Yesterday had been bookmarked for location research. St Austell, Cornwall was the destination and we set off early in the morning before the heavens opened and turned the roads to rivers.
Someway into our journey, we had diverted from the A38, into Buckfastleigh – a waking little town on the edge of Dartmoor – to get a coffee fix. It was then that we heard the car’s exhaust clank with every slight crease in the blanket of tarmac. And there were a lot of creases; it would have seemed that this particular stretch of Devon tarmac had suffered a rather restless night.
Having just passed a garage we were in a rather lucky position, and had two replacement clamps fitted where the original ones should have been, by a decent chap with a shy smile and a spark in his eye, within the hour.
However, I departed from that emerging town a different person because of what I and my friend had discovered in that hour we killed in Buckfastleigh.
Not far from the garage there are the Kissing Steps: a steep flight of limestone kerbs and one hundred and ninety-six stone steps stretching under sheltering branches of the woodland that hide Pengelly Caves. We took breath several times on the climb up until we were eventually led to ruins. We had found Holy Trinity Church.
I have an illogical attraction to buildings without roofs no matter if they were once Holy or secular, grandly imposing or an outhouse. But the appearance of an elderly man sweeping the open-air nave suppressed my enthusiasm. Depending on which method you use, summer had not ended and there were very little leaves littering the church and I quickly began making up stories (as I am prone to do) to explain his being there, while my friend simply went to say hello.
Near the gate, there is a structure that looks like a prison cell and is wholly out of place among the weather-worn and lichen-plagued lopsided headstones and rusted iron railings. It is in partial view in my second photograph, and (I found out later) holds the tomb of Squire Cabell: A reportedly wicked man who hunted on the neighbouring moors with his hounds. It is said that he sold his soul to the Devil, and murdered his wife. After he was interred in 1677, a number of ghastly black hounds came loping across the moors to fetch his soul. The tomb itself (which may be, in part, Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Hounds of the Baskervilles) has been strengthened by a large slab placed on top of it (to keep Cabell in, apparently) and the cell bars emanate a red glow at night. The Squire’s ghost can also be seen stomping around the graveyard.
As I stood there, feeling rather hungry as the day’s first drops of summer rain fell from the gloomy skies, and watching my friend say goodbye to the sweeper of the nave, I was unaware of this legend of Squire Cabell. My friend had told me of it when we were back on the A38. The sensation I experienced then, reminded me that fear is often heightened when a writer leads you to assume a conclusion and saves the unexpected reveal to the very end, leaving the reader to relive the events after the cover is closed.
Who knows to what extent the legend of Squire Cabell is true? Ghosts, devils and fearful villagers are common in folklore. But there is, directly under his tomb in Pengelly Caves, a stalactite that has dripped to form an effigy of a man dressed in seventeenth century clothes.