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Saltered Down Father

Saltered Down Father

 It was a cloudy afternoon when the traveller left Exeter, he had to get to Tavistock by the evening so the shortest route was up across the moor. As nightfall drew its mantle around the grey tors it began to rain, it was the type of persistent light rain that soaks through the clothing like ink on a blotter. By the time the traveller had climbed up to the top of Shapley Common a dense moorland mist had settled reducing visibility down to a few feet. The poor man was unsure of his route in the first place but now he was completely at a lost. The only option was to walk close to the verge and follow it until he came to somewhere he could take shelter. Unfortunately the man chose to follow the left hand verge which meant as he came to Challacombe Cross it directed him down the Widecombe Road instead of the one to Tavistock. The mist seemed to be getting thicker as the man slowly tramped down the road. In the silence he could hear the sound of running water and stopping he could just make out the small parapet of a bridge. This gave even greater cause for concern because he had travelled the route a few times and could definitely not remember crossing a bridge. Wearily he turned around and retraced his footsteps trying to see where he had gone wrong. Having got to the top of the hill he could just make out the features of a junction, so this was where he went wrong, he should have carried directly ahead and instead the man had veered off left. Once again following the verge the traveller wearily trudged onwards.

After a while the man thought he could see a faint glimmer of light in the distance but not wishing to get his hopes up carried on. The next thing he knew he was stood outside an old inn, it was as if it had appeared from nowhere. The traveller said a silent prayer of thanks and stepped into the small bar. He was astounded at the number of people inside, why on earth would so many come out on such a night? The man walked up to the bar and eyed the large whisky bottle, just the thing to warm his frozen body. Having ordered a large glass the man then asked the landlord if he had a room for the night. The landlord inhaled deeply, he explained with a wave of his hand that a fair few travellers had booked in for the night and all his room were taken. The man’s heart sank, he started to think his weary body would have to settle for a bench infront of the fire when the landlord said, “well there be a small room ee kin ‘ave if ee dawn’t mind sharin’ it with salted down Feyther.” “Salted down father,” the man thought, “I would share a room with a donkey, never mind salted down father what ever that is.

The man was shown upstairs and into a small room with a single bed and an oak chest. This would do splendidly he thought and within minutes he was snuggled under a thick quilt and snoring contentedly.

In the morning he awoke fresh and revitalised, the smell of fried bacon wafted up the stairs and reminded the man that he had not eaten since yesterday lunchtime. The traveller sprung out of bed and opened the thick curtains to reveal a blue sky and a weak winter sun. Having dressed the man looked around the room to see if there was a wash bowl and seeing none decided it must be in the chest. He opened the lid and peered inside, the poor fellows heart stopped, he blinked and looked again with the same result. Inside the chest was the ashen figure of an old man, clearly it was a corpse as the last breath of life had passed his lips many weeks ago. The traveller slammed the lid and leapt back, his mind was working overtime, was the landlord a serial killer who murdered his guests, was that bacon he could smell cooking and how was he going to escape? The window was too small to crawl through and the only way out was down the rickety stairs.

The traveller quietly opened the door and gingerly crept down to the bar where he was met with the landlord and his family eating breakfast, huge platefuls of bacon and eggs. The landlord smiled and asked if the guest would like some breakfast. He knew he did but what about the corpse upstairs. The man decided to confront the landlord and so explained how he had a perfect nights sleep but was mortified to find a corpse in an old oak chest. The innkeeper did not look at all surprised which un-nerved the traveller. The innkeeper picked up the carving knife and started to slice off thick rashers of bacon. Then he pointed the knife at the traveller, “but I tawld ee last night, ee ‘ud ‘ave to share with salted down Feyther, now ‘ave some bacon and eggs.” The look of puzzlement on the travellers face told the innkeeper he would have to expound further. “Fur the last two weeks us as ‘ad deep snaw up ‘ere and sadly old Feyther died durin’ it and us couldn’t bury un ’cause us couldn’t get out so we salted un down till us kin.” Which roughly translated meant that the family had been snowed in for two weeks during which time the grandfather died. As the ground was frozen and the roads un-passable they could not bury the corpse so the body was preserved in salt until such times as they could take the coffin to Lydford Church. The traveller eat his eggs and left, noting as he went the name of the inn – The Warren House.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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