Mapping the magic of Dartmoor

When you gaze at a map what do you expect to see? Roads, hills and rivers are common features, but what about phantom hounds, witches and pixies? The Dartmoor Folklore map shows the moor as you’ve never seen it before – as a place of magic and mystery. Created by artist Ethan Pennell, the illustrated map explores folk tales from the area. We catch up with Ethan to find out more about the most mystical map we’ve produced yet.

What inspired you to create The Dartmoor Folklore Map?

My love of folklore and Dartmoor. I’m from Kent but I moved to the area, mainly because of the moor. I’d visited a few years before and felt a real pull to the place, its mystery and its magic. Originally, I started with a series of oil paintings of Dartmoor, and then thought I’d like to create a map. The idea was to produce a map as a bit of a teaser for a folklore book – which I’m still working on. The book will be a companion to the map, covering its stories in more detail.

The Dartmoor Folklore Map

Did any other maps inspire you?

Definitely! I was influenced by mappae mundi – medieval world maps created from a European perspective – and the Hereford Mappa Mundi in particular. I love the way they reference fantastical creatures. The map at the beginning of JRR Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings, and old Ordnance Survey (OS) maps were inspiring too. Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated by all sorts of maps.

The Dartmoor Folklore MapDo you believe any of the folklore tales depicted in the map to be true?

I’m open to it, I like a good story. Saying that, some are certainly made up. In the 19th century it was a way of attracting tourists to Dartmoor. But people do claim to have seen things. I have it on good authority from a dear friend that she came across a pixie on the moor, at Scorhill Stone Circle. For me, it’s more a sense of something, an uncanniness about the place. I’ve been in Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Wood at midnight on Halloween, and I certainly felt the atmosphere. I haven’t seen a pixie yet but never say never!

Do you have a favourite folklore tale from the map?

I do rather like the subversive ones. There are quite a few about witches turning into different animals and leading huntsmen a merry dance. Then there’s another one about a goblin that used to sit on a stone outside Lustleigh at night, causing locals to avoid that area after nightfall. I love the stories about phantom cottages too. They’re cottages that appear and then disappear. There are similar stories about phantom woods as well.

How did you carry out research for the map?

I spent a lot of time in libraries and specialist libraries, using their archives. I visited the archives at Exeter University, including the Theo Brown Archive. I also read a lot of articles and bought a lot of books. I’m always scouring second hand bookshops. Going to the places on the map and talking to the locals helped a lot too.

The Dartmoor Folklore MapWhy did you pick Dennis Maps to print the map?

I realised they were specialists in producing maps, and environmentally friendly too. I like that the map is made from FSC paper and printed using vegetable-based inks. I used to work for Greenpeace and have spent a lot of time protesting environmental damage, so it’s important to me. When I found out the map would be the same size as OS Explorer maps (952mm x 1270mm) that sealed the deal too.

Can you talk us through the process of creating the map?

I started sketching it by hand in pencil, then going over my drawings in pen. I created all the features – roads, rivers, etc – separately and used Photoshop to make a massive map-sized space, that I built up with layers. There was a bit of freedom as I could move the images and text around. Rather than using a standard font, I used old printing blocks to create the text, which took me ages! I worked on the map evenings and weekends, around my job at the Arts University Plymouth.

Did you encounter any hurdles during its creation?

Yes, I’m not the most technical person, so it took me a while to get to grips with Photoshop. A couple of years in, I was thinking this is never ending, I had to accept it will be done when it’s done. It took seven years to complete. Patience was a big thing I had to learn.

What were the high points of the process?

I realised the individual images I’d created could stand alone, which was nice. And seeing the finished product of course. I’m so happy with the finished map. The feedback has been amazing. There’s something really exciting about launching it and seeing where it goes. I hope the stories can help people feel more of a connection to the mysteries of Dartmoor and the moor itself. Hopefully the map adds a bit more enchantment into the world.

The Dartmoor Folklore Map is available on Etsy, as a limited edition of 250 signed copies.

Next: Read our Top ten books about outdoor adventure

Dennis Maps is one of the leading map printers in the world, producing more than two million maps and charts every year. We offer comprehensive pre-press services, large format print solutions using both large format litho printing and large format digital print technologies, plus specialised map folding and map finishing techniques.


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