If you go out walking between Darley Ford and Battens in North Hill, just you be careful. Be on the lookout for a big black dog. Darley is his name. Sometimes he appears as a man with a log of wood on his back, but most often it’s the dog you see.
Vincent Darley used to live at Batten. His family owned the land hereabouts and Vincent loved to walk it. He had a route that he kept to, come rain or shine. A fine figure of a man, though he was known to be eccentric. It wasn’t till he died in 1764 that the dog began to appear, a big black dog, on the very route that Darley used to walk when alive.
Talk spread around the area.
“Let’s go and wait for it,” said a tenant farmer of Darley Farm to his friend Sam, “down by Darley Ford. Then we’ll soon see what’s what.”
“Can I come too, dad?” asked his young son.
“Course you can,” his father replied.
That night the three intrepid heroes were positioned by Darley Ford, waiting.
It wasn’t long before they heard the ‘pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat’ of padded feet coming towards them.
“I’m scared, Dad,” said the boy, his hair standing on end.
“Don’t worry son.”
Two great shining eyes appeared in the middle of the road.
The boy’s knees began to knock.
Then the body of a big black dog appeared. Sam gulped but the farmer stepped forward with his stick and swung it hard at the dog.
YOWL! The dog disappeared.
“Well, that’s that, then,” said Sam.
“I think so,” said the farmer.
And they all walked home peacefully to their beds. Not one of the three ever mentioned Darley again or what they had seen.
Some months later two women and a man were walking home from Darley to Berriow after chapel one Sunday night. Darley appeared in the road in front of them. A big black dog with two great shining eyes. The three people froze to the spot in a little huddle. Darley padded up to them and pushed them apart so they stumbled out of his way. The dog took the crown of the road and then disappeared. It was a long time before those three walked home without more company after chapel on a Sunday night.
Darley’s route became known. He went along the Liskeard Road to Berriow. Just above Berriow Bridge the road entered Bones Walls Field and crossed the road leading from Isaac’s Turning to North Hill Churchtown. Then it went up the steep field opposite and down into Batten’s yard. Two trees remained to mark the old entrance. A small cottage was nearby at Batten’s Mill, a cottage belonging to Catern Buckingham’s family.
One fine night, Catern and her young man were sitting on a seat near the porch of her cottage. They were whispering and chatting of this and that, as young folk do, when suddenly out of the dark Darley came hurtling towards them. Catern’s young man hurled a broom at the big black dog. The dog immediately swelled up ‘so big as a yearling’. Then vanished in a ball of fire! Thunder crashed around their heads and lightning lit up the sky. The two young people clung to each other in fear, too scared to move. When they told their tale the next morning the people were amazed. There had been no thunder and lightning in North Hill Churchtown that night!
Now if you think you were safe in the daylight, think again.
Grace Blatchford was walking with her two friends arm in arm across the field from Batten’s yard to Bones Walls on their way to Berriow when Darley appeared. The big black dog came towards them, straight towards them. He didn’t veer to the left or the right but forced them to unlink their arms so he could pass. The girls shivered as the big black dog went past them.
At Battens itself a woman was outside, weeding the garden when a shadow fell across her patch of earth. Her heart nearly stopped in terror. She looked up to see Vincent Darley standing there. He was wearing a beaver hat and leggings with a log of wood on his back. The woman had known Vincent Darley before he’d died and she just a young ‘un. She was certain it was him! After all these years! And she told a young woman who told her young friend when she was an old woman who told her friend who told Barbara Spooner who collected this tale.
Battens has been rebuilt many times since then, but Darley has remained. Ghost china and ghost silk chink and rustle through the rooms. Darley has driven his coach thundering into the stable yard. Early one morning a groom was saddling up when the coach came. The racket was so great the farm horse stampeded and the terrified man thought the house was falling to pieces. Inside breakfast continued as usual. No one heard a thing.
So on your way from Darley Ford to Battens, keep a careful look out. If you see a big black dog with two great shining eyes, step to the side, smartish, and let it go past.
Retold by Liz Berg