The Hotel on the Moor
"I've never seen Dartmoor." Natasha exclaimed. "Do you mind if we go back across the moors?"
David looked up at the sky. It was overcast and seemed to threaten rain but it was midway through February and the worst of the winter was behind them, so there shouldn't be any problem.
"OK Tash," he laughed, "We will take the `B' road across the middle of Dartmoor and we can have a look at Princetown Jail on the way if you like."
She enfolded him in a bear hug and said, "Thanks Dave, that will be great and much better than the boring old A38. Do you think we will see any Dartmoor ponies?"
"I'm not sure if they are around at this time of year. Maybe they get taken in during the winter. Tell you what we might see though!"
"The Hound of the Baskervilles."
She grimaced, then laughed. "You just can't resist teasing me can you?"
David smiled, then they linked arms and went in search of a restaurant for their last meal before they left Plymouth on the journey back to Kent.
The afternoon was well advanced when they drove out of Plymouth and headed north on the A386 and by the time David turned right at Yelverton to head along the B3212 across the moor, a light drizzle was falling. Natasha pulled a long face as the visibility steadily decreased; there was not much chance now of seeing more than a couple of hundred yards or so.
The further onto the moor they drove and the higher they got, the worse the visibility seemed to be.
"I doubt if we will see much at all in this weather," said David. "Perhaps we should turn back and return along the main roads."
"No, let's carry on Dave, it might improve a bit later."
"OK Tash, but don't bank on it."
Five miles further on the sky overhead lightened and the drizzle stopped, although David noticed that there was a heavy bank of dark ominous cloud ahead. "Look!" he said, "There are some ponies over there on the left."
"Oh dear," exclaimed Natasha. "Look at the poor things, all trying to shelter from the wind behind that rock." She watched in fascination as they drove past the group of animals, then asked "How far is it to Dartmoor Prison?"
"Not long now," replied David. "We should be coming to Princetown soon."
Shortly after, they drove into Princetown where, at the main crossroads, he turned left. The car climbed steadily as they went through the small town. "There it is," he said, "on the right." In the gloom of the late afternoon the grey granite fortress looked looked even more unwelcoming and forbidding than usual.
Natasha shuddered. "No wonder it has such an awful reputation, it looks evil," she said, "let's turn round and get back on the road home. I think I've seen enough of Dartmoor's dark side for one day."
"OK Tash, here we go."
As Princetown and its infamous jail dropped behind them, a few flakes of snow began to fall. David decided that it was unlikely to amount to much and pressed the accelorator down a little more.
Within a few minutes a blizzard swept in across the Tors turning the landscape completely white. Steadily the outline of the road disappeared and it became increasingly difficult to know in which direction to turn the wheel. "I can't carry on much further in this Tash. Otherwise I shall drive off the road into a bog or hit a rock. We will have to find somewhere to stop and sit this one out, there should be another village soon. He slowed the car down to little more than walking pace."
Natasha, now regretting that she had suggested coming over the moor, swallowed hard but did not say anything.
His eyes smarting from the strain of staring into the swirling snow storm, David said with more than a little relief in his voice. "There's a building down that track on the left. With a bit of luck it will be a pub or a restaurant. It's worth a try anyway."
It was only 5 p.m. but already darkness was setting in and the light from the building was a very welcome sight in the gloom.
"Look there's a sign. 'Clapper Bridge Hotel.' I don't care what it's like, let's stay the night here."
"Great idea Tash. I've had enough of driving in this."
They parked the car close to the entrance and got out. Natasha looked up at the building, which looked dark and brooding in the storm. "I don't think it's open Dave, there is only light in one window and this outside sign isn't illuminated either."
"You may be right but there is only one way to find out. At least they will know where the nearest place is that we can spend the night."
They pushed at the heavy wooden door and found it locked. Then David gave the bell pull a firm tug.
After a couple of minutes a light came on behind the main door and they heard the sound of bolts being drawn back.
In contrast to the forbidding exterior, the woman who opened the door was bright and cheerful. "Hallo. I am afraid we are closed at the moment. We don't open until Easter."
Dave stepped forward into the light. "Yes, we are sorry to bother you but we were caught in this awful storm and have to find somewhere to stop the night. Could you direct us to the nearest place that is open."
The woman peered past them into the snow flakes, which were larger now and falling more densely. "Good Heavens!" she exclaimed, "We didn't realise it was snowing so heavily. You musn't stay out in this. Come in, come in."
She led them into a large but cold oak panelled reception hall then through a door marked 'Private'.
"This is our part of the hotel, and the only section with the heating on at present," said the woman. "Ah, here comes my husband! Dennis, these good people are seeking shelter from some terrible weather."
The man smiled and held out his hand. "You are very welcome. I have just looked out of the window and seen how bad it is, but you will have to make do with what we have I am afraid. We don't open for another six weeks yet."
Natasha replied, "So your wife was telling us. It is very good of you both to let us come in."
The man laughed, "We may be closed but there is no way that we could let you stay out in that lot. Now, if you go with my wife Maureen, she will take you to our daughter's room. She is away so you can sleep there tonight and while you are sorting out the accommodation, I will go out to the car with your husband to bring in your bags." He looked out of the window again, "but we had better be quick, it is becoming quite deep out there."
Later, after a meal with the hotel owners, Mr. and Mrs. Berryman and some warming drinks, David and Natasha headed to their room for the night.
The bed was warm and comfortable and they settled into it under the feather quilt. Natasha laughed, "They both just assumed we were married, didn't they!"
David looked at her for a moment with his grey-blue eyes and replied, "Maybe we should be."
She giggled and said, "I accept!" Then rolled over and pulled him close to her.
Twice during the night, Natasha was wakened by a roaring noise and what seemed to be a woman's voice screaming in the distance. She sat up and listened but apart from the sound of the wind in the trees outside the window, there was nothing. She slept fitfully after that and was glad when dawn finally came.
The day was bright and sunny and the arrival of mild weather brought a rapid thaw to the overnight snow. So by mid-morning, the road looked clear enough to drive on. The Berryman's refused to take any money. "No my dears," Mrs Berryman said, "You were our guests on this occasion."
Back on the road, David said, "We will need some more petrol before we get to the motorway. I think the village of Postbridge is just down the road. If there is a filling station there, we will stop and get some."
After filling the tank with fuel at Jordan's Garage, David went into the shop to pay. Natasha went with him to see if she could find something to read on the journey home. "You are lucky you weren't on the road last night," the woman cashier commented. "We had a really bad storm here."
"Yes, we know," replied David. "We got caught in it. Luckily we found the Clapper Bridge Hotel and stayed the night there."
The woman looked at him quizzically, "I think you are mistaken Sir. It must have been somewhere else. Clapper Bridge Hotel burned down last year." She thought for a moment, then continued, "About this time of year, I think. A terrible accident it was too. The owners, Dennis and Maureen Berryman and their daughter Emily all died. There were two guests killed too."
Natasha, who had brought a book to the counter, gasped and felt an icy hand grab her heart.
If you enjoyed reading this story, you may be interested to know that Jack Windsor has published an anthology of 40 of his stories. It is called 'Secret of the Lake'. Published by Braiswick you can order it from your local bookstore or buy online from Amazon.com