Okehampton Folk Trail tells the town’s ‘hidden’ history

1 September 2023

One of our most ambitious projects for 2023 hits the streets on Friday 22 September, when the Okehampton Folk Trail is launched.

The 1.5-mile town trail is officially opened at 7pm that evening, and we are inviting local people to come along and walk the route with us.

What makes this trail unique is that it’s illustrated by traditional regional folk songs which link local stories to eight locations along the route. It’s been made possible with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

A route map and all the information about the songs and the stories are in an accompanying Okehampton Folk Trail leaflet and website which will be launched later in the Autumn. The songs – recorded by Wren Music’s musicians and singers this summer – will be able to be heard at each of the stops by visiting the trail website.

The eight songs were chosen following conversations with local people at memory cafes hosted by our Creative Director, Marilyn Tucker, and project volunteer, Ruth Cartlidge. From these conversations, the stories were matched with songs from Wren Music’s archive.

Marilyn explained: “We sifted through our archive and as it worked out, all of the songs are from the Sabine Baring-Gould collection of songs which he collected from his travels around the South West. We didn’t set out to do that, it just so happens that these songs fit the stories.”

It seems only fitting that the songs are from the Baring-Gould archive as he was a song collector who lived on Dartmoor and next year marks the 100th anniversary of his death. It’s also hoped that the trail will put Okehampton on the map as the gateway to ‘Baring-Gould Country’.

The route starts on West Okement Bridge on West Street and ends back in the town centre, at St James Chapel. The trail is entirely on paths with only slight inclines and takes roughly an hour, allowing for time to stop and listen to the songs at each location. Some of the specific locations are now residential buildings, we have made slight adjustments so that all the stopping points are public spaces.

The route map also has historical information about some of the other locations and streets along the trail, such as Northfield Road where there are still remnants of when it was once a self-contained community full of shops, and the row of houses in North Street which used to be mill houses on the banks of the East Okement River.

Marilyn said: “I don’t know of any other trail in the UK that’s illustrated by folk songs in this way. And the songs are all fairly upbeat, even the one called ‘My Coffin Shall Be Black!’

“We are looking at the hidden history and the social history of Okehampton,” she added. “The songs and the places all feed off each other, so you get the folk songs of Devon telling the story of ordinary people of Devon at various times in history, of the lives they led and the work that they did.”

You can book your place on the live trail here: eventbrite.co.uk/okehampton-folk-trail-live

Marilyn said: “This is a real community project, and we would love as many people as possible to join us on our guided walk.”

The route and songs are:

  1. West Okement Bridge – Rosemary Lane
  2. Peel House – Botany Bay
  3. Public footpath alongside Castle Ham Lodge, Castle Road, the site of the old workhouse – A Maiden Sweet
  4. Fairplace Sensory Garden – Harvest Song
  5. St James Chapel – Coast of Barbary
  6. The Moor gate mural at junction between East Street, Crediton Road and Northfield Road – Twankydillo
  7. Ebenezer Hall in North Street – My Coffin Shall Be Black
  8. Fore Street Plaque in front of St James Chapel – Joan’s Ale