Huntingdon Warren used to be a rabbit warren and following the collapse of the rabbit industry, a farm. Its remains can still be seen on the moor. To say the farm is remote is an understatement it is located 10 miles from the nearest village and sits at an altitude of 435m. During World War II the farmer retired and moved in-country but the fire in the hearth was not allowed to go out because in 1942 a ‘squatter’ in the form of Fredrick William Symes moved in. He was the son of a Methodist minister and a retired schoolmaster.
Fredrick Symes has been described as an individualist and a hermit with a ‘wild’ appearance. He had snow white hair, sparkling eyes and a powerful, trudging stride. He used to wear an old stained raincoat fastened with a length of rope. He adopted the name of ‘MooRoaMan’ under which he used to write articles for local newspapers.
The old farmhouse was called ‘The Lonestead’ and he used to spend the summers living here and then he would over-winter in lodgings at Buckfastleigh. He only lived in two rooms of the abode, one up and one down. Almost daily he would walk the 10 mile round trip to Buckfastleigh to buy his supplies which he would then carry home in a large pack on his back. He was also known to travel to Ashburton or Totnes for breakfast. MooRoaMan also used to enjoy drinking sessions in Ivybridge from which he would walk back via the old Tramlake railway track. When in residence at the Lonestead he used to get postal deliveries twice a week, it was said that on occasions he would write a letter to himself in order to ensure a visit from the postie.
Once a year, at Michaelmas he used to stay at Brimpts farm for his holiday. On one occasion he is known to have carried a huge tree branch that he found on his way back from Buckfastleigh. His passion was roaming the moors which he often did. He also had a penchant for cairn building and it is reported that in the 1950’s he greatly embellished the prehistoric cairn known by him as the ‘Heap of Sinners’ on nearby Huntingdon Warren. Not only did he look up unto the hills he looked down into the very bowels of the moor because he ‘converted’ what was thought to have been the old farm potato cave into his chapel.
The topographical writer, Eric Hemery would visit him whenever he was in the area. He delicately describes the kitchen as being less than clean and remarks that the cooking was done on a fire of peat and rotting timbers from the old farmstead. Another write describes his method of making toast, simply to lay it on a flat glowing peat turf. The front door was secured by means of a huge beam place across the inside. He also had some wreckage from a Dakota that had crashed near to the farm in 1945 decorating his living room.
Symes lived this way for 14 years when in his 80’s he moved to lodgings in Buckfastleigh from whence in 1961 he moved to Kingsteignton. MooRoaMan died later in the same year at Newton Abbot Hospital and was buried at Albaston in Cornwall.
So, now perhaps you can see why I have called Fredrick William Symes, ‘Dartmoor Dundee’, it probably would be illegal to live so far out on the moor today. This man must have lived the hard life of the moorfolk of old if not harder, after all he had no pony to fetch and carry. But what a life it must have been, nothing to worry about and everything to enjoy – lucky, lucky man.
Stanbrook, E. 1994 Dartmoor Forest Farms, Devon Books, Exeter – pp 100 -105.