I was in a bookshop in Ilminster, Paragon Books, the one that was owned by Chris Chapman, who also owned the bookshop in Lyme Regis, Serendip. Sadly Chris is no longer with us, but both bookshops are still flourishing. He passionately believed in local authors and local books. I got on well with Chris and so I waved a manuscript under his nose, something I had written about poetry and farm labouring: sheep shearing, night lambing, forestry and cider making. This was back in the summer of 1991. A lot of cider and sheep have gone under the bridge since then.
It was late and the night was sharp and still. The car headlights kindled frost fires in the black hedgerows as we turned off the Maiden Newton road, wiggled around the radio station and plunged down the side of Toller Down heading for Powerstock.
We bumped over the Kingcombe dogleg, car wheels spinning loose flints into the frozen verge. The road dipped into the valley and climbed steeply uphill over clods of frozen mud and cow spatter to the clump of Scots pines at the Mount Pleasant crossroads.
My mother only usually rang when she wanted something but this time it was different: “Jo dear, it’s got a four-oven Aga — and a cellar!”
The paranormal tales of Eggardon Hill are almost wearisomely famous — the mass stalling of vehicle engines on the track designated at the crossroads as “Unfit for HGV”, the dogs and horses spooked by some unseen but powerfully-felt force, the three-year-old child’s tremulous enquiry from the back of the car: “Who were the men with spears, Mummy?”
Cast your mind back to 1950 — if you were alive then. I was alive. I’d been invited to the tenth birthday party of a boy called James Walker.