A Devilish Squire
A change from Prehistory with a move to the Restoration and a man in league with the Devil!
The tale is that Richard Cabell (or Cabel) Restoration squire of Buckfastleigh was in league with the Devil. The squire’s wickedness and wantonness knew no bounds it seems and was only contained after death by putting him in a iron barred mausoleum. Further proof of his infamy was seen by the Devil’s wist hounds (demonic hounds that accompany Old Nick on his hunts across Dartmoor and sleep under the rocks of Wistman’s Wood) turning up to mourn the squire at his burial. Not to mention accompanying his spirit on ghostly hunts of course.
Mind your fingers!
The legend is if you run round the tomb seven times widdershins the squire will nip your fingers. Or the Devil will – perhaps sniffing for mephitic vapours could help you decide who it was as you nurse your nipped digits.
Sadly such a ripping yarn rather falls apart under close scrutiny. Details like his wife outliving him when he was meant to have murdered her don’t do much for credibility and muddling in of other Dartmoor tales like the wist hounds don’t help clarify things either. The historical evidence points to further muddling of the lives of three different men to create the legend.
And of course the church itself, Holy Trinity at Buckfastleigh has its own legend of the Devil trying to destroy it as it was built.
The empty church on the hill
Approaching Holy Trinity on its hill you could be forgiven for thinking it is a flourishing place of worship. All looks well tended and there are fresh flowers on graves and wreathes around the war memorial.
On looking in you find there is only a shell of a church which has seen two major acts of arson – one in 1840 and another in 1992. The last one did for the church and it was rebuilt in the town below. However the bells were saved and restored to their place and are used.
The church has a lovely calm atmosphere even on a wet and dark day like the day I went to see the infamous squire’s tomb. Rather prosaically the inside of the tomb is used to display parish notices!
You can explore the shell of the church and the the 13th Century chantry chapel ruins. I found the evidence of 19th Century ornate graves with lots of ironwork around them interesting too. The path from town to church can still be reached by the old steps.
If Buckfastleigh or the squire sounds familiar
It may well be because you have heard of the tonic wine produced by Buckfast Abbey. This gained notoriety from being a drink of choice for the younger and poorer drinker. It proved particularly popular in Scotland being know as Bucky although whenI worked in Glasgow some years ago youngsters referred to it as Commotion Lotion. I thought that was a great name!
You can still buy the wine although there’s pressure to make it less potent…
And the squire may remind you of a work of fiction set on Dartmoor. Apparently the story of the squire was one of Conan Doyle’s sources of inspiration for the Hound of the Baskervilles.
“Whatever are trams doing on Dartmoor?” is a reasonable question now we associate trams with big cities. However, a tramway is simply a light railway used for moving cargo or people. The Haytor Tramway is one created to move cargo, more specifically granite.
It was created in 1820 by George Templer to move granite from the Haytor quarries to the Stover Canal head at Teigngrace. George was the third in a line of Templers who literally made their mark on this part of Devon with Stover House and estate, the Stover Canal and the Haytor Tramway. The tramway is still clear to follow as it was built from the nearest material to hand – granite! Much longer lasting than iron. Points could be carved into the granite as the photo above shows and the rails show an economy of labour typical of the industrial revolution. If you look at the rails you will see only the outer ‘L’ is cleanly finished while the inner part of the rail is left roughly finished. This is so the car wheels ran smoothly on the rails while the rest just had to clear the bottom of the car.
Has Railtrack taken over?
You can easily follow the tramway from the quarry but some sections are overtaken by the moor and showing signs of neglect. Hopefully as the path is well used the remains of this mining monument will remain visible for a long time to come.
I was at first disappointed this had nothing to do with the Knights Templer but is dedicated to the Templer family’s work. I thought medieval because of the number of medieval routes on Dartmoor. The Abbot’s way for example. Plus all the associated great stories about the monks getting up to no good!
Back to the point, the Templer way commemorates the work of two of the Templer family. The way is 18 miles altogether including the tramway and Stover Canal. Being interested in Dartmoor’s history I chose to explore a section of tramway down to Yarner Wood and then walk back to Haytor via Black Hill. If you decide to do this walk it’s worth having a look in the abandoned quarry. According to a local chap I spoke to there are koi carp in the pools there…
Finding the way
Whether you want to walk from shore to moor or vice versa the Templer Way is clearly marked. There’s also a handy information packed leaflet available that I enjoyed reading when I planned my walk. As you can see from my route mentioned above there is plenty of scope for including a section of the way with other walks.
Just keep an eye out for the granite rails and rudder and wheel waymarks!