The Crediton Quest
Driving west between North Tawton and Crediton, late afternoon, on the A3072, it’s early October and on the right the red mid-Devon fields fold away, merging into Dartmoor’s rimmed and rounded violet-grey horizons.
|Mid -Devon fields from A3072, between North Tawton & Copplestone|
Staring out the window at a few straggly sheep, whose gaze is transfixed as if mesmerised toward moor, I am thinking about the C6, a period several centuries after the Roman had left the country; the time when, according to legend, various saints came over to north Devon from Wales. According to legend, Saint Elen, with her siblings, Christianised and colonised coastal sites such as Croyde, along the north Devon coast and from there trekked southwards toward the territories that many now think of as Tarka country. The missionaries must have journeyed here, into the zone of the county's heart.
|Looking across to Dartmoor from |A3072 near North Tawton|
I’m thinking about what may have been the same. Then. Now; admittedly over a thousand years, but in terms of geological time-frames, just a whisper; a nanosecond. The white crescent moon there up in the south, set within a plume of rosaceous sky high behind the moor, broods over the silhouette of the crepuscular grey and silvery tors. How many early missionaries exalting in the exact same sight tracked back and forwards on the tracks mazing across these western Wessex lands? Far away and back, between the third and sixth centuries, those early Celtic visitors from Wales came across by boat, to spend their lifetime-track of days and nights intersecting these Westcountry fields; magnetised by the stirrings of its beating heart, they may all have arrowed towards the sacred lands of this district of mid-Devon. The saints came to convert. Maybe as well, and instead, they were themselves converted to the spell of nature that, like an invisible soft breeze, inhabits these parts.
As we pass on the main road along beside the top of the hedge, just where the newly discovered wood-henge site is, recalling recent research, I try idly to chant the names of later female Saxon missionary names connected with this district, who lived a century of so after the arrival of Elen and her kin. Unfortunately, the connections between these special women, St Boniface, and through him, to Crediton, were not on the syllabus for '60s children at the town's school.
St Boniface statue in People's Park
|Anglo-Saxon Copplestone Cross, Copplestone|
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Jaggery - geograph.org.uk/p/4699068
Our car journey could, even, here, be a pilgrimage. A long-archway canopy under which we process, forward, to make our offering. Even without leaves, spun with twig antennae the intertwined branches provide shelter. A tunnel carries us to another land. I’m remembering Ted Hughes’ ‘red-soil tunnel’(note 1). Holy holly burdened with red berries. Leaves, with their cloud of autumnal colour falling along the road-edges, are ubiquitously denuding these trees of their fine greenery.
See the gap in the hedge. Turn east a little. Mirror the car. Back where we have come from. Back into another world...
Note 1: Ted Hughes, in 'Error' in Birthday Letters.