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Brad Stones

Brad Stones

Way back in the days when roads were few on Dartmoor an old moorman from Hannaford was travelling home on his pony across Sherberton Common. The day was drawing to a close and a stiff breeze was blowing down from the north. As he approached the little track which winds past Mil tor (now called Mel tor) he reined in the pony to fasten his top coat as the breeze had now turned into a cold bitter wind. As he paused he cocked his head to one side and listened intently. He could hear an eerie booming sound coming from deep down in the Dart valley below. He shuddered and drew his coat collar up as if trying to hide in the warm depths it afforded. Again the booming sound echoed up from the valley, “Es, twernt wrong” he said to his pony, “Tis the cry o’ the Brad Stones, I’ve heeard ‘n afore an’ us’ll ‘ave it a bit roughish vur sartin”. The old man peered into the slate grey sky and sniffed the air, “It daun’t look bad now but it’ll com’, the Brad Stones ‘ave niver bin knawed to be wrong, us’ll ‘ave a fearsome night, an wuus ‘n that us shall heer tell of sum misfortune ‘fore I be much older, wish twernt so but I knaw what I knaw an’ naught u’ll change it”. With that the old fellow spurred the pony and descended into the valley below, heading for his little cott and the warm peat fire.

The following morning the old boy awoke and peered out from his little chamber window, there had been no storm but as he looked up to the moor he could see the heather and gorse bedecked in a icy white powder. “Hmm, old Jack Frost was busy last night” he thought. The inside of his windows were patterned with amazing ice pictures. The tiny stream which ran past his cott was strangely silent, its incessant babbling had been muted by the frozen ice. The old man squinted up into the azure blue skies, “Bootivul vur sure, but twan’t last, I never knawed the Brad Stones to be wrang yet.” he muttered.

Today being the Sabbath the old boy made his way along the old church path to Widecombe. Before long he could see the spire of the ‘Cathedral of the Moors’ and heard the clanging of the ‘ting tang’ bell. As was the norm this meant the poor pony had to hurry on to the church to arrive a few minutes after the service began. The old man huffed and puffed up to through the lychgate and on to the mighty wooden doors. Slowly he turned the big metal handle and heard the expected creak as he opened the door. As the old man entered the congregation turned to see who the slothen late comer was. It was a pointless exercise because they all knew who it was anyway, it was the same person as it was every week, the vicar coughed and the man scurried to his pew.

Amongst the worshipers were two lads who lived at the old tenement of Runnage, an old farm some miles distant. They were regular attenders who, after the service, would spend the rest of the day in Widecombe with the other youngsters. Come evening they would return home to begin their chores and then have dinner. This particular Sunday was no exception, so as usual, having said their goodbyes to their friends they set off across the moor to Runnage. Upon climbing the hill out of Widecombe they came onto the moor and could see that the sky had turned a pinky, cream colour and the air was as still as a stone. A sure sign that snow was on its way. They quickened their pace and set off down to Langworthy. By the time they got to Blackaton the first flakes were lazily floating from the leaden sky, by the time they reached Runnage the snow was falling in huge white flakes or as the ‘in country’ folk would say “the Widecombe volk be a pluckin’ their geese” ( a southern Dartmoor terminology for a heavy snow shower). When the boys father came in he told the boys that some sheep had gone missing and come the morrow they would have to go and find them.

The morning came and although there was not deep covering of snow the huge flakes were still gently falling from the hued sky. The lads had their breakfast, got ‘rugged up’ and set off in search of the sheep. By the time they had reached the old hut circles on Riddon Ridge the gentle fall of snow had turned into a blizzard, it was almost a complete ‘white out’ and it was only the boys intimate knowledge of the moor that allowed them to continue their search. They managed to reach the ‘Snailey House’ down by the river but then they started to wonder if it was wise to continue, Loughtor Farm was nearby and perhaps they should shelter there until the storm passed. The older of the boys had a theory that the sheep would have strayed on to Corndon Down which was not a lot further from where they were, so he managed to persuade his brother to carry on. It was decided that if there was no sign of the sheep when they reached the down they would return home. By the time they had struggled over to Corndon they were both exhausted, numb with cold and soaking wet, what’s more it was now snowing so hard they could not even see the footsteps they had left behind them.

Back at Runnage the farmer was getting very concerned as to the safety of his two sons. They had been gone for over six hours which should have been time and plenty to find the sheep. In desperation he summoned his men and some neighbours and the search party set out. It was just getting dark when one of the men heard a dog barking. He called the party together and in a line they walked to where the noise was coming from. In a small combe they discovered the two boys huddled together in the shelter of a huge snow decked gorse bush, the sheep dog was by now curled up with them. It was too late for the younger boy he had frozen to death and the elder lad was not far behind him. The sad team of searchers slowly made their way back carrying the oldest son swathed in blankets and the frozen corpse of his brother.

It did not take long for the news to spread around the area. The old moorman from Hannaford heard it when he visited the inn at Poundsgate. He slowly shook his head and took a long draw on his old clay pipe and slowly blowing the baccy smoke from between his teeth he said “I thought wud’n wrong, t’was the cry o’ the Brad Stones, said as soon as I heeard ‘n, tis sartin us’ll heear of some misfortune an’ naw us ‘ave.”

 

About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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