On a windswept West Dorset hill dotted with spindly trees, legend has it that a coven of witches are at work.

Author Louise Hodgson, of Corscombe, who meets me on the hill, has researched the folklore surrounding this spooky tale – and what she has found out is spine-chilling.

She has spent a lot of time on Langdon Hill, near Chideock, researching her book Secret Places of West Dorset.

And while she was there, she had a surreal experience.

Louise said: “I was walking along the big wide path that goes around the hill when I had a strange feeling.

“It was amazingly strong and powerful and very difficult to describe.”

Louise heard of another strange happening on the hill.

She said: “Two of my friends who lived in Seatown and used to walk on the hill found little altars here and there made out of twigs.

“The altar was in a circular shape. Normally with something like that you’d have expected to see a picnic there.

“There was no sign of a picnic. Normally you’d expect to see a ring pull or something, but there was nothing.

“I put two and two together. I thought ‘this is the same coven working, it’s a proper Dorset witches’ coven.”

The legend of Langdon Hill goes back 200 years, Louise said, and it is thought that the descendants of the ancient coven of hereditary witches are still working on the hill.

She said: “It’s a place with a certain energy. There are people working within spiritual realms. I think shamans and witches were able to communicate with plants and trees and find out which things were beneficial, it wasn’t just trial and error.”

And it’s not just witches and shamans frequenting the hill, Louise says.

“I found out recently that Langdon Hill is a fairy place.

“Country folk talk of ‘whistling up’ the fairies. I have tried this and my whistle was immediately answered by the mimicking call of a bird or something that sounded like a bird!”

But it is the legend of the witch that dominates, and the tale of the witches of Langdon Hill is linked with a hair-raising tale.

Louise explains: “There’s the old belief that a witch could take the form of a hare, cavorting on the hills in the dead of night under the pale unearthly light of the moon. Only a silver bullet would bring her down.”

Louise’s research has led her to a book called Dorsetshire Folklore, featuring a letter written in 1893 telling of a labourer from Purbeck who kept noticing a hare on his way home from work.

The labourer was advised to put a silver sixpence in a gun and have a shot at the hare. Next time he saw it he took a shot and, as it limped away, he threw his sickle at the hare and it evaded capture.

On his arrival home, a neighbour rushed in and said: “Old Nanny’s a-dying and wants to see ’ee.

“She’s got a cut all across her back as if someone had cut it with a reaping hook!”

Many rural people still refuse to eat hares, Louise says, because of their magical associations.

Louise says that the changing population of Dorset means that it is a real challenge to find out more about the legend.

“People are being priced out of Dorset and with that it loses part of the soul of the place.

“It’s hard when you are trying to dig out stuff about West Dorset because the families who have lived here for years and years have been priced out. And with that, you lose all the stories that have been passed on from generation to generation,” she said.

A few miles away in West Dorset, another spooky legend has captivated Louise for years. Whilst stopping for coffee at a shop in Beaminster, Louise bumped into a man who said he had seen a mysterious black dog – known as the Beast of Broadwindsor – three times. Louise said: “The man saw the black dog walking out of the village. He said it was the size of a calf.

“Then he saw it while he was walking out of the village and saw it when he was cycling towards a little hamlet outside Broadwindsor.

“The last time he saw it, it was dusk and it was going towards Little Windsor.

“Every time he saw it the beast had these blazing eyes.”

The more Louise has found out about these legends, the less frightening they seem, she said.

“We are only scared by things we don’t understand. It’s part of life and there are different layers to life.

“There are other layers of reality and sometimes these worlds collide and these things come through into our world,” she said.

  • The Secret Places of West Dorset by Louise Hodgson is available online and from local bookshops. More Secret Places of West Dorset will be published next year