By: Blonde Two
There are some strange things that a girl could be doing on a sunny Sunday afternoon but poking around looking for a stone to put a coffin on whilst eating a French Fancy could conceivably win a prize for be one of the strangest.
I am very pleased to say that I didn’t actually have a coffin with me at the time and that the French Fancy was pink and very nice. I allowed it a quick viewing of Sharp Tor before I marched it down the hill on my macabre quest.
In the olden days (sometime after 1200) if your loved ones, or if legend is true, not so loved ones, died around the Huccaby, Bellever and Postbridge areas, you had to get a group of people together and carry the coffin all the way to Widecombe to be buried. If you think that is a long way, it is much better than even oldener days when coffins had to be carried along the “Lichway” (way of the dead) all the way to Lydford to be buried. From Bellever, along assumed routes, my rough calculations make Lydford 40 miles and Widecombe 16 miles away. I may have got this totally wrong but any way you look at it guys, this is a long way and Dartmoor didn’t have the roads then that it does now.
The coffin stone near Yartor (SX677734) marks the place where it was traditional to take a rest from coffin carrying if you were Widecombe bound. If you have ever walked up the hill from Dartmeet, you will understand why. The coffin was rested on the stone, a tot of whisky was had for warmth and remembrance and, if the person was well liked, his initials were carved into the stone. I deliberately haven’t given you a photo of the stone as I really enjoyed finding it but here are some initials to help. You will have to look carefully but for a little clue, the stone slab is split in two – if you want to read the legend behind this split, go to the fantastic Legendary Dartmoor site http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/coffin_stone.htm
Interestingly, in the days of coffin trekking all the way to Lydford, the body was not in the coffin for most of the journey. It was carried wrapped in a shroud (apparently much easier) to Coffin Wood (SX540810) where it was transfered to the coffin for the last part of the journey. I will have to take you over to Coffin Wood sometime but I can guarantee that I won’t be going at night!
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