The Bell of Sheepstor Bridge

Dora, quickly put a piece of cheese, slices of bread, and butter, and a jar of cider, into her basket and covered it with a cloth, tucking it in around the edge. She was excited, about seeing her boyfriend, Silas, for lunch. She had been in service since the age of 14, at Longstone Manor. Now 16, she had met Silas, at the village fair the previous summer, but due to her long working hours, had little time to meet him. Cook, had given her permission, to take the food and cider, which had been left over from the previous day, and had given her a couple of hours off to meet Silas. She adjusted her best dress, which she wore on special occasions, tucked her long blonde hair into her bonnet, and headed out of the kitchen door.

The summer of 1818, was hot, and she welcomed the shade of the trees, as she walked down the lane, heading to the bridge over the river, where she had agreed to meet Silas.
Silas, was tall and very handsome. His long brown hair, tied in a pony tail, beneath the wide brimmed hat he always wore an essential, to give protection from the sun, as he worked in the fields, for local farmer, Gerald. He had not seen Dora for weeks, and was excited about meeting her for lunch. From the bridge, he looked up the lane, to see Dora, walking towards him, with the biggest smile he had ever seen. He ran towards her, greeting her with a big hug and a kiss. Silas was 20, and with strong arms, picked up Dora up, and carried her to the meadow, by the river, where they were to share their picnic. Dora, removed the cloth from her basket, and laid it on the grass. She then placed the bread and butter, cheese and jar of cider, on top, smiled, as she looked at Silas and announced, “Well, what do you think?”. “It is a grand picnic, hey, and look what I have brought”. Unfastening his cloth bag, he produced an apple pie, which the farmer’s wife had baked, for the occasion. He placed the pie on the cloth, “Thank you” replied Dora, as the couple sat down to enjoy their lunch.

Dora smiled at Silas. “I do love you Silas, but we can only meet now and again”. Silas looked at her. “Yes, I love you too, and one day we will be married, and we will be able to spend all the time in the world together”. “I cannot wait for that day”, she replied, “But until then, we must make the best of the time we have together. She continued “Cook said that I must come when the church clock strikes one, it is such a short time” Silas agreed, but at least it was better than nothing.

Dora leaned towards Silas. He wrapped his armed around and kissed her gently. “It is very hard having so little time for us ” he uttered, giving her an extra hug. ““But at least I will be able to see you at church on Sunday”, “Yes, I always look forward to seeing you there” came the reply. “Talking about that” commented Silas, “Did you understand the Vicar’s sermon last week?” “Not really”, replied Dora. She continued “When he said the first will be last, and the last will be first. Totally lost me”. Silas looked puzzled, “Yes, but he seemed to know what he was on about”. “I think it was about going to heaven or something”. Dora looked him, “Yes probably, maybe we should adopt it as a code word next week, to mean I love you, then no one would know what we were talking about” Silas laughed, “Yes, okay, that would be fun. Only us two would know what it really meant”. Time went by so quickly, and it seemed like the wink of an eye, when the church clock struck one. “I must go Silas, or I will be in trouble with cook” exclaimed Dora. Rapidly, she collected up the cloth and picking up her basket, gave Silas a kiss, she ran down the lane, leading back to the manor, looking back to give Silas a wave as she went.

The following Sunday, Dora made her way to church with a spring in her step. She couldn’t wait to meet Silas by the gate to the church, under the yew tree. Where they usually met. As she neared the church, she noticed a gathering of parishioners talking very anxiously. Dora noticed that Silas was not there, and decided to wait by the gate, for him to arrive. Looking at the nearby gathering, she could not help to wonder what all the fuss was about. Catching the eye of the Verger, Mr Smith, she enquired what all the fuss was about. Mr Smith looked concerned. “Not good news Dora, the naval press gang from Plymouth, came to the Oak Inn last night, and made off with two of our lads”. Dora looked alarmed, “Who did they take”, asked Dora. “young Davey, from over yonder, and Silas, from Gerald’s farm.” Dora heart sank. “Was there no lookout?” she looked very alarmed. “there was. It was George from Dousland. The silly bloke fell asleep. Totally useless” replied Mr Smith.

Dora knew this was extremely bad news. She knew the only thing she could was to wait, hopefully Silas could escape and return home. She felt in her heart however, that the situation was impossible.

Days turned to weeks, then to months and then into years. Dora was heartbroken; she could not imagine life without Silas. Ten years or so past, Dora still waited, when on an errand to the village, she saw the Vicar, Reverend Toby. “Reverend”, she shouted, “Have you a moment I need to ask you something”, “Yes, of course Dora, what can I do for you” came the reply. Dora continued, “You remember my Silas being taken by the press gang all those years ago”. “Yes”, he reply. “Do you think I will ever see him again, for all I know he may be dead, you have heard the stories of the dangerous life in the Navy”. The Reverend tried to comfort her. “Yes Dora, that is a possibility, I really could not say”. Dora wiped away a tear and continued, “If that’s the case, will I ever see him again.” The vicar held her hand. “Dora, you may remember many years ago now, I gave a sermon that recorded a passage from the good book about life” “Yes, I do” she replied. The vicar continued” The first will be last, and the last will be first, I think it went”. “What does all that mean” “Well” people have many ideas on what it means, but the way I think about it, is that we all meet up in heaven or just another time” “But then, no one really knows do they”. Dora smiled, “Thank you Vicar that has helped me”. The two said goodbye and continued on their path.

The winter of 2016 was cold, in fact very cold. The snow had come to Dartmoor with a vengeance. But then, it brought a beauty of its own, with many people venturing onto the moor to enjoy the scenery.

Training for the coming Ten Tors event in the spring, a team of 9 sixth form girls, from a local college, made their way towards Leather Tor. The day was clear and a glassy sun shone in a vibrant blue sky. Fiona was leading the way, her mind focused on her Ordinance Survey map, “That is Leather Tor over there, come on let’s make our way up the rocks, the view should be great over Burrator lake from there”. The rest of the party agreed, “It’s about lunchtime”, mentioned Sarah, “Shall we stop there”. They all agreed, it was a splendid place to take a rest. Climbing to the top of the tor, the girls picked a rock to sit on, and opened their back packs.

Making their way from Crazy Wall Pool, a platoon of young Royal Marines, from Bickleigh Barracks, were making their way across the snow. They were training for a coming deployment in northern Norway,. As they rounded the ridge heading towards Sharpi Tor, the corporal Mark noticed the girls on top of Leather Tor. The opportunity to great by a group of Royal Marines, Mark turned to the others, “Hey guy, shall we take a break for lunch”. He nodded towards Leather Tor. Quickly spying the group of girls perched on top of the tor, the rest readily agreed. “Come on” shouted Mark, “Follow me, and remember behave yourselves”. The marines made up the rocks of the tor. “Hi girls” shouted Mark with a wave. The girls waved back. The day was becoming more interesting by the minute. The two groups exchanges greetings, and discussed each others objectives. To be fair, both groups were glad to see each other, with the marines giving the girls some guidance on their quest.

Mark sat down next to Fiona. “I hope we have been of some help”. “Yes, thank you” said Fiona’s. “We have enjoyed your company,” Mark continued, “the Ten Tors challenge is great for all who enter. It’s not a race, The first will be last, and the last will be first”. Mark’s words somewhat stunned Fiona. Somewhere, in the far reaches of her memory, they seemed so familiar, but she just could not think why. Mark looked at her, “Are you ok?”, “yes, it is just something you said about the Ten Tors, it seemed so appropriate, it is just so odd”. Mark looked behind him, the lads, in true Royal tradition, were swapping mobile phone numbers. Mark smiled at Fiona, “Would you mind if we exchanged numbers, for some reason, I would like to keep in touch, if that is OK”. “Yes why not, it feels that I have known you for ages”. As the two made a note of their phone numbers, the wind came from across the waters of the lake, the chime from the bell of church clock struck one.

Mark and Fiona looked into each others eyes. Yes, they knew. After over two hundred years, they had been re-united.

By Ray Steed

Edited by Kate Whitmarsh