the year he lies sleeping beneath the stones, but the clattering of hailstones on the capstone of the Hell Stone wakes him up like an alarm clock. Then he grunts and grumbles and rumbles out across the land looking for anyone foolish enough to be out and about in the foul and fiendish weather…

Once there was a young girl called Bramble. She was wild child, as fond of rambling and scrambling as her name suggests, and spent her days roaming free in the woods and running wild across the fields. She lived with her old grandmother, Granny Eldern, in a little stone cottage beneath Wicker’s Hill in Old Portesham. Granny treated her kindly, and mostly tolerated her wild nature, but when needed it she had a stern voice that Bramble knew not to ignore. But Granny ’s voice was soft and soothing as she told Bramble stories – old folktales and local legends – at night by the light of the flickering fire.

One day, after spending too long foraging for fungi in the wet weather, Granny Eldern caught a terrible cold. The next day she was bound to her sickbed. Despite Bramble making herbal remedies by the end of the week she was getting worse, not better. Then Bramble suddenly remembered something from one of the old stories – if you place a new penny inside the Hell Stone you can make a wish. Granny wasn’t sure, it was winter-time and the Dorset Ooser might be out and about. But Bramble insisted and in the end Granny was too weak to resist. That night the weather was wild and windy and Bramble woke to hear the sound of hailstones rattling on the roof tiles. Granny was still sleeping as Bramble left the house that morning, with a bright new penny in her pocket, and so didn’t chance to warn her about the hailstones…

She travelled slowly across the sodden fields, with the wild wind in her face, up and over Wicker’s Hill and down Martinstown Hill. The clouds were so thick and the light was so gloomy it seemed more like late evening than early morning. On she went across Five Acres field where, suddenly, she felt the ground trembling beneath her feet. Looking around she saw fresh mounds of earth all around her – molehills –when a moment ago there’d been none. She shivered and pulled her coat closer as she continued her journey. A little way ahead she could see large, grey rocks rising up in front of her: the Hell Stone. She thought she heard a deep rumble of laughter coming out from under the stones, but told herself it was only a roll of thunder.

Gritting her teeth she stepped between the standing stones. It was dark and dank, with drips of stagnant water dripping from the roof, and so cold it took her breath away. The ground beneath her feet sounded hollow, like a wooden door rather than solid earth. Feeling with her fingers Bramble found a thin crack in the side of one of the stones and pushed her penny inside, speaking the words of a wish for her Granny to get well again. But as she turned to leave she realised the stones had started moving together, closing the doorway through which she entered. Soon she would be trapped inside the Hell Stone – the lair of the Dorset Ooser!

But Bramble was both sprightly and slight, and managed to squeeze out between the rocks just in time. A horrible howling sound came from within. She couldn’t go back home the way she came – the mole-spies would be watching. So she headed for the only other safe place she knew: the woods at Hardy’s Coppice. She ran. She stumbled. She tripped. But she somehow kept going, willing herself forward against the dark dread behind her: the thumping of hooves, the grinding of stones and a rumbling voice that seemed to call her name…

Thankfully, she soon saw a line of stark trees silhouetted against the sky: hazel, ash and oak. As she ran into the maze of branches she looked around for somewhere to hide. Eventually she found an old, gnarled elder tree. There was something about the tree that reminded her of her own grandmother, so she settled down amongst the roots and curled into a ball. All around she heard the sounds of the Ooser crashing through the trees and getting and closer. Suddenly the bark behind her began to give way and Bramble felt herself tumbling backwards into a cave hidden within the roots of the tree. There, inside the elder tree-cave, the sounds of the outside world became a distant echo. All around her was a gentle green light and underneath her body was soft, green moss. She was so tired, and relieved, that she lay down and fell asleep instantly.

When she awoke – hours later – she realised that she was holding something in her left hand: an emerald leaf, a four-leaved clover! The little leaf glowed as she held it up and she used it like a lantern to walk through the underground tree-tunnels, which twisted and turned like sinuous roots. Eventually the tunnel led her to a window of light and a patch of bright blue sky. She pushed her way up and out and found herself amongst the rocks and rubble of Rocket Quarry on a clear, calm winter’s day. The quarry was a place where she often played and Bramble knew it was only a short walk back to her house from there.

When she got home Granny Eldern was sitting up in bed awake, but still weak and fevered. Instinctively Bramble pushed the four-leaved clover into her pale, bony hands: “It’ll be alright now Granny, you’ll see. This is healing from the elder tree!” Sure enough, the next morning, Granny was feeling better, and the next day she was better still. By the end of the week Granny was hopping about the kitchen as sprightly as a sparrow. Well, whether it was the wish from the new penny or the magic from the four-leaved clover that saved Granny, nobody ever knew. Despite her near encounter with the devilish Dorset Ooser Bramble remained a wild child, rambling and scrambling like a bramble bush. But from that day on she stayed well away from the Hell Stone, especially when the hailstones were falling in winter!

And what about the Dorset Ooser? Well, the story tells that he was so mad when Bramble escaped that he stamped his foot in fury and broke all of his toes. They can still be found – the ‘devil’s toenails’ – scattered all along the Dorset coast. So don’t believe me, go and have a look for yourself…

Hell Stone (c) Paul Haynes

A little about our stortyteller

Martin Maudsley is a professional storyteller based in Bridport in Dorset, telling traditional tales and local legends for schools, community groups and national organisations. He has been collaborated with Dorset AONB on many projects using folk-tales and folk-songs to connect participants with nature, the seasons and a sense of place. He is also very active practically celebrating the seasons in and around his neighbourhood, including putting on Mummers Plays, Apple Days and Winter Wassails.