The night air was cold enough to steal your breath, the mists rose from the marshes as I looked out over the river. Across from the docks from where I stood lay the old church of St. Simon in the Wolds. Long forgotten, since the building of the new town of Creech Hinton.
I was watching as a sea mist rolled down the river Bowles. The port of Creech Hinton was only six miles from the sea, and even less from the old town area of Porterton, but they could have been in two different time eras. Porterton; the once thriving port on the north shore of the Bowles had been a vital medieval port in its time and the sailor’s church had seen some good years service.
One day, so it is said a boat was seen leaving the back door carrying a strange load hidden in a large bag. Iit was reported to be Lord David Endersliegh the local land baron as he was never seen again although owning most of what later came to be Creech Hinton. Creech Hinton grew from strength to strength, as Porterton died away and the old church got left to rot.
The Endersliegh family went into shipping and got wealthy from the fishing trade, with a mansion in Creech Hinton and another five miles inland at King’s Porrow. They grew to be the main land owners on this side of the Bowles as well. Just as things looked like they might take off big for them, the Endersliegh family were hit with a series of illnesses and bad deals. People started talking of the St. Simon’s curse, and how years before it had claimed a family, trying to leave Porterton.
Standing at the dock, I could just make out the church and the single lane track leading to it. From this side though all there is, is a huge low lying mud bank, as I stood there I saw a sight which chilled me.
Along the river coming out of the mists was a low punt, being pushed by two men with poles, they were heading to the back of the church. As I watched, fixated at the sight unfolding before me. I heard one of the men shout "Come out Endersliegh and pay your debts, like a man!"
This was followed by a shout from the second "If you don’t come out, we'll come and get you!"
A shout from inside the church echoed across the mists of time "Try as you may, I am not coming out!"
I could only stand, mouth agape, I was witnessing an event from the distant past for some reason, I had no idea why nor why it was shown to me.
The punt appeared to move to the west bank and pitch. The men got out and softly walked to the church, daggers at the ready. As they turned the corner of the church I lost sight of them but could still hear the struggles going on inside the building. The sounds of men in a struggle carried through the mists as did the sounds of metal upon metal.
As the struggle ensued, I heard a cry from inside the church "Davis Martenfeld, I curse your family to stay here until the church falls around you."
Then men left carrying a large and obviously heavy baggage rolled in a church drape. One of the men I recognised one as the second boatman. The other I had not seen and assumed to have been in the church during the fighting as his clothing was torn and bloodied This man stood a head above his companion, and had a darker complexion.
From this distance and through the mists, all I could make out was that the men rowed up the river, then disappeared in the mists. This mysterious happening had intrigued me so much, I started to enquire in the town as to its meaning. With interest at a new pitch now I set off back into Creech Hinton, to have a meal at the Towers Inn. During the meal and with a mind full of images.
I was musing to myself,when I asked the barmaid "Excuse, as I don’t know the area well,what is the easiest way to Porterton by car?”
The bar hushed, she looked at me with a mix of trepidation and horror in her eyes, as she leant forward to say "Sir, in these parts we don’t mention that place, there is still a lot of folks who have bad feelings about it."
A gent at the bar looked at me and said "I saw you looking over the river at Porterton earlier, young man and at the look as if you had witnessed some odd events. You wont get much shift from folk here about Porterton. That's as close as folks here are likely to get to it, as we remembers the spring of 1995 and the terrible accident that befell the Martingfield family."
With a look of interest I replied "Martingfield you say!"
"Yes sir, John, his wife Jane and son Philip tried to leave the area, the car went off the road and got stuck in the bogs over there, weird thing it was a clear day. John knew the road well, so why did it go off? He lost both of them and went half mad with grief." Seeing my interest he added: "Why are you so intrigued by the name? They are an old family, and have been in Porterton longer than memory can recall.”
"I can imagine, I know they have been here for centuries.”
"How? You said you don’t know the area.”
"When I was out there, through the sea mists, I saw a boat row up to the church, two men got out and went into the curch, I heard the struggles of o fight inside and two men came out, I recognized one, he was one of the two who went in. The other was darker and taller than the first.”
The bar went silent as I continued with the story of my sightings "Next I heard a cry of Davis Martenfeld I curse your family to stay in the area until the church falls around you!”
People that only a few minutes ago were happily chatting away, now started leaving, as the bar cleared I turned to the man sat by me and said "What did I do wrong?"
My companion said to me "Buy me a pint kind sir, and I shall tell you a tale."
This I did with relish, I have a fascination for the stories of the folks in villages. "First I shall introduce myself, I am Roger de Endersliegh. Yes, the same family that owned Porterton lands and now Creech Hinton. I too am a local fisherman, as have my folks been down the centuries. Earlier today I came ashore from a fishing trip, the night is warm and with no breeze, yet you saw a sea mist rolling in. I can assure you there was no mist tonight. I would have been in a lot sooner than 8:00, the bogs and channels here can change shape in the mist. It would be so easy to get lost out there, even for an experienced waterman like myself. Folks around here have long awaited and feared this day, it was said “ A stranger will cross the barriers of time and reel back the truth for all to see.” I don't doubt what you saw, folks around here are mighty suspicious being as they are fishermen and their kin."
"Where did the people go?" I asked Roger.
"Probably to the church of St. Mark’s down the road."
"Why? There are some closer.”
"It's the largest church in Creech Hinton, they've gone to pray to save their souls, safety in numbers I guess. For the time they let the Martenfeld family suffer the sins of my family."
"Aren’t you worried for your soul?" I asked him.
"Not in the slightest!"
"Why not? By your admission your family were the real sinners here.”
"Were we? Or was the town itself to blame for blaming the Martenfeld family for that night over the centuries? If they had stood by the family then, instead of running to this side of the Bowles river, things would have been a lot easier. The Endersiegh’s would still have owned a lot, we had the boats, the men worked them and the ladies cleaned and mended the nets for us.’
"Do you believe your family is cursed? You had all that illness and lost the money.”
"No. Why should I?"
"Because the folk here have mentioned it !"
"Mainly because they want to, it was no more than some bad business deals, with companies that collapsed. As for the illnesses ,we found out fifteen years ago it was a genetic ailment that had lain dormant for centuries, it could have come to the fore any time.”
“Why do the folks her believe in it so strongly then?"
"Their way of cleansing their souls-I guess."
"Aren’t you going to put them out of their misery after all this time though?"
"Maybe, I haven't decided yet, the Martingfield’s have suffered for centuries. I guess a year or two more for these folks won’t go a miss will it after all this time."
The bar closed for the night, my new friend an I went back to the docks to continue our chat about the area and its history “You saw, you won’t get much help from folk here, if you want to visit Porterton and the church but I am willing to drive you there. I know the bogs and marshes well. That is partially why they wont go, nobody from here has been there in about thirty years and they are not sure of the roads."
"Partially you say. What is the rest of the reason?”
"Mainly, they are very superstitious of the area and think it is haunted since the curse was laid on it, and don’t wish to come over here."
"And you don’t!"
"No, the family feel secluded there. It isn't comfortable but at least they were not scorned as before. The accident years ago was no more than a slight miscalculation of the tides. They move the sand bars on which we drive. Miss one and you are in the bogs, another reason, people think it is haunted, but just tidal pressures on sands.”
We went our ways, agreeing to meet after breakfast the next day for the journey, although the journey was short, owing to the land conditions a ten mile journey was to become a twenty-five mile journey to avoid the marshes. On the journey to the church we had another interesting discussion linking to events of the previous day.
"I couldn’t help notice your name is de Endersliegh and not Endersliegh." I queried.
"Yes, the de Enderligh’s are a French family and we go way back. That's why the man you saw was darker and taller than the two who entered the church, he was a foreigner to England, the locals thought that Martenfeld was helping him set up for a series of raids on the coastal villages as Martenfeld did not sound English either. The name they have now was their real one, not a modern variation.”
"The two men I saw in the boat, looked a lot different to him though as I said smaller and lighter skinned."
"Probably just a pair of vagrant sailors down on their luck, looking for easy money, which is why one got killed."
As the car moved towards Porterton, the clouds closed in and a feeling of dread enclosed us "Going to be stormy at sea tonight my friend, look at the clouds ahead."
As we drove, the clouds seemed to be gathering for a terrible storm, as they went from grey to black and appeared to cut off all light, so much so that even though it was before midday. My friend was driving slowly on full beams.
"I noticed last night, that the boat vanished half way upstream and tales say your relative was never seen again."
"You have to remember then sailors had few charts, most was done from memory and hearsay around ports so they probably got caught in the riptide here as they didn’t know the currents as we do now."
As we turned off the A3589, onto the Porterton road, the road went from a road to little more than a dirt track as so few people use it. There were strange stories of the house and church, which kept folk away. Half a mile down the track we met a large gate and an electric fence.
We stopped at the fence, looking around we saw a camera link. "Hello Mr. Martingfield, can we come in and have a talk to you?" my friend asked .
A distant and tinny voice replied "What for? Ain’t talked to anyone in years, don’t feel like doing so now."
"Can we come in please? We have some important news for you and I would prefer to tell you, rather than this machine.”
“What we have to say is personal and private and I don’t want to get soaked as the storm will break soon." I added.
On my cue, there was a loud clap of thunder and the rains came down, pelting on the car roof and bonnet. There seemed to be no let up, either from the rains or inside, so I decided to take a chance.
"Mr. Martingfield, if you want to stay locked in there you can. We will give you five minutes, then we are off and you will NEVER know what you might have had. It's YOUR choice now.” I put the phone down, turned around and said to my friend "No use waiting in the rain, let’s get in the car."
"If he calls, we wont hear the phone in here, with the distance and rains."
"If he wants to meet, he can open the gates for us, I'm betting he's in two minds now."
After four minutes the gates opened, and we were allowed in. For the first time in over thirty years, somebody had been down this drive other than the family It was really scary, the drive was bereft of any signs of nature, it was as though nature had given up. The old church and house were close to ruins, obviously they had hoped it would collapse and break the curse for them.
As we drove up to the house, a man came to greet us, dressed in an old cardigan with torn jeans and slippers, his grey hair straggly and sparse. He greeted us with "Hello I am Paul Martingfield, the last of the line,”
We walked across the hall to the only room which appeared to have lights on, our host bade us to sit down. The old chairs creaked under the strain of being sat on for the first time in ages. We were looking at the books on the shelves in the library whenour host returned with some coffee " I am sorry for being so abrupt, years on your own,knowing I wont have family have turned me nasty to others."
"That is understandable." My friend said as we had our coffees.
"I've seen you around Creech Hinton sir, and wondered are you related to the Endersligh’s as you have their features?" our host enquired after my friend.
"Yes I am Roger de Endersliegh and have come to tell you that there is no curse here. In the olden days your family knew the tides and ways here and kept to yourselves. My family lost the money in bad business deals and found we had a genetic flaw recently which is the reason for all those illnesses." My friend continued "You are free to leave whenever you wish. I am so sorry that your family suffered for things beyond your control, that you did not do, for so many centuries."
When we drove up the road, you could see the look of happiness on the man’s face as we crossed his gate for the final time, him knowing he would never get drawn back there by fear again.
That night in the bar, I was chatting to my friend about the things we had done when I said:
"You appeared to have rationally explained every thing away, haven’t you."
"Not by a long way!”
"What do you mean?You explained the curse, your family, the missing boat, there isn't much more."
"Yes there is a whole lot more."
"There is the story of how a stranger will cross the barriers of time and reveal the truth for all to see, and how on a clear warm night, you saw the sea mists rising. That is something I cannot explain away.”