Sunday, 6 October 2013

The making of a Bodmin Moor legend

As you might expect from such a bleak and mysterious place, Bodmin Moor has more than its fair share of myths and legends - from the strong connections of the bottomless (?!) Dozmary Pool to the stories of King Arthur, the smuggling exploits associated with Jamaica Inn, the ghostly presence of murder victim Charlotte Dymond on the slopes of Roughtor. right up to present day reports of farmers' livestock being hunted down by the Beast of Bodmin Moor.

Practically every village on or near the moor has a tale to tell. Even Upton Cross which we pass through every time we head up onto the moor. Especially Upton Cross! Few places can rival the dramatic story still told around the fires in the houses of the village on dark, winter nights. Dear readers, draw closer if you dare and I'll tell you all about the Head of Fernley Pike. Whoooooooo!

At the centre of the village lies the Victorian school and observant travellers will notice that there is a gap in otherwise completely symmetrical lower railings.
Closer inspection reveals to the intrepid explorer the following plaque:
'Fernley Pike was stuck here. June 1945.' Who could fail to be intrigued by this? Who was Fernley Pike and why is he remembered? Permit me to enlighten you.

Fernley was a pupil at the school and, one day in June 1945, a football bounced over the railings and landed on the pavement outside. Fernley thought that he could reach the ball by reaching through but Fernley was wrong. His head got firmly stuck and, despite the heroic efforts his teachers to free him, the village blacksmith had to be called to cut the railings with a hacksaw. This story has entered the folklore of Upton Cross and Fernley, who is in his 70s and now lives over the border in Devon, is still remembered for it. In 2008 he was invited to present a cheque to the school on behalf of the ex-pupils but this was a subterfuge as he was really asked to come along to unveil the commemorative plaque now affixed to the railings. 

Fernley Pike re-enacts his entry into the history books.
And there was more to come! Last year, Sterts Theatre (based in Upton Cross) put on a production called Cornish Phoenix. It was a musical story of life and love on Bodmin Moor, conceived and written by Nick Stimson with the help of local people who contributed ideas and stories at a series of workshops held over the winter. The tale of Fernley Pike was one of those stories and the moment features in the finished play. Fernley was guest of honour at one of the first performances of the play, which he attended with his family. The photograph below shows him chatting to the young actors on the stage set about his moment of fame – or infamy.
Every time we pass Upton Cross school now we shout 'Remember Fernley Pike'. Long may he be remembered. And long may he act as an example of how not to retrieve a football.

No comments: