Valentine’s Day, February 14th, what man dare forget that date? Many would like to, but the marketing vultures have successfully made it compulsory to buy the obligatory card and/or bunch of flowers. But there was a time when things were a lot simpler and dare I suggest a lot more ‘genuine’. No cards just a simple heart-felt gesture or maybe a small personal token that never went near a ringing till. There would be no highly inflated meals sat in impersonal restaurants but instead possibly a home baked fancy fashioned in a romantic heart. Oh yes, those were the days, and what made things a lot easier was that nowhere else could such romantic gestures be inspired by such a romantic landscape as Dartmoor. Where else could you walk your intended down Diamond Lane, or stroll out to the hill where the old stone circle known as ‘Kiss in the Ring‘ sits. Maybe even walk hand in hand up to Heart Tor (Yar Tor 1613) and gaze down at the romantic Dart Valley. A real point-earner would be to take your loved one to Honey Pool and whisper sweet nothings in her ear. And nowhere will ever beat ambling beside the Love Brook as you pledge your dying devotion. There is also the possibility that Lover’s Leap would stir passions as deep as the pool below. A glass of Champagne in the village inn at Lust-Leigh could make for an interesting night. If you were wealthy then a visit to The Money Box could convince her you were a good catch. If popping the question was hard why not amble through Parson’s Wood and hope she takes the hint. Wheal Jewell would be an ideal setting for the giving of a ring as would Wheal Friendship or Yes Tor.
If she was a ‘big hearted’ woman in every way then ‘Hugg-a-Ton’ Court would be the ideal spot for romance. For those wishing to end a relationship a quick trip to Mount Misery would be an ideal place to dump someone. I will leave Moor Tongue to your imagination along with Naked Hill.
Where did all this start? Rome is where it began but as a pagan festival and feast in honour of Lubercus but then along come the Christians and take over the event. They even dug up three St. Valentines’ to dedicate the day to and into the bargain Cupid has been turned into a chubby looking cherub firing his arrows in every direction.
But what about the old, forgotten traditions of Valentine’s Day? Well, it was supposed that if a girl peeped through the keyhole of her front door and saw a cock and a hen together then she would be married before the year was out. In some moorland areas boys and girls would go to the church porch at 12.30pm on the Eve of St. Valentine. When the church clock chimed the half hour they would rush home scattering hempseed as they went. Whilst this was happening they would repeat the following: “Hempseed I sow, hempseed I sow, She/He that will my true love be, Come rake this hemp seed after me“. The spirit of their future lover would then materialise wrapped in a winding sheet or shroud and begin raking up the seeds. Another custom for finding out who a girl was going to marry involved writing each letter of the alphabet on a scrap of paper and putting them face down in a bowl of water. A pair of shoes would them be arranged in a ‘T’ shape on the floor in front of the bowl, the girl would then recite:
“I place my shoes like the letter T,
In hopes my true love I shall see,
In his apparel and his array,
As he is now and every day.“
This would be repeated three times and on each occasion the shoes would be moved, in the morning some of the letters would be found facing upwards and these were the initials of the future husband. This belief also held good if carried out on Midsummer’s Eve. In a similar it was possible to find her future husband by going to sleep with a sprit of yarrow under her pillow. The first man she saw on leaving home the following day would be her future intended.
There was a tradition in some of the villages to the north of the moor where young girls would bake heart-shaped biscuits for their boyfriends which also had the bonus of showing her cooking skills or lack of to the prospective husband – and I’m saying nothing. Should anyone have a desire to be married then it was tempting fate to pick a snowdrop before Valentine’s Day for this would ensure they remained single for the rest of that year. The sending of Valentine’s Cards was also a popular custom dating way back in time. Originally it was hand-written letters that were secretly sent and contained poems and similar heart felt emotions. It was in Victorian times that the Valentine’s Day card appeared and has remained with us ever since. Mind you the internet has added a new slant on things with the coming of electronic cards and instant delivery.
I was always brought up with the belief that if you send a card then you put your name on it, that way nobody else mistakenly gets the credit for it and you haven’t then wasted your money. The best Valentine’s card I can remember was from a girl in junior school who put a £5 note along with it. Sadly, when I showed my old lady she took me straight around to the girl’s house to return it because in today’s money it was the equivalent of about £60. Wonder where she is now? A few years later I can vividly remember the lonely and embarrassing walk home from school with no Valentine’s card when everybody else was flaunting theirs – shame or what! Then there was the year when I had to buy three Valentine’s cards all of which descended in order of devotion. It later transpired that I got them mixed up and the love of my life got the real skanky card resulting in an emotionally scarring dumping and it takes no guessing where the soppy romantic card went.