Imagine, if you can, accidentally discovering, whilst surfing on the internet one evening, that your dad had passed over two months previously. A dad that you’d lost contact with for nearly 20 years, but whom you’d always loved. This is what happened to my partner some years ago and to say he was distraught at finding this information out, is an understatement. Apart from listening and just being there for him, I didn’t know what else to do but knew I had to do something to help him through his grief and his thoughts of all those lost years. So, with a determined effort, and his blessing, I began to carry out a little research. His dad was a very special man; he had a heart of gold and I got on exceptionally well with him, so it was something I needed to do.
You see, we’ve always felt a pull towards Exmoor and walked the lonely moors, the rugged woodlands and tumbling rivers whenever time was kind to us. There was an extra pull towards Dulverton for one reason only; we knew my partner’s grandmother had been evacuated there from London, during the war and also knew that’s where his father had been born – in the parish of Dulverton. What we didn’t know was where, exactly, but the pull towards Exmoor and Dulverton was even stronger now that he was no longer with us.
Gathering as much information as I could and eventually purchasing his birth certificate, I found that he was born in a large, sprawling farmhouse, on the edge of Dulverton. I won’t give out the name of the farm, because it still stands and is still known by the same name. I’d further learned that his grandmother, who was pregnant at the time, had been housed at the farm along with several other girls. They were expected to work both in the house and on the land with the animals. Now, at least, we knew where his father had been born.
With all the information in hand, I booked us into the welcoming Exmoor Forest Inn, in Simonsbath, for a couple of nights. Not too close to Dulverton, but not too far away. It’s a place we stayed in regularly and I knew that it would do us both good to have a bit of peace and quiet. Morning came and having had a delicious and hearty breakfast we made our way over to Dulverton, across a misty moor to visit All Saints’ church in the vibrant, pretty town we loved so much. Having discovered where his father had been born but not knowing if he’d been baptized or not, we decided that the church there may have been a close enough bet. We intentionally took a rather circular route before reaching the town, wending our way down back lanes that gave far-reaching views out over Exmoor and the Somerset countryside. Our route took us past the farm where his dad had begun his days and we logged the location in our memories for all time.
Having reached the church, what greeted us as we entered the grounds was incredible. Before us was a carpet of crocuses in purples, yellows and white. It was stunningly beautiful and it seemed as if the sun had come out and shone down on us, despite the chill of the day. It made us smile and neither of us felt any sadness in any way. As we entered the church, we were greeted and warmly welcomed by an elderly lady with a beautiful smile. We explained why we were there and she listened intently, shedding extra light on the information that we already had. She was extremely helpful and knowledgeable and offered us a candle or two to light in memory of his dad. Then she left us to ponder quietly. This we did and then sat for a while in the stillness of the church. After giving us the email address of the vicar there, and telling us to visit the Copper Kettle in town, for a warming cup of tea, she bid us goodbye with a kindly nod of her head. The lady thought the vicar may have been able to access parish records to see if any baptism had taken place. Sadly, the information was not forthcoming as there were no records, so we’ll never know. But the church had fulfilled its job for us and I know that some sort of peaceful closure had happened that day.
Within months of that visit, we’d put our house on the market and moved to a cottage, above Dulverton. The pull that we’d always felt, was too strong and the decision had been made.
The tale doesn’t end there though, however. Coming along the main road to Dulverton late one afternoon, we passed a track on the left hand side. I’m always on the lookout for wildlife and my eyes are everywhere as we travel, so it was with some interest that I spotted a russet cow making her way along the lane towards the main road. I mentioned that it didn’t seem altogether right that she should be there, alone and loose. So, quickly we stopped and reversed but she’d beaten us to it and came out onto the road, took a right turn, and ambled down the tarmac, udders swinging merrily. Thinking on our feet, we decided to pull across the road at an angle to prevent any further traffic passing us and causing a potential accident. Driving towards us and the cow, from the direction we’d come, was another car, which had seen us waving our arms frantically. He’d, thankfully, stopped and had also pulled across the road. Now the cow was sort of boxed in but it looked as if she was on a mission so we didn’t think we had long to solve the problem. We now also had two cars at our end of the road, both stopped and both waiting patiently. They could see quite clearly what the predicament was. There was no open gateway to herd her into – it was all a quite a mystery. When we explained that we would drive down the track to the farm to see if anyone was about to throw some light on the situation, one of the drivers said that he would hold the traffic. The sign for the farm was at the opening of the track and, as she’d come out of the entrance, we thought this was our best bet. So, off we went, bumping down a muddy track towards the farm and outbuildings. However, after knocking on the front door several times, on the back door and calling around the outbuildings, it was obvious there was no-one at home. There was a phone number of the farm sign, which we’d taken note of. This we duly called but still no answer. The occupants were definitely out.
We returned to the road where the cow was standing quite still, in between the two blocking cars about 150 yards apart. We’d now been joined by a quad bike and trailer carrying a collie. It was being driven by a wizened elderly man, wearing a cloth cap. With his dog barking excitedly, he’d pulled over and blocked a lane on the left hand side of the road, around midway. We all looked as if we were under control but we were still none the wiser as to who the cow belonged to. At least she was safe for the time being. The road was blocked and any danger from vehicles was being averted.
Minutes later, a red pick-up and trailer appeared from down the track that we’d followed. It turned out onto the road, passing us with a thumbs-up sign. It pulled alongside and explained that the cow belonged to them but had we seen a calf with her, as they thought she’d escaped her field having gone to look for her ‘lost’ calf. We had to say no, we hadn’t seen one. It was just the one cow but that we’d keep an eye out for it in the adjoining fields on the journey home. All traffic was held as the cow was loaded with no fuss and taken back to the farm. Then, everyone went their separate ways as if nothing had happened. Danger averted.
It was on the way home that we looked at each other and smiled. The reason being that we both knew we’d just been knocking on the doors of the farmhouse, where my partner’s dad had been born, all those years ago, during the war. It meant the absolute world to both of us that we’d been stood there, with amazing views out toward Somerset and Devon on that late afternoon. Nobody knew our secret.
But that’s not all. From our bedroom window at the front of the cottage we now lived in, we could look directly in front of us, across the fields where a herd of some 80 deer would graze in the early morning sun. Across the fields, as the crow flies, around a mile away in the distance, we knew that in our eye-line, down in a dip, sat the farmhouse where the dad that he loved, had been born.
Who’d have thought it? Certainly not us, and we still often wonder just who was pulling whom to Exmoor all those years ago.