Down A Deep, Dark, Devon Lane.

Down a deep, dark, Devon lane (2)Before first consciousness – I think I must have imbibed an affinity with places off the beaten track – and horses.  More than half-a-century on – I wouldn’t describe myself as traditionally horsey – because really it was just one horse I was ever truly, deeply, mad about. 

The house where I was born. The staddle stones are still there to this day.

The house where I was born. The granite staddle stones are still there to this day – no wonder I have a thing about toadstools too!

My birthplace was Pensilva near Bodmin Moor – in a house reputedly haunted by a benevolent ghost called, Squire Pollard.  My mother once saw him through the gaps in the old oak floorboards upstairs – he was sitting in the parlour below – drinking ale and puffing on a clay pipe.  Another strange account was a dream my mother had before she ever stepped foot in the house.  She dreamt of the exact door to the room that I was born in – only in her dream she saw the words ‘Morte Bar’ inscribed on the door.  No wonder I was often referred to as a changeling child – especially as I was willful by nature with a tendency to scowl a lot! 

At night wild ponies came down from the moor – and whinnied and galloped about just beyond the bottom of our garden.  In the sixties – Pensilva was an isolated place to bring up a young family especially in contrast to Sussex where my parents and older siblings had moved from.  Needless to say – my Mother always felt unease about the house where I was born – and it wasn’t long before they upped sticks again – and moved to Devon – the place where I grew up and have lived ever since.  

Many, many years on – I realised my dream of owning my own horse – a ‘Dales’ called Wath Jewel – or Jessie for short.  wath-jewel-jessie-something-about-dartmoor

Even though she’s long gone to horsey heaven – I often dream that we hack out together.  It’s a wonderful ‘experience’ to awake from – like having all the fun of owning a horse but without the expense or hard work that goes into looking after a horse – not that Jessie was ever – EVER hard work – she was a complete joy and I still miss her warm breath and gentle ways. I even dream that I can smell her – that sweet cocktail of sweat and leather – and hay.  Not surprisingly there are lots of places roundabout that bring back memories of our jaunts together – old haunts that we revisit in my dreams like it was yesterday – all bar one that is. 

Only a few days ago – whilst enjoying a night ramble – I suddenly had an urge to take a series of photographs of an entrance to a road ‘unsuitable for motors’ that we used to ride up – gallop up – at full pelt to the high ridge…Down a deep, dark Devon Lane (1)I’ve passed this lane entrance many times ‘since’ but never have I had the want to photograph it – because all the pictures of that bright, springlike afternoon are in my head – not able to be shared here or anywhere – because they don’t exist in photographic form. They wouldn’t be appropriate anyway – too graphic. jessie-tacked-up-and-ready-to-go-something-about-dartmoor

The relationship that developed between us was something special. Jessie was a living, breathing Black Beauty – definitely more human than horse. Some might say that’s putting an anthropomorphic spin on things – but it is true.  I trusted her with every fibre of my being – I never had cause to wear a hat when out on her – and besides I enjoyed the wind in my hair as much as she did. We understood each others thoughts – and communicated freely.  I can’t really put into words how one actually talks ‘horse’ – but we were on the same frequency from day one.

On a long rein, I’d often let her take me for a ride…

On the 25th February 1998 – she took me to the road ‘unsuitable for motors’ – a forgotten ‘road’ off the beaten track. We’d been there on other occasions – to enjoy the freedom of a good gallop up its zig-zag course.  Jessie, when given the choice – usually preferred to go on a more leisurely outing where she could stop and nibble at the Devon hedgerows and graze the grass verges; ours was an easy-going relationship – where her enjoyment was of equal importance.  On this particular day – she was on a mission – she didn’t even try to snatch a mouthful from the hedge.  Jessie when she wanted to – could go like the wind – and after an exhilarating gallop up the length of the track – we soon reached the plateau at the far end – a good place to ‘pull’ on the brakes before rejoining the metalled road.   

Unusually – an ‘abandoned’ white car was facing us at the top of the lane.  Slowly moving towards it – I became aware that a person was sitting inside – most likely enjoying an afternoon nap in the life-affirming sunshine. Suddenly I felt intrusive.  In ‘slow-motion’ – over a distance of a hundred yards or so –  I gradually perceived that the occupant – a women with her mouth and eyes wide open – was not sleeping – but dead.  There was no immediacy for me to respond – she had visibly been inside her sun-drenched car too long; there was no need to dismount. Calmly and without stopping we walked-on by – relieved that life-saving intervention was not necessary – there was nothing to be done other than to raise an ‘alarm’ in the nearby sleepy hamlet.  It was only as I glanced back – seeing the ‘paraphernalia’ attached to the exhaust of the car – that I realised that the person had taken their own life.  What I saw that day – never touched me – due to my absolute belief in the protective power of Iron – Jessie’s four shoes had formed a barrier between us.  A barrier between us and the ground – the car on the ground – and her inside it. Iron Horseshoe.

Her estranged husband – a farmer and part-time gravedigger – was supposed to find her when he checked his sheep that morning – but he never did check his sheep that day – because he had a funeral to attend and he’d been running late…

The ‘paraphernalia’ attached to the exhaust of the car had been ‘borrowed’ from the milking parlour to use in a final act of imploded anger – and revenge – over her disputed share of the farm and land. The cows were milked – but the sheep fended for themselves that morning – and probably for the rest of the day that unravelled. 

The one image I retain – are her hands – forever stuck at ‘ten to two’ on the steering wheel – in a determined grip of self-will. Coincidentally about the time of day that we found her. I understand that she took her own life in the night – before the morning – before that fateful afternoon.  

It's okay that occasionally I find myself turning into that lane again - galloping up to the ridge to where there's a white car parked at the side...

It’s okay that occasionally I find myself turning into that lane again – galloping up to the ridge – to where there’s a white car parked at the side…

…but never – EVER – when I’m dreaming. 

Posted on 31-X-2017 - All Hallows Eve. A time to remember the dead.

Posted on 31-X-2017 – All Hallows’ Eve – a date to remember the Dead.  (A chocolate Halloween treat from Sandfords Bakery in Great Torrington!)

A Deep, Dark Devon Lane (1) JPG

The veil between the Living and the Dead is wafer-thin – or ‘Morte Bar’ as I’ve come to realise it.

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