The East Webburn River flows through the ancient, picturesque village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, past the Rugglestone Inn, and through the vast land holdings of the fictional family of Joseph Buckleigh, the hero of the historical novel A Moon Garden, by Roxane Gilbert. When his tour of duty in the American War for Independence comes to an end, Joseph returns to his ancestral home in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to heal and resume his life.
Joseph’s eyes sparkled as he smiled. “I will tell you something right now that is as sincere as anything you will hear today. I am going to strip off all of my clothes and plunge my body into that very cold stream over there on the other side of the hedge. There is nothing I would like better than for my wife to get some clean clothes from my brother, and a sheet in which I may wrap myself when I come out of the water. Now, if you can present these to me in five minutes, I would be most appreciative.” With that, Joseph pulled off his shirt, dropped it on the ground, then ran in the direction of the creek.
It was not Grace who stood on the bank when Joseph finished bathing. He laughed when he saw Russell Jayne, now a captain with the Royal Army, sitting on a moss-covered rock. Russell threw him the sheet. “Good Lord, Buckleigh. What I must endure for King and country.”
Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon, England, is a village of fewer than 200 households in the middle of Dartmoor, which has been protected by National Park status since 1951. Many of the hedgerows and stone walls that divide the landscape date back hundreds of years. The walls have become natural rock gardens, covered with stonecrop, navelwort, maiden-hair ferns, and lichens.
“The edge of the gentle downward slope was anchored at its base by a giant yew tree. From there the lane gradually rose again for about 30 yards. Another low, decaying stone wall adjoined a weathered wooden fence, blocking the entrance to the courtyard of a two-story stone cottage set back against rolling green hills. A decrepit stone barn stood to the east, and an overgrown garden was to the west. Aaron dismounted his horse and opened the wide, slatted gate. Its large rusted hinges were generously greased. Despite a high-pitched scraping sound, it swung open with ease.”
It is July 4, 1778. The British Army’s 33rd Regiment of Foot has returned to the New York colony, after sustaining heavy losses in the horrific Battle of Monmouth.
“It was a warm day with a mild breeze in Manhattan. Joseph sat under a tree in the meadow at the end of Broadway, cleaning his musket. As Colonel Eades had foreseen, now that Joseph was back in New York, he was finding time to rest. He reflected on the tough battles he had been through with his regiment. When they left England and arrived in the colonies in 1776, they numbered nearly 500. In two years, the 33rd had lost close to a quarter of its men.
“… Joseph closed his eyes and envisioned the raven-haired beauty with the pale complexion, clear green eyes, and bright smile. The two of them were together, laughing, walking across the ancient rough-granite footbridge over the rushing River Dart, then running up a hill to stroll hand-in-hand on the vast, misty moor.”
Having been built in the 14th century, the Church of St. Pancras in Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon, England, was already ancient in 1785, when the Buckleigh family went there to worship in the historical novel A Moon Garden. Although the church has changed over the passing decades, I saw some of the original medieval carved bosses and impressive granite stonework when I visited in 2017, in the early stages of researching and writing my book.