Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare,
All along, down along, out along, lee,
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
I was packed up and on my way to Hittisleigh by 7.30am, fuelled by a breakfast of spicy Korean Shin Ramyon noodles. Apart from Goosey and Gander, there wasn’t much sign of life at the campsite when I headed off.
The remote hilltop settlement of Hittisleigh has a forgotten feel about it – the parish once provided the poorest church income in Devon. Somewhat amazingly, the church, which serves a village slightly smaller than Winterbourne Stoke, has three services a month including Holy Communion and two other Sunday morning services.
In view of its historic poverty, its perhaps not that surprising that Hittisleigh’s most famous son was a pirate called Samuel Bellamy who was born in the village in 1689 and died 28 years later as the wealthiest pirate in recorded history, amassing a fortune exceeding £100 mn!
Little is known of Black Sam Bellamy’s early life, other than the fact he was born in Hittisleigh in 1689. The woman who was probably his mother died in childbirth and was buried Feb. 23, 1689. His parents were likely tenant farmers, hovering on the edge of starvation like half of England at the time
Bellamy left home at a young age for Plymouth, becoming a ship’s boy at 13 in 1702 at the outset of the War of Spanish Succession. By the end of the war in 1712 he was a skilled sailor. After travelling around Cape Cod in 1715, he then went south to the Florida coast in search of sunken treasure. Although his known career as a pirate captain lasted little more than a year, he and his crew captured at least 53 ships. The ship he sank with in 1717 (a slave ship bound for Jamaica that he had captured from the English) , called the Whydah Gally, reportedly held more than four and a half tonnes of gold and silver when she went down with all hands in a storm!
Bellamy’s favourite weapons were four duelling pistols that he always carried in his sash. He made a dashing figure in his long deep-cuffed velvet coat, knee breeches, silk stockings, and silver-buckled shoes. Bellamy never wore the fashionable powdered wig, but grew his dark hair long and tied it back with a black satin bow, hence his nickname “Black Sam” Bellamy. Bellamy was renown for his mercy and generosity toward those he captured on his raids. This reputation earned him another nickname, the “Prince of Pirates”. He likened himself to Robin Hood, with his crew calling themselves “Robin Hood’s Men” and according to a contemporary Bellamy treated everyone on board his ship equally, including a third of the crew who were Black and formerly enslaved. These “outlaws” were thus in a sense experimenting in democracy, each having the opportunity to vote and have an equal share in the treasure.
In a famous speech attributed to Bellamy, he scorned the wealthy merchants he plundered: “They rob the poor under the cover of law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage.” Apparently he never killed a single one of his captives. Its rather tempting to think that Captain Jack Sparrow’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean is based on Captain “Black Sam” Bellamy!
Mid morning I passed the imposing Paschoe House. It is now a luxury hotel but it has a fascinating history including a connection with Uncle Tom Cobley and all of Widecombe fame!
A grade II listed house dating from the mid-nineteenth century, Paschoe House was designed by the famous architect John Hayward in the Victorian Gothic style.
The Pascoe Estate was first recorded in 1611 and the original house was built in the 13th Century near the lake that you can see today. In the late eighteenth century, it was noticed to be subsiding in its position, so the decision was0 made to move the house to higher and more sturdy ground – this is where you see it today.
At some point in 19th Century, the “h” was added to Pascoe making it Paschoe.
The original Pascoe House was acquired in 1611 by the prolific Hamlyn family who also owned seats at Clovelly, Langdon Court and Leawood.
For the construction of the new house, they employed the renowned Victorian architect John Hayward who was the official architect of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society and who also designed Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter Prison and The Hall in the Chapel Quad (Pembroke College, Oxford University).
Paschoe remained Hamlyn property from 1611 to 1948, a whopping 337 years and approximately 6 generations.
In 1787, there are records of the well-known Devonian, Uncle Tom Cobley, visiting Mr Christopher Hamlyn (then a country solicitor) residing in the original Pascoe House to draw up Tom Cobley’s will and testament. Uncle Tom was a well-to-do yeoman of the parish of Spreyton where he owned lands and a good sum of money. It is told that Old Tom, in his 90s, was very suspicious about signing his will as both his sight and hearing were failing him. He had been to another solicitor prior to Mr Hamlyn and didn’t trust him. He did, however, trust Mr Hamlyn and happily signed his will.
Crossing the railway line at Colebrooke proved a challenge – the footpath had been closed to public access since April 2021 until further notice to complete “urgent works” to the pedestrian crossing. Nearly 18 months later, public access is still prohibited! Mind boggling!
Clannaborough doesn’t have a village but it does have an impressive 13th century church.
I couldn’t resist a quick look around St Petroc’s church. There was no electricity inside – lighting was by candles. The visitors’ book suggested that the last walker on the Two Moors who had visited the church was 5 months ago in March 2022!
I stopped for lunch at The London Inn at Morchard Bishop. My ham and cheese sandwich knocked spots of the fare ( cheese burger and fries) I’d had last Tuesday at my local (The Boot Inn at Berwick St James) in Wiltshire. The burger and the service at The Boot was so awful that my friend astutely observed “This place won’t be around for much longer!” I suspect The London Inn at Morchard Bishop will outlive The Boot!
I was slightly unnerved to read on the village notice board that Morchard Bishop is the half way point on The Two Moors Way. It had taken me two and a half days to reach there and I was due to reach Lynton on Monday afternoon, catch a train from Barnstaple to Plymouth, get a taxi back to Carswell and drive back to Winterbourne Stoke by early Monday afternoon! Let’s hope I hadn’t got my route calculations badly wrong!
Much of the countryside I walked through between Drewsteignton and Witheridge was pleasant but unremarkable. If I’m honest I missed the wide open vistas of Dartmoor. I only met a couple of other walkers all day – it felt almost as deserted as parts of the Via Francigena!
It was about 4pm when I reached the small village of Black Dog which has to be one of the more bizarre place names in tge UK. Any connection with the Hound of the Baskervilles is apparently entirely fictitious. The village derives its name from The Black Dog Inn, itself named after an 18th century landlord’s dog.
A few years ago we nearly bought a house at Woolfardisworthy, a tiny hamlet about two miles from Black Dog. It was strange to think that the Black Dog Inn could have been our local if everything had turned out a bit differently!
I reached the campsite on a farm just outside Witheridge a little before six. Chatting to the farmer, I enquired if his farming business had been impacted by the dry summer. He smiled whimsically before answering: “Not really. We always get a good drop of rain in this part of Devon! The showers are 20p” he added with a grin, not covered by the £20 charge to pitch my one man tent in his field. Life is full of ups and downs I thought to myself, cursing the fact that I hadn’t bothered to bring any loose cash with me on the walk!