It’s 40 years since I posted a rather special christmas present to my friend Sylvia Sayer. In fact it was more a present for her grandchildren. I had met her three elder grandchildren, then known as Googie, Luli and Frookie. We had been on the heavenly Double Dart picnic that summer and I had spent some happy times with them at Syl’s Dartmoor home, Cator. I knew that the grandchildren liked to be read to in bed, and so I wrote them a story. It was called The Moor Fairy.
I first had the idea in September 1974 and worked on it all through the autumn term at Exeter University. I wanted to write about Dartmoor and what it meant to me. I had stayed at Hillbridge Farm on the western side of the moor once or twice a year for riding holidays since 1965. But it was not until the early 70s that I ventured beyond riding distance of the farm. In 1973 I first drove down to Dartmoor in my little white Mini, and began to walk in other parts of the moor. All these expeditions are reflected in The Moor Fairy.
The book is set at Beardown Farm, in the heart of the moor and within striking distance of all those places I was discovering—the West Dart valley above Wistman’s Wood, the Double Dart below Dartmeet, Corndon and Yar Tors, Hameldon and High House Moor near Cornwood.
I chose Beardown Farm because I knew that Syl’s great-grandfather had stayed there in the mid-nineteenth century, before Huccaby House (which the family later leased from the Duchy of Cornwall) was built. I made sure that the story included a pony, the Moor Pony, for horse-enthusiast Frookie.
This is my only attempt at a fairy story. It gave me the advantage of being able to get out of tight corners in the plot with a bit of magic! I got very stuck towards the end though and was rescued by my university friend Drusilla Bates (now Belfield) who had much more imagination than me and came up with a brilliant idea of a battle between water and oil, representing good and evil.
I wrote out the book by hand, which took many hours.
I did eight watercolour illustrations, from photographs of special walks and places. They aren’t particularly good but I felt quite pleased with them. I’ve reproduced them here next to the original photos.
This book is very much a one-off. I remember the months of work on it, Drusilla’s immense patience, and the sense of relief as I posted it, on 18 December in good time for Christmas. Only it wasn’t—the Royal Mail let me down; the book arrived as the grandchildren were leaving Cator after christmas for their home in Cheshire. And when they returned they had got past the bed-reading stage, so I am not sure they ever read it or had it read to them. No matter, others have read it and made kind comments.
When Syl died in 2000 I brought the book home, as a reminder of that time 40 years ago when I was discovering Dartmoor’s magic.