Tag Archives: Dartmoor

The Story of the Conchie Road

In May 2017 I was walking on Dartmoor. I was on a clear track into Princetown from the east, with views of the prison and the tv mast.

I had walked across the open moor, through the remains of Whiteworks, an old tin mine, across Foxton Mire – a quaker to use the phrase adopted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I was promised a cist called the Crock of Gold. And then I checked the directions for the walk

Turn left … and climb gently, heading straight for the TV mast in the distance. The path later gives way to a better-surfaced gritty track, the result of the hard labour of conscientious objectors during the First World War; the war ended before the track could be completed. … [From Dartmoor Walks, Pathfinder Guide, walk 24).

My interest was immediately aroused. What were conscientious objectors doing on Dartmoor and why were they building unfinished roads? I began my researches. This post is the history of a short story and how that walk in May 2017 took me and my writing to places I would never have predicted.

The Conchie Road or the Road to Nowhere

My researches turned up information about COs (conscientious objectors) and about the project to build the road. About 1000 COs were housed in Dartmoor Prison buildings, renamed Princetown Work Centre after conscription was introduced in 1916. Men who refused to join the armed forces faced a tribunal and some were granted exemptions. They had religious or political objections. The COs on Dartmoor were required to do work ‘of national importance’. There was a plan to develop the Prince of Wales’s land on Dartmoor, and the road was intended to service these farms.

The land was very poor, even when drained by the COs, and even today is very thin. It was not a project with much prospect of success and the road was nicknamed ’the road to nowhere’.

Sometimes ideas are presented to writers. The nickname of the road to nowhere nicely stood for the experience of COs in 1916 through to the years after the war. The metaphorical Conchie Road was a hard one and I wrote a short story about Sam Skelton, a political CO, who was sent to Dartmoor, who worked on the road, and who found very little respect after the war. I called it The Conchie Road.

Devon Remembers Heritage Project

I recently wrote a post about the Devon Remembers Heritage Project. It involved ordinary people (that is, not historians) and supported about 30 research projects into how the war affected life in Devon 1914-18. One of these concerned COs from Devon. I went to a presentation about the research into the men who refused to fight. Many, many of them were Friends, and the Exeter Meeting hosted the event. You can find the previous post Devon Voices from WW1 here.

Many of the Quaker COs joined the ambulance brigades and served at the front; others refused to support the war in any way and were sent to work camps, including Princetown.

I offered my story to the Heritage Project and it is included in the archives.

Article in Devon Life

I found that many local people knew nothing about the road, or about the presence of COs on Dartmoor during the First World War. I was keen to share the outcomes of my research and the pleasure of the walk so I submitted an article to Devon Life. It was published in April 2018 under the title Pacifists’ Pathway. It presented the history of the road and the COs and recommended walkers to try it out. I took pictures of the road in December to accompany the article, having persuaded my sister to join me on a very slushy walk.

The Plaque for The Conchie Road

On November 3rdthis year I attended the ceremony honouring the COs in Princetown. We began with a vigil outside the Dartmoor Information Centre, and then walked to the point on the Conchie Road where a plaque was unveiled. It was organised by Friends. It was also attended by Simon Dell, historian of Dartmoor, who wrote the book The Dartmoor Conchies.

As we stood in silence during the vigil in Princetown a long line of soldiers, weighed down with equipment, bearing arms, faces blackened, filed past the circle of silence. It seemed very inappropriate.

At the plaque it was drizzling, cows had assembled under the trees, and we could see walkers on the path. I had been asked to read some of my story. It was a strange experience to read the passage where Sam and his mates are sent to build the road, grumbling at the waste of their energies and to read it in the place it was set, in the rain, with an audience of cows and Friends.

We also heard from the daughter of a CO, also a Friend. Her father had met and fallen in love with his wife in Princetown. He never spoke of his experiences as a CO, she told us.

2018 Exeter Short Story Prize

A few days after the ceremony I was thrilled and very proud to discover that my story had been shortlisted for the 2018 Exeter Short Story Prize.

The Dartmoor Conchies (Dartmoor Prison’s Conscientious Objectors of The Great War) by Simon Dell, published in 2017 by the Dartmoor Company.

Update May 2019

You can read the story in Better Fetch A Chair,  the collection of my short stories published in December 2018.

And if you want to obtain a copy for the special reduced price of £5 (p&p included) you can either email me (lodgecm@gmail.com) or DM me on twitter @lodge_c and I will send you details.

Better Fetch A Chair  by Caroline Lodge, published by Bookword in 2018. 142pp. Cover price is £8.99 but available for £5.

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Dartmoor, Hay Tor and Freedom from Torture

Walking in December on Dartmoor means low temperatures, the chance of fog and reduced daylight hours. But Dartmoor has beauty at every time of year. On our walk on Thursday 29th December we enjoyed a few of these.

 

After our group photo we set off towards the rocks. People, especially children of all ages, cannot resist climbing them. They are impressive, massive, cracked, elephantine. After the first climb to the saddle between the rocks we considered the view and did some warm ups. The earlier fog was clearing fast and only lingering in the valley below. The fog seemed to follow the Teign Valley down to the sea. Denbury Down rose out of the mists. I can see both Denbury Down and, on a good day, Hay Tor from my study. It was harder to see my study from up on the Moor.

North of Hay Tor, having skirted the quarries, we met the tramway and the Templer Way (a marked walking trail from Hay Tor to the Teign Estuary).

Up here we did our second set of Pilates, in the picture walkers are stretching like a dragon, a friendly dragon. The dogs don’t seem a bit interested.

The next section was a steep descent, tricky and necessitating a walking pole. We could see into a valley, with villages, farms, fields and animals. Through the valley runs Becca Brook, which we crossed twice by clapper bridges. Between the two crossings we climbed steeply to Hound Tor. There is an ancient settlement, long abandoned, on the way to the summit. The map says medieval, but it may be much older than that. It’s hard to remember that the Moor was once much more densely populated than today. There were lots of people out enjoying the Moor, many with dogs, mostly in groups. The air was still and you could hear the cries of delight and summons for dogs and children all through the day.

From Hound Tor we had a more gentle descent back over the stream and then a climb to return to the Hay Tor Rocks and finally the car park.

It’s fun walking in groups, you can talk or walk on your own, enjoy the dogs, share the humbugs. Nearly 20 people came along, and some dogs, supporting Freedom from Torture. Thanks to Paul for leading us, and to all who took part.

Bookish Dartmoor

There was no real bookish connection to this walk. But in the Pintickle and Rhum, where we refreshed ourselves on completion of the walk, there was a portrait of Agatha Christie, and a set of her books over the fireplace.

My walks and challenge.

I am raising money for Freedom from Torture, through sponsorship of a monthly walk and blogpost. This is an extra post in the series. You can read more about the project on the page called My Challenge (just click on the page title below the masthead).

This extra walk was about 10km, (6+ miles). The map route, by the way, is very approximate.

You can sponsor my walk/blog here, by clicking onto my Just Giving Page.

Related posts and websites

The Challenge page on this website

The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby. My fourth walk in December

Do Refugees need holidays? My third walk in November

Breach by Olumide Popoola & Annie Holmes, the second walk in October

Lost and Found, the first walk in September

Write to Life at Freedom from Torture

 

The fifth regular post about the challenge will appear on this blog …

… in mid-January

 

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Filed under Freedom from Torture Challenge, Writing and Walking