Many of you who are familier with my work know I have a passion about my home and the folklore that surrounds it and the unusual place names…however even few of you may have heard “Childe the Hunter” by Seth Lakeman from the Freedom Fields album; well this is the start of my fictional account or story about that fateful journey so long ago.
Chapter one – First Light
The air was heavy and the sky dark when Ordulf, the son of Ordgar who was the Earle of Devon and his party of hunters left the relative safety of their enclave in Plimstoke under the watchful eye of the Prior of Plympton Priory, the moor beckoned him from the lands he owned…the thought of wild boar made him glad, for they would feast well.
A dozen riders, each one carrying a long spear and a sword and dressed in heavy garb to keep out the cold took the makeshift road north from the coast…inland. Behind them the sea lapped against the rugged red-soiled cliffs as the small chapel bell rang. The fires of Beltane long since extinguished as the winter solstice approached albeit cold and dry, not the usual driven rain and snow that covered the ground at that time. A small homecoming lamp would remain lit until the party returned or became the fire of lament.
The road was well worn, having been constructed prior to the last of the Roman Empire and seen many a traveller between the Priory, the enclave and beyond to the moor and to the nearby prosperous village of Sutton, (meaning south town in Old English) the current Plymouth, (meaning “mouth of the River Plym”) surpassing the settlement that grew at Mount Batten, which was a trading post for the Roman Empire.
The settlement of Plympton, further up the River Plym than the current Plymouth, was also an early trading port, but the river silted up in the early 11th century and forced the mariners and merchants to settle at the current day Barbican near the river south overlooking the sea between Albion and what was Normandy.
But enough history let us return to our tale…
The party, the noble band of brothers with their master at the head with his hunting dogs at his heels following his every step in the mud hewn road. Ambling north they headed for the moor and the freedom of the hills and valleys albeit weary of mires that lay along their path. Their destination was Tor Royal, Ordgar’s favourite hunting grounds, boar and deer were plentiful and ripe for the picking, a good hunt ensued.
For those of you not familiar with the notion of ambling, it is the fifth speed of a horse somewhere between a walk a trot, an early medieval pace enabling the rider to cover more ground comfortably and less tiring for the horse.
Ordulf surveyed the horizon, while his company chatted, the first stop was the Priory at Plympton for blessing by the prior himself and a chance to rest for the evening…their journey would continue at the dawn’s first light. But first evensong and compline interspersed with a simple supper… then rest.
Resting or sleeping, each of them having had his fill of vittles and arousing plainsong remembered their family so many more than a few miles away. Tomorrow they would push further into the inhospitable moor for good sport. Each eventually slept as though it were his last and for some the stakes were high enough to make it true.
The cockerel crowed at the first light of dawn, but many of the party had been up for an age preparing for the thrill of the hunt, preparing mentally and physically for the onslaught of winter on the remote, barren and inhospitable wilderness…the hunting ground of the Kings of Dumnonia and latterly Wessex.
After a small breakingfast the prior blessed them with a old Celtic blessing and with the strange words…” may fortune favour the brave” still ringing in their ears and a cry of “to horse” they departed by way of the path from whence they came before turning north-east and the moor, ambling along before winding the horses into a full gallop, eating ground beneath their hooves….even heavy war horses could gallop enjoying the lighter movement. The hunting dogs running to and from the group, searching the ground and air for the smell of quarry.
Thoughts turned to home, their families would be waking now, eeking out the meagre provisions they had until the party returned….at least being by the coast they had fish, as a plentiful commodity, but they wanted meat….too long had they gone without the smell and the taste…and for that matter the blood…deep and rich iron filled fatty meat. The fires would be laid and lit until all that was left was the charcoal embers staying hot in the cold, dark, damp air. The juices would keep the embers hot, occasionally sparking a small flame that would dance and disappear.