From the Author
At some ill-defined point in the latter part of the seventeenth century, Widecombe was home to cunning man and self-styled 'Doctor', Robert Tooley. Little is known of him other than that his bizarre and fraudulent practices did not endear him to the locals, and they eventually brought a case against him. So peculiar were the details of this case, and so in keeping with English folk beliefs concerning death, magic and the spirits of the dead at this time, that I felt compelled to write a piece based upon it: The Cleft Owl.
Not everything contained within the novella is strictly factual, but it incorporates what is known about Tooley and his deeds, as well as an earlier dramatic occurrence in the village's history that so shocked the county and the nation, that two pamphlets were printed in London detailing 'those sad and lamentable accidents, which happened in and about the Parish Church of Wydecombe neere the Dartmoores'. Moreover, I have also drawn upon the local lore concerning spectral black dogs - the 'wisht hounds' - that are said to haunt the moors, and which are believed to have played a pivotal and formative role in Conan Doyle's penning of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Early modern England was a strange place, filled with unusual beliefs and practices, and unscrupulous types willing to turn popular credulity and ignorance to their advantage. Some might venture to say that nothing much has changed. If you should find yourself unable to visit Dartmoor itself, I invite you peruse these pages, and to marvel at the oddity that is The Cleft Owl.
This novella is the sixth in a series of standalone West Country Tales, all of which possess an occult or uncanny theme, and are firmly rooted in the English countryside.