The Crediton Quest

The Crediton Quest
an excerpt 

         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
          A morning assembly religious tutor lectured us about the town's unique connections with the famous churchman-saint, but did not mention the names of his spiritual and by all accounts spirited sisters: Walburga; Leoba; Aelffled; Ina; TheclaWe would probably not have taken much notice; our minds were crammed full of contemporary female archetypes, Ruby Tuesday, Lady Madonna.

Anglo-Saxon Copplestone Cross, Copplestone
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © Jaggery -
 I think of the shadowy, sisterly silhouettes treading in the footsteps and lands of their fathers and brothers, walking along ancient tracks, silently criss-crossing these long-ago lanes, sometimes stopping to rest and pray at a shared site of ritual – an early wooden chapel, or a cross. They may have walked to the site of the ancient granite column in the centre of Copplestone, which we’re passing now. A mysterious benefactor frequently decorates and colours the Saxon cross with flowers, and now, mid-autumn, it stands sentinel in front of that laden apple-tree, in a local’s garden. Each day, apparently oblivious to Copplestone cross, hundreds of motorists negotiate these traffic lights and roll round the roundabout outlining the village centre, which interlaces this one-way system with its new road layouts. Nevertheless, those many centuries ago, the granite Saxon cross must have been prominent in the landscape, its column of carved and intricate interlacing reputedly marking the site of the centre of Devon.  Admittedly, the cross is reputed to be of the C10, rather than the C7 or C8, the time-zone I’m contemplating now; but even so, a bit of time stretching seems to be in order here. Experts are not always to be believed and if not this one, for sure there would have been other similar structures, made of wood, dotted along the lanes, marking the sites of ancient sanctum.

            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. 


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