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Fardle Field

Fardle Field

Many years ago on the southern tip of Dartmoor lived a farmer, he was considered one of the larger yeomen of the area. One evening as his men were finishing their chores for the day he called his ploughman over. “Moses,” he said, “tomorrow I want you to plough a field over at Fardle, I know its not one of ours but I have promised a favour to the new owner.” Moses nodded and quietly replied “u’ll be don’ maister, rest assured.” with that he turned and walked back to the stable. The farmer watched him go safe in the knowledge that if Moses said “u’ll be don'” then it would be done and it would be hard to find a finer job of ploughing. The reason that the owner of Fardle needed this favour was that his two horses and gone down with colic and so he had no ploughteam.

The next morning the farmer was sat at the kitchen table and as was his custom he took out his old pocket watch and checked the time with the old grandfather clock that was steadily ticking away in the corner. No sooner had the big clock struck the first chime of seven, than his pocket watch also started to chime and almost simultaneously he heard the first heavy clank from the shire horse’s metal shoes on the cobbles. The farmer was never sure which of the three kept better time but deep down he knew Moses and his horses were probably the more accurate measure of the hour.

Within ten minutes the procession of ploughman, horses and plough were starting their clattering and clopping journey over to Fardle. The heavy metal wheels of the plough leaving a trail of white, twisting scratchmarks down the road. It did not take long to reach the field and Moses soon had the team harnessed to the plough. His expert eye had set his first furrow and no sooner had he gently slapped the reins on the horses back that the two mighty leviathans heaved their shoulders into the harness and started to drag the shining ploughshare through the virgin soil. It bit deep and skimmed through about four feet of earth and then suddenly stopped, the horses leant even harder into the harness and pulled. Still the ploughshare refused to budge, it was as if it had come up against a huge boulder. The horses snorted and strained, puffed and pulled but still there was no movement. Moses checked the soil, there was no rock or reason why that plough should not move. He could see from the steam rising from the horses back that they were doing their best. The ploughman unhitched the team and dragged the plough out of the furrow, he ran his hand along the edge of the share, it seemed sharp enough. Moses scratched his head and leaned on the handles of the plough, he took out his baccy tin and rolled a cigarette. As the ploughman puffed on the roll up he began to mull over his predicament. The soil seemed ok, it was not too wet and it wasn’t too dry, there were no rocks buried under the ground, the horses were certainly working hard enough and so it must be something wrong with the plough. Having finished his smoke he decided to go back to the farm and fetch another plough.

Having thoroughly checked the replacement plough he one again harnessed up the horses and cracked them on. Moses could not believe it, this plough did exactly the same as the last time, it bit, it drew a furrow for a few feet and then simply refused to move. Out came the baccy tin and having had his smoke and his ponder he returned to the farm to fetch the heaviest plough. The ritual was once again played out with exactly the same result. In all his years he had never seen soil that could not be broken by the heavy plough, this was a first. Out came the baccy tin and no sooner had the last wisp of smoke dissolved into the air than ploughman, horses and plough were seen returning to the farm. When he got back, Moses explained his problem to the farmer who was amazed, he knew that his ploughman would not be shirking the task and so promised that he would return to the field with them the next day.

The next morning saw master, ploughman, horses and plough stood in the field. Moses decided to start at the other end of the field to see if that was any different. The horses pulled, the plough bit, the share sliced a few feet and then once again nothing. The farmer walked up to the front of the horses and pulled them forward, still that plough refused to budge. Out came the baccy tin and a pipe as well, both men stood non-plussed, the thick smoke billowing around the field. The farmer decided to fetch the new owner of the field. Having firstly explained and then demonstrated the problem to the owner the farmer finally declared that he knew the reason, “This field is under a spell.” His friend looked at him, “well it must be, the plough is alright, and the horses couldn’t be better so the fault is with the field.” 

As they debated the problem another old labourer came down the lane and with the usual ‘agricultural curiosity’ was gawking over the hedge to see what was going on. The old boy ambled over to the party, “you daun main for to say you’m trying to plough thik field, farmer?” he asked. Then he knowingly started to nod his head, “Youm’ll never do it, tisn’ possible tu break’n, anybody ‘ud ‘ave told ee that,” he chided. The farmer frowned, “what you on about,” he growled. The old fellow tutted and raised his eyebrows, “the field bain’t be crockt I tell ee, what it mains I daun’t knaw but I ‘ave heerd say that t’was ordered to be so by zum Wiseman back in old anshent times.” The two farmers looked at each other and then at the old man both thinking that he must be the village idiot, “Wise man,” yelled the farmer, “I don’t see much wisdom it that rubbish.” The old yokel slowly shook his head, “well, that be what us call people as can do that manner of thing, I can’t tell ee more’n I zaid, I’m jest zayin’ no matter what ee do naught u’ll break this field and that’s all there is tu it.” With that he turned and shuffled away chuckling to himself. The two farmers, Moses and the horses stood in silence, the ploughman touched the plough and thought about having one last go but then he saw the old man chortling over the field gate. The farmer sighed, looked at the ground and reluctantly conceded defeat, “well, there it is, like I said the field is under a spell, come on Moses we may as well go home.”

As far as can be judged to this day that field has never felt the bite of a ploughshare or more to the point no ploughshare has been able to break the spell.  There is a tradition that the nearby medieval mansion of Fardel was once a monastery. A few miles away at Strashleigh was another monastic establishment and legend dictates that there was an underground passage that linked the two buildings. During the dissolution of the monasteries the monks were said to have hidden all there valuables in this tunnel, a local saying goes:

From Fardel Manor to Strashleigh Hall

There lies more gold than the Devil can haul.”

It is also said that presumably after hiding their valuables the monks then fled from the troops who chased and caught them in a nearby field where over a 100 of the brothers were slaughtered. The field was known as the ‘Blood Field’ and it was said that from that day the field could never be ploughed. There was/is a belief that any monastic lands taken during the dissolution would never be productive due to divine retribution. It is therefore possible that the ‘Fardle Field’ in the first story is the same ‘Blood Field’ in which the monks were murdered.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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