The rivers of Dartmoor are normally tranquil waters slowly cascading over the moors to the sea. But without warning they can became huge, swollen torrents of peat brown angry water that washes away anything that dares stand in the way. It was on a wet stormy winter’s night when all of Christianity was safely nestled around warm hearths that the Lydford innkeeper heard a feeble knocking on the bar window. Amazed that anybody would venture forth on such a night he crossed the unusually empty room and opened the big heavy door. Before him stood a wet, exhausted and breathless figure of a man, in his hands he loosely held the reigns of an equally fatigued horse. The stranger desperately inquired if the innkeeper had lodgings for the night. The landlord assured him he had and invited the man into the bar. Inside the huge granite fireplace was filled by the glow of elm logs as they blazed up the chimney. Dragging a huge carver chair to the fire the landlord offered the traveller a seat which was gladly accepted. “‘Ud zir want a drink,” the innkeeper asked. “A large brandy would do admirably,” the man replied. This was immediately dispensed and delivered into a pair of trembling hands. After a few sips the colour began to return to the guests face and the steam began to rise from his wet clothing like a moorland mist. Suddenly the door flew open and a couple of stalwart locals were blown into the bar. “Nivver knawed a night like it,” one of them exclaimed. “Two ales and a poker,” the other asked. Two tankards of foaming beer were placed on the old oak bartop, “mullin’ pokers, by the fire,” the innkeeper said with a nod. The two men walked over to the large settle to the left of the fireplace. Not wishing to hog the fire the stranger politely dragged the heavy carver chair to one side. The landlord poured himself a beer and joined the three men at the fireside. By now the traveller was beginning to feel warm and refreshed. One of the locals looked up and asked if the stranger had travelled far. “No not that far,” he replied, “I have come from a couple of miles the other side of the bridge.” One of the locals happened to be sipping his ale and choked and spluttered in horror, “be ee certan zir, did ee say as ee as crawsed the bridge?” The man looked puzzled, “why yes, it is the only approach is it not?” The three men went silent and nodded. “Then why the surprise,” the traveller asked. One local looked at the innkeeper, he in turned looked at the other local who then looked at his friend, the triangle complete they all sat goggle eyed. “Because zir, part of the bridge was a washed away by the deluge,” the barman replied. The stranger’s face turned an ashen colour and he squirmed in his chair. The man then explained that he remembered his horse suddenly pulling up and taking a huge leap after which it galloped up the road. He also recalled whipping and spurring the horse just after it had slid to a halt, but because it was so dark he could not see what the obstacle was. The innkeeper said what everybody was thinking, “well zir, in that case you’m a lucky man, thik pony of your’n ‘ave jist jumped a yawning gert ‘ole, an’ saved yer life fur certan.” The traveller, ordered another round of drinks, shivered and took out his pipe.
In the morning the innkeeper took the traveller down to the bridge to show him the exact length his horse had leapt. They both could plainly see the scuff marks on the far side where the horse had slid to a halt. The skid marks of where it had landed on the other side were equally visible. The traveller nervously shuffled to the torn edge of the bridge and peered down. Beneath, the brown peaty waters were frothing and foaming in an angry torrent. It was if some huge giant had just poured a gigantic tankard of ale down the valley. Both men realised that if that brave horse had not made such a mighty leap its rider would have been swept away to a certain watery death. Needless to say from that day on the horse was treated as if it were royalty.
Lydford Bridge – T. H. William, 1812?
The legend of the ‘Lydford Leap’ is one of the plausible kind, what other need would there be to relate such a story. It is not of the supernatural, traditional or moralistic kinds of tale. So, possibly this feat of equine bravery actually took place – for further information see – Lydford Bridge.