Lots of friends have both cheered us onto this new adventure, and issued words not far from WTF? Our friend Greg wrote an e-mail to me:
“So let me get this right…..
You was this girl living in Hoboken, New Jersey,
You went on a trip to the Arctic,
You met a guy from a group of men, who go wildlife spotting,
You fell in love and moved to England,
And now you have a house in bumfucknowhere!!
How absolutely brilliant!!!
Bet you a million bucks you never thought your life would turn out like that!”
Who can predict where you’ll end up? We are in the centre of the moors along the West Dart River, just near Crockern Tor and Wistman’s Woods. In Pagan belief, the outcropping of rocks known as Crockern Tor was home to Old Crockern, the God of Dartmoor and the spirit who cares for the land. On the Ordnance Survey Map, we are the last building before the northern wilderness of the high moors. Folklore, myth, history, beauty, and a wide range of wildlife surround us.
Ancient land such as Darmoor have their own legends. One very close to our home is about Old Crockern and a wealthy farmer who moved to the moor from Manchester. This farmer intended to make the barren and rocky land into something productive by using fertilizer, drainage and hard work. He ignored the ancient traditions of the area, and set about to change the landscape. While doing so, he met an old rabbit poacher who shared a dream where Old Crockern sent a message to the man from Manchester, “Tell this blow-in, if he scratches my back with a plough, I’ll drain his pockets!”
Predictably, the man ignored the prophecy. Each year he invested resources to alter the land, and each year, he lost money. I’m hoping that my efforts to put in a small raised vegetable bed aren’t perceived by Old Crockern as a plough to his back.
In other tales, on dark and stormy nights (of which we had many during the months of June and July), Old Crockern is said to travel over to Wistman’s Wood and release the “Wisht Hounds” from their kennels. He mounts a skeleton horse and rides after any lonely travelers who may be out on the moors.
But Crockern Tor has another history as the place of the Stannary Parliament, an important place in Dartmoor. The Stannaries and their parliaments were the governing body of the tinners and the mining districts in Dartmoor. The history of these dates back to Saxon times and the last Parliament at Crockern was in 1749.
Some suggest that Crockern Farm takes its name from the Old English, “crocc” meaning a pot or vessel and that at one point in time, pots were made or found here. It could have been the name of the first family who lived here centuries ago. Equally plausible is the story that a rabbit poacher (perhaps the same one from the legend?) used to live here. The fact of the matter is we don’t know the origin of the name of this house.
Our farmhouse is on a lane that serves as a footpath to Wistman’s Wood. It is comprised mainly of potholes. I briefly considered counting the number but knew I didn’t have the patience. It is not as if we have twenty. We have a track that is a half mile long and riddled with holes. Fixing these is on our priority list.
The farmhouse dates back three hundred years or more and is made of granite nearly two feet thick. In many old homes such as these, the ceilings are low and the rooms dark, yet we have height and light flooding into the house.
At some point, a thatched barn was attached to the house. The old farmhouse kitchen is complete with an Aga and a pitted butlers sink. There is a built-in seat, just below a small oak framed window, looking out to the most magnificent view down the valley. Each morning I sit here drinking my coffee and watching the birds at the feeder: Chaffinches, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Jackdaws, Greenfinches, Great Tits, House Sparrows, Blue Tits and, of course, our chickens.
Old ship timbers with lovely bends and cracks from age and previous purpose provide the support in the ceilings. We have a fireplace that now happily houses a wood burning stove, rather than rain and drafts. Before installing this stove, I spent a backbreaking day cleaning all the granite stones from centuries of accumulated soot and smoke.
We have a light and airy room where we’ve set up our office and then through an Alice in Wonderland doorway, is the bedroom. Once this room served as two bedrooms, so there remain strange planks on the floor, a wall that blocks a window and some other useless bits. More projects. From our bed we can look south along the river and hear a Tawny Owl at night.
There is a room in the house that was last decorated in the 70’s. Pine ceiling planks make it seem like a ski chalet, or a very large sauna. There are ceiling windows offering light and views in three directions. In this room we hear the river as it races down the valley.
In addition to the house, there is a beautiful old stone barn, some falling down stables, a tractor shed, a storage building and two other crazy structures. One of these houses our chickens, the other our generator. In all, we sit on 2.5 acres; all “fenced” with granite stonewalls.
We are not alone here. Roger, our dog Sam and I take care of three chickens (sadly, a fox got the forth chicken about a month ago). We have the neighbour’s pony grazing in our field. Her name is Pi and she is mean and beautiful in equal measures. The dry stonewalls surrounding the property are breached in many places making us home to the farmer’s sheep. The farmer’s cows are less sure-footed, remaining on the surrounding land. House Martin’s and Swallows live under the eaves of the house, in the barn and in that tractor shed. Last count we had twenty-four nests.
To take care of this property is a huge project. To be situated in a beautiful landscape surrounded by myth and legend is a privilege. Many people believe in the “spirit of Dartmoor” and this belief varies in intensity. I don’t believe there is anything sinister and rather like the wild, rugged landscape that just presents itself in a “take it or leave it” manner. It’s direct and no-nonsense. There are certain times when the weather and land seem to embody some sort of living entity. Landscapes can do that. Not being able to tame or predict this place is a reminder that Old Crockern is not far away.
While lifting fallen stones back into place in the walls, we paused to see any variety of wildlife nearby: Dartmoor Ponies, foxes, birds of prey, and today, a toad hiding in that dry stonewall that I was trying to repair.
Out of respect, and just to hedge my bets, I couldn’t help but name him “Old Croakern”.