I visited these large barrows whilst visiting the row of 5 to the north. They are much bigger than the northern set, the three still in exitence are sized as follows:
6- 36 yards by 8 feet high 7- 40 yards by 11 feet high
8- 36 yards by 71/2 feet high
9a- virtually destroyed.
Dimensions are taken from L.V.Grinsell - Somerset Barrows Part1 - South and West.
OTTERFORD 1 - 9a.
Robin Hood's Butts. Nearly all the recorded folklore seems to relate to the South Group (6-9a).
"On the top of each barrow was a small excavation like a bowl....This hollow was sagaciously alleged by a neighbouring farmer as a proof that the popular tradition whence these monuments have derived their name was well founded. "Robin Hood and Little John undoubtedly used to throw their quoits from one to the other......for there is the mark made by pitching the quoits!" (English Traditional Lore (Gent's Mag. Library, 1885) quoting from Vol.88(1818), ii, 306-7).
From Mathews' "Tales of the Blackdown Borderland", 1923.
Many years ago when passing by the spot I was told that an old couple, who got their living by making brooms from the heather so plentiful hereabout, actually dug themselves a big cave in one of the barrows, and used it for a dwelling place for some years.
They obviously weren't afraid of the ghosts - he also mentions how "A great battle took place there long ago and hundreds of Cromwell's soldiers are buried there" and that "a tradition of ghostly possession persists" with children (and faint-hearted adults) not daring to pass the mounds at night.
This is from 'English Fairy and Other Folk Tales'
by Edwin Sidney Hartland (1890). He quotes from an older book called 'Pandemonium' by Bovet (1684).
The place near which they most ordinarily showed themselves was on the side of a hill, named Black-down, between the parishes of Pittminster and Chestonford, not many miles from Tanton. Those that have had occasion to travel that way have frequently seen them there, appearing like men and women, of a stature generally near the smaller size of men. Their habits used to be of red, blue, or green, according to the old way of country garb, with high crowned hats.
One time, about fifty years since, a person living at Comb St. Nicholas, a parish lying on one side of that hill, near Chard, was riding towards his home that way, and saw, just before him, on the side of the hill, a great company of people, that seemed to him like country folks assembled as at a fair. There were all sorts of commodities, to his appearance, as at our ordinary fairs: pewterers, shoemakers, pedlars, with all kind of trinkets, fruit, and drinking-booths. He could not remember anything which he had usually seen at fairs but what he saw there. It was once in his thoughts that it might be some fair for Chestonford, there being a considerable one at some time of the year; but then again he considered that it was not the season for it. He was under very great surprise, and admired what the meaning of what he saw should be.
At length it came into his mind what he had heard concerning the Fairies on the side of that hill, and it being near the road he was to take, he resolved to ride in amongst them, and see what they were. Accordingly he put on his horse that way, and though he saw them perfectly all along as he came, yet when he was upon the place where all this had appeared to him, he could discern nothing at all, only seemed to be crowded and thrust, as when one passes through a throng of people. All the rest became invisible to him until he came to a little distance, and then it appeared to him again as at first.
He found himself in pain, and so hastened home; where, being arrived, lameness seized him all on one side, which continued on him as long as he lived, which was many years, for he was living in Comb, and gave an account to any that inquired of this accident for more than twenty years afterwards; and this relation I had from a person of known honour, who had it from the man himself.
There were some whose names I have now forgot, but they then lived at a gentleman's house, named Comb Farm, near the place before specified. Both the man, his wife, and divers of the neighbours assured me they had at many times seen this fair-keeping in the summer-time, as they came from Tanton market, but that they durst not adventure in amongst them, for that every one that had done so had received great damage by it.
Just to elaborate on Pure Joy's story, (more details of which are given in J+C Bord's 'Secret Country'). A warning so you don't go wasting your time the same way. Perhaps we can put events down to the activities of the fairies mentioned before.
There was once a rich local man who decided he was going to have the treasure hidden in one of these barrows. He was probably rich enough already - but he was greedy. Besides, he could afford to pay some poor people to dig for him - and it would be worth the outlay. The hired workmen began early in the morning, but after a hard day's slog of digging trenches and carting the soil away, it seemed the barrow was no smaller. Feeling confused, they put some stakes in the ground to mark where they'd got to, and hurried off home for the night.
The next morning they returned and were bemused to find no trace of the previous day's labour. Were they in the right place? They couldn't find the trenches or piles of earth they'd made anywhere. Gorse and grass grew over the mound as before. The workmen had had enough of this weirdness - they chucked their tools down and headed for home. The rich man reluctantly decided he'd have to start digging for himself. After all, if you want a job doing properly - those superstitious paupers couldn't even dig a simple hole. Rolling up his shirtsleeves he set about digging. He was unused to the exertion but concentrated on the task in hand, seeing nothing but the shovelfuls of earth he carried - thinking of the treasure kept him pretty motivated. At last he decided it was time for a break and downing his spade mopped his sweaty face with his handkerchief. As he took the handkerchief away from his eyes - he could hardly believe it. Where he'd been working - no hole existed at all. The grass and daisies waved in the breeze mockingly. He realised here was nothing he could do but angrily admit defeat as he stomped off back down the hill.
Robin Hood was said to have used these three barrows for target practice, but it was also believed that the bodies of warriors killed in battles between the Danes and Saxons (or in the Civil War) were buried there. Another tradition is that they were formed by giants throwing clods of earth at one another. The largest mound is supposed to conceal a hoard of gold but no one could reach it because however much they dug, the holes would fill up again overnight.