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The Lychway

Chessen Waterhouse is a dreamer. Brought up in a farmhouse in the lonely wilds of Dartmoor, she is considered an outsider by her peers and the local community, so she takes refuge in books. But there is one person in the community who finds her intriguing. Sam White, son of a local farmer, has watched Chessen from afar for as long as he can remember.

Violet lives in the Dartmoor of the late eighteenth century, when a very different set of pressures govern life. Despite the village fear of the local Wise Woman Gracie, Violet is fascinated by Gracie and the work she does, and in time they develop a friendship, which leads to the discovery that she has an aptitude for herb lore.Her father, discovering the covert lessons, reluctantly agrees to allow them to continue, promising that he will tell Violet's Mother when the time is right. But Joshua's sudden death leaves Violet with her secret untold.

Church law of old states that the dead must be buried in the parish church, but at this time, the church is situated across the other side of the moor. The journey is said to be "eight miles in good weather, and fifteen miles in foul". With no other alternative, Violet's brother Amyas, must bury their father in a snowdrift until the weather clears and they can begin the journey.

Switching between late eighteenth century and modern day Dartmoor, and London, the story mixes legend with reality, fact with fiction, and contains many elements of folklore. The two main characters must try to find their way through the tragic circumstances of grief and personal loss, and ultimately life itself, whilst battling with both the confines of society and their own self-imposed restrictions.

Researching the Lychway

The story of The Lychway came about through reading folklore tales of my home village on Dartmoor. I had been reading Ruth St Leger Gordon's book, Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor. In it she talks about the Lychway, a walk that you can still do to this day. Never one to shirk my research responsibilities, I set out to do the walk with both my parents in tow. 

The photographs in the gallery were taken during that walk. It took us two days, and we weren't even carrying a body. 

The walk begins near to my home village, and then extends across the highest point of the moors to Lydford. The path goes past some of the most evocative places on the moor - past Powdermills, the old site of the gunpowder works; past tin mining sites; along by Wistman's Wood, the world famous site of the pre-historic twisted oak trees so universally loved by photographers; and on to Lydford. There are rivers to cross, and hills to traverse. Along the way there are little clues in the landscape to this having been an important route across the moor in years gone by, although the details of what happened there may have been all but forgotten. The map tells us that one circular group of trees is called coffin wood. While there are remote farms dotted along the path of the Lychway, the paths are rough, stony, and very steep in places. 
As we walked I tried to imagine how this might feel if e were part of a funerary procession, and out of those musings there sprang a short story, or so I thought. When I put pen to paper, the short story just kept growing and growing. 

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